It isn’t a natural human instinct to want to be different.
We normally crave acceptance, want to be part of a peer group
and to achieve this we follow the latest fashions and develop
the herd instinct that suppresses our individualism and our
Business is different – firms seek differentiation but
differentiation is only worthwhile and valuable if it
has a purpose. After all, a firm can differentiate
itself by being significantly inferior to its competitors but
this sort of differentiation is hardly likely to yield
Differentiation in a business context doesn’t just mean
different – it also means better and the differentiation must
be worth something. It must be capable of quantification so
that management of companies who strive to be different can be
reassured that there is a discernible value in the identity
As far as I am aware, no-one has yet studied why
competitive strategy should be so at odds with our natural
human instincts. Maybe the answer lies in this basic paradox
in human behaviour:- While we try to conform we admire those
who don’t; those who strive for distinctiveness and the
expression of their uniqueness and individuality.
Firms can behave like humans too. While they may secretly
admire those with identifiable brands and clear
differentiation, so many adopt me-too strategies, trying to
sell me-too products to markets that they assume are identical
to those of their competitors. Often the reason for this is
that while their management are quite capable of developing a
strategy which differentiates them, they lack the certainty
that it will really pay dividends.
Others pay lip-service to the idea of differentiation but
lack the courage to do something about it or start from the
wrong premise. The real key to differentiation is not to find
a unique selling point and build an identity around that. It
is to construct an internal culture that automatically
permeates the external behaviour of the company and gives it a
brand with real distinctiveness.
It seems to me that one of the fundamental prerequisites of
trying to build a competitive strategy that differentiates a
company is that the company understands at the outset how it
is perceived relative to its competitors - it needs to have a
clear awareness of its current identity. Yet so many companies
rely on their own instincts or flawed, very subjective
research to inform them, or worse, don’t bother at all to
attempt to find out where they are positioned. If they don’t
know how far they have to travel, how will they know when they
Le Beau Visage and Sharp Consulting have developed a
concept called ‘Profile-Mapping’ which it has marketed with
Winchester White. Profile Mapping aims to determine the gap
between where a company stands in its marketplace and where it
believes itself to be and we believe it is the starting-point
for any analysis of differentiation or the potential to
It may be a difficult and long journey before a company
arrives at a position where it is perceived as different in a
positive way from its competitors but, I believe this journey
is among the most valuable it can take.
Le Beau Visage can help you with the process of
differentiation. It is a very specific process for each
company but some very clear rules apply in all cases.
- Different companies will be interested in what their
clients want and expect. Their difference will be created
from a set of client needs.
- They will try to own space in a hot area in their
market. They will always be looking and researching current
ideas and testing new thinking – and they will turn this
into modern, practical ideas. This implies that they will
have a continuously clear perception of the market in which
- Often this difference may be particularly expressed in
an idea or event which enables them to influence thinking
about their market and gives them a strong
thought-leadership position in that market.
- Their difference will be based around special insight,
distinctiveness and a focus on quality either in service or
process terms (or both).
- Different companies will not seek superfluous difference
or superficial separation.
- Different companies will be passionate about their brand
and their reasons for doing things the way they do them.
- Different companies exhibit ‘signature-behaviour’. This
extract from a CCHM article defines signature-behaviour.
"Signature behaviour is an attitude that permeates a
company from the very top to the bottom. It is memorable,
deliverable, consistent, distinctive and evidence of a
company’s personality. It’s not what you do (law, accountancy,
insurance, etc) but how you do it. The brand and the business
are not just connected but indistinguishable from one another.
First Direct for example is a powerful brand that is
synonymous with twenty-four hour banking – if you want to move
money from your account at 3 a.m. on Christmas day, you can,
and John Lewis is Never Knowingly Undersold.
Signature behaviour is a cross between convictions and
culture, a combination of style and substance that permeates a
company from top to bottom. In its purest form, signature
behaviour is an attitude. It requires a more lateral approach
to brand development than is usually the case. It requires
vision, boldness and willingness to address and change issues
that are not easily transformed.”
- A company which is strongly differentiated won’t have to
point this fact out. It will be obvious in every contact and
every communication that they have with their customers and
- Differentiation won’t always mean being
first to move in a market. First mover ‘advantage’ can often
be illusory; advantage borne out of differentiation never
- Companies that are successful at differentiation will
often employ non-conventional thinkers and encourage them to
indulge this habit. They will develop unorthodox ideas and
approaches to solving problems.
- This unorthodox approach will not be for affectation but
to enable them to look at their business through a different
lens. They are restless in their search for new insights.
In a world where so much is uniform, the real reason for
being different is to try to do things better and to do better
things. It will mean breaking new ground and undoubtedly it
will mean occasionally making mistakes but if this is the
price of making your company a different one I would contend
it is one well worth paying.
If you want to talk to Le Beau Visage about differentiation
or profile-mapping please e.mail Peter@LeBeauVisage.co.uk