Dare to be different: successful marketing means standing out from your competitors. Here are 4 steps to shedding your look-alike image

CAN YOUR prospects tell the difference between your company and its closest competitors? If not, it may be time to overhaul your marketing strategy. Differentiation is at the heart of long-term marketing success, and the key to marketing strategy is originality.

Let's take a look at an old slogan. Most of us instantly recognize "Good to the last drop" as belonging to Maxwell House. This venerable slogan has been successful at differentiating the product from scores of competitors, including many that might otherwise appear virtually identical. Not only has it been hammered home year after year, but the slogan also works because it encapsulates the promise of the brand in a way that's uniquely valuable to the target audience.

Differentiation plays a key role in branding and is the foundation of a competitive advantage. And it profoundly affects your position in the minds of your prospects and customers. Effective differentiation can position you as No. 1 among your competitors--the company or brand customers turn to first--while a poor differentiation strategy can leave you buried in the middle of the pack.

Are you ready to develop your own differentiation strategy? Here are four steps to get you started.

Your first step is to gather and evaluate the marketing materials of your chief competitors, including their ads, brochures and website content. Don't be surprised if you see a lot of "me too" marketing. There's simply a lot of bad marketing out there, and the fact that many of your competitors have no differentiation strategy will work to your advantage.

At least some of your competitors--usually the category leaders--will make promises that resonate with their target audiences. Carefully review the benefit statements your competitors make, and determine what claims set them apart.

For a companywide differentiation strategy, consider what separates you from the competitors you've evaluated. Whether you market a product or operate a service business, such as an accounting firm or a power-washing company, it's essential to clearly differentiate through your marketing how what you offer is of unique value.

Your point of differentiation may relate to the way your product or service is provided, priced or even delivered. The most important thing to discover is the principal benefit you offer that is uniquely valuable to customers and gives you a competitive advantage.

Your next step is to create a new marketing message that communicates your product or service's unique value. This message should become the core of your entire marketing campaign. To successfully gain a competitive advantage, consistently drive this point of differentiation home until it becomes integral to your brand image.

For example, through its slogan, Maxwell House communicates that its coffee will always taste good, not bitter, down to the very bottom of the pot. When repeatedly communicated through ongoing marketing, it's this assertion about being "Good to the last drop" that differentiates the product and has helped make it successful over the years.

Effective differentiation has everything to do with customer satisfaction, which builds loyalty and often trumps price as a primary consideration of consumers. As long as your company can sustain its ability to differentiate in a way that consistently meets consumer expectations, customers may reject lower-cost competitors in favor of what you have to offer.

The bottom line is that customers see the value of what's offered. Rather than go elsewhere for a similar product or service at a lower price, they'll stay loyal because of the "intangibles." Nothing costs you customers faster than a disconnect between the promises made in marketing and the reality of customer experience with your product or brand. So for long-term success, your company or product must live up to its marketing promise.

Contact marketing expert KIM T. GORDON, author of Bringing Home the Business, at www.smallbusiness now.com.

Courtesy http://findarticles.com

How To Drive Traffic With A Blog

Blogs are different than regular static sites. Although a blog is really just a fancy word for a content management system, therefore it is just a regular site with enhanced and easy editing, a blog has a sense of urgency and "newness." People read blogs because there is a general feeling that the information posted is more current compared to static sites.
This is true when the blogger is very regular with new material and gives people a reason to tune in frequently.
Promoting a blog, I have found, is far easier than promoting a regular website for many reasons.
Because you can create "news" on your blog at the drop of a hat, you can create buzz. Buzz is infectious, produces links from "buzzed" website owners looking to present their visitors with a buzz, and gets you attention that is harder to acquire for regular sites.
You can promote a blog through RSS and get subscribers who would rather use a "podcatcher" (a newer phrase that simply means they subscribe to your RSS feed rather than your email list with a tool like FireAnt http://fireant.com).
People like being anonymous in this over-emailed world of ours. Getting subscribers to a blog via your RSS feed means you are offering a way for the justifiably paranoid to access your material without committing their personal information in the exchange.
So you have another way to promote here as well. Rather than sending people to your opt-in page only, you can grab RSS subscribers on every page of your blog, no matter which page they come through.
Now you can trade links, or trackbacks, with other bloggers in your niche which is a much more highly respected and valuable form of reciprocal linking that Google actually loves.
Having a blog means you can "podcast." Podcasting is making audio and video files available in your posts that can be picked up in your RSS feed by people using places like iTunes.com to find multi-media content. This is a MASSIVE new open market of people really getting into iPods, especially the new video iPods, and seeing what their new gadgets can really do. By creating an informative how-to video and podcasting it from your blog, you can get listed in iTunes and other podcast directories that are practically empty on many niche topics right now!
These are things you can do with a blog that you cannot do very easily or at all with a static site.
Don't forget that there are other directories only bloggers can promote in. Directories like Syndic8.com and Daypop.org are only open to bloggers with RSS feeds. While everyone else is working down in the trenches on their one-dimensional static html site, bloggers can enjoy promoting their sites in far less competitive areas with extreme amounts of traffic flowing through them.
In short, a good blog with the right plug-ins will give you marketing power I wish I had when I was starting out. My blog would be 7 years old this year and would have an archive section a mile long with content syndicated all over the web established over those 7 years! This time next year you are definitely going to wish you had started your blog today! Especially when you consider the vast potential of audio and video podcasting and syndicating your content easily through your feed to places that only accept bloggers. Static sites need not apply!
Written by Jack Humphrey

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