Captivate Your Audience By Standing Out From The Competition

Differentiation - Standing Out From The Competition

Table of Contents

If you’ve been in a rut, worried that your service or product is becoming a commodity, consider standing out from the competition by creating a radical difference that matters. Your product or service shouldn’t just be about just being ‘-er (hard-er, bett-er, strong-er, fast-er, or whatev-er) from the competition. Since 2020, the competition is larger than ever and your differentiation should be about positioning yourself in your prospects’ minds by expressing your purpose and values with a compelling story that resonates with them and makes it memorable.

10 M+
new businesses since 2020

“Not all of these newly formed businesses will stick around—many won’t even last past their first year.”

Differentiation is when a brand provides its audience a unique point of difference influencing your prospect’s perception when choosing one product or service from another. 

A differentiation strategy implements that difference to increase competitive advantage. Basically, it’s the strategy that defines your difference and where you’ll be standing out from the competition.

In decades past, brands considered their differentiation to be their unique selling proposition.

Avis is a great example of a product or service differentiation using the ‘-er strategy. It worked for them because there weren’t many car rental brands in the market at that time. It was basically a competing duel between them and the #1 brand, Hertz.

The brand competition between Avis and Hertz dates back to the mid-1940s. Warren Avis, an Air Force officer, had a great idea as he traveled around the country and overseas: he spotted an unexploited niche in the rental car market. 

Avis’ big idea: Put Avis cars inside airports. At the time, most rental lots, including Hertz’s, were located in downtown locations.

It wasn’t long that Hertz came on the scene at airports. Avis described the market-share struggle as, “the war with Hertz.” 

But it was in the 1960s, that the “We Try Harder” ad campaign kicked the car rental race into another gear and standing out from the competition. Avis ads never called out Hertz by name, but the accusations were implicit. “Avis can’t afford not to be nice.” “Avis can’t afford to make you wait.” “Avis can’t afford dirty ashtrays.” The campaign ran for the next 50 years, all over the globe.

Avis - We Try Harder 1960s ad campaign
Avis Logo Tagline

Define Your ‘Why’

As brands evolved (2000s) in becoming more consumer-centric (thanks to the rise of Apple’s iPhone, and social media platforms like Facebook), companies were being asked by marketing and advertising agencies, “What’s Your Why?”, referencing Simon Sinek’s book, “Start With Why” in 2009.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. What you do simply proves what you believe. In fact, people will do the things that prove what they believe.”

Today, there are brand strategists who additionally ask, “Who is your audience? And, “How do they feel when interacting with your brand?” Mainly, differentiation is more about your audience’s experiences and personal identity. What that means for brands is that as globalism removes the barriers, people gravitate towards joining a tribe, a brand that they can identify with, understand, and participate in.

Marty Neumeier’s book, The Brand Gap reads, “To begin building your brand, ask yourself three questions: 
1) Who are you? 
2) What do you do? 
3) Why does it matter?

Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap

The clearer the answer to these questions, the more your audience will identify, understand, and make the choice to participate with your brand. They won’t be interested in any part that’s irrelevant, only the ‘why’, but if you don’t fully understand and know your audience, then your brand won’t be able to connect with them on a personal human level.

Brands that have a higher purpose like Patagonia go beyond the reason to make revenue. They have a belief that rises higher than profit, and that’s based on:


Today’s consumers are increasingly interested in buying sustainable products. Therefore, understanding Patagonia’s position on sustainability makes them standing out from the competition and the buying choice from one brand to another that much easier.

Patagonia’s website entwines their core values with sustainability around:

  • Quality – Build the best product, provide the best service and constantly improve everything we do.

  • Integrity – Examine our practices openly and honestly, learn from our mistakes and meet our commitments.

  • Environmentalism – Protect our home planet.

  • Justice – Be just, equitable and antiracist as a company and in our community.

  • Not bound by convention – Do it our way.

Patagonia - The Greenest Product is the One That Already Exists - Ad Campaign

Creating a purpose statement and integrating it with your core values will define how you want to be remembered standing out from the competition. Your audience will resonate with your company culture on a deeper level and gravitate towards it, sub-consciously identifying their purpose with your purpose through a memorable narrative story.

Analyze Your Competitors

When it comes to defining the position of your brand and standing out from the competition, you want to be radically different. You’ll want to find gaps in the market and fill it in with a uniqueness, an opportunity to connect with an audience that might have felt betrayed, hurt, ghosted, or disgusted in the marketplace.

With your differentiator, you’re looking for what makes you different from your competitors. Chances are, your competitors are doing some things in the market that your audience likes, but just as likely they are doing some things that your audience doesn’t like.

They might be frustrated with the lack of options around the product or service, around the customer service or support, on packaging, or on the billing structure. Identifying your differentiator is all about seeking it, identifying the gaps in the market to find a position you can call your, “own”. When you’ve extracted what you need from researching your audience, your competitors, and your differentiators, you bring all that information together so you and your leadership team can make some important decisions in forming your positioning strategy.

“What makes you the “only” in its category?”

Marty Neumeier, Zag

Being radically different means you’re the “only” in your market. That’s your position and what gets you standing out from the competition. Coming up with what your “only” is, means defining what truly matters with your audience. It has to be why your brand is both different and compelling.

A famous strategy for competitor analysis is using a SWOT Analysis:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

Liquid Death is a great example of a brand becoming the “only” in its category and standing out from the competition. Flipping the market on its head, Liquid Death disrupted the bottled water brand category by introducing the “tall boy drink can” and creating a slogan, “Murder Your Thirst” with #Death to Plastic.

Wikipedia states that CEO, Mike Cessario, produced a video advertisement to gauge market interest in the product, which received three million views before the water was available to consumers for purchase. Within a few months of release, the company had over 100,000 “likes” on Facebook, more than brands such as Aquafina had generated in their history on the platform.

Liquid Death - Death to Plastic - Canned Water

Narrate The Story Around Your Target Audience

Business owners, executives, and leadership roles need to understand that when they build their business and make a commitment to a specific group of people, they need to make that an integral part of their business. It’s knowing exactly who they are so they can best serve them.


  • Who are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they drive?
  • What do they read?
  • What do they do?
  • How do they feel?
  • What do they want?

The answers to these questions are insights that brands look into when attempting to resonate with their audience.

Think back to the last time you got excited about by something you really wanted to buy:

  • A new car
  • A new pair of sneakers
  • A new phone
  • A vacation
  • A new set of golf clubs
  • A new pair of diamond earrings
  • A new boat
  • A new house
  • A new productivity app
  • A new laptop

What was it that got you so excited about your purchase? The prospect that it would help you become a better, faster, cooler, or a stronger version of yourself? Or, would it give a solution to an irritating problem, or save you a massive amount of time so you can enjoy your time elsewhere?

You can realize that the balanced life you always wanted, whatever it was that made you excited was likely the result of great communication that was structured around:

  • Who you are,
  • The type of person you are,
  • The type of wants and need you have
  • And the emotions you go through both before and after the purchase

Whatever the marketing message was, it resonated with you so much that it inspired you to take action.

This marketing message is your narrative story, another part of standing out from the competition. It’s your story that’s essentially the foundation of your content marketing.

67 %
Ineffective content marketing

According to a recent survey, a massive 72% of marketing professionals today describe their content marketing campaigns as falling between flat-out ineffective and only mildly effective.

The way that brands must communicate with their audience is the same way that people connect with each other today by understanding and then resonating with them.

Your audience leads very busy lives, and in being busy, they place higher value (time) on their—attention. They are not willing to give that attention away freely. Keep in mind that they are people living busy lives. They have emotions, hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations every single day. They also feel lonely, sad, exhausted, afraid, pessimistic, and depressed.

The negative emotions are often linked to the existence of a problem and the positive emotions are linked to the removal of a problem.

Knowing your audience should be like knowing your close friend or family member. Like each of us, we have our ups and downs in life, and if you have a close friend or family member, you’d be able to witness, and support them in their life’s journey.

You’d bring your audience to life so vividly, that all marketing communications become easy to produce: from social media posts, to your website, advertisements, and in-product store displays featuring your brand’s product inventory.

For Warby Parker, their content marketing is also based around their narrative story: Two of the four founders came together to create an idea:

To transform the eyeglass industry in making an alternative and affordable option of designer eyewear.

Their origin story is about one of the four founders becoming a non-profit director who pioneered how their company would train low-income women to sell affordable glasses in their communities, while another founder spent his first semester of grad school without eyeglasses because he lost them on an airplane and they were too expensive to replace.

Their positioning strategy started around creating an online website to sell affordable designer eyewear selling directly to the consumer and for each one pair of glasses purchased, another pair is donated to the non-profit.

The messaging story was then crafted around this narrative framework below used to produce their content marketing:

  • Personal story
  • Pain point
  • Solution
  • Bad guy
  • Big hairy audacious goal

The Warby Parker brand narrative also has their core values integrated into their story. They ask these questions:

  • Is it authentic?
  • Is there a narrative?
  • Do people want to talk about it at dinner?
  • Does it do good in the world?

This is how they are standing out from the competition.

Warby Parker Ad

Make Your Difference Memorable

Your difference should be distilled down into a statement that our audience remembers, cementing the position you’ll want to occupy in their mind. This statement acts as an anchor or mental note, so they can quickly recall your brand and immediately relate it to the difference you offer.

Do not get confused though that being different is about distinctiveness. Being distinct is a tactical way of making your difference memorable. Basically, it’s your branding standing out from the competition.

Making your brand distinct does NOT mean it’s different from the competition. It’s more about your brand obtaining a unique look and feel and not being mistaken with competitors.

Abacus Business Solutions is a great example of making a difference memorable and using distinctiveness as a tactic of standing out from the competition.

Their difference: Abacus Business Solutions is an accounting firm brand that provides commercial builders freedom of wealth with their profitability accounting method.

In the market of accounting, Abacus chose to position themselves by niching their audience to commercial builders and create an accounting method that’s exclusively all their own, thus making them an ‘only’ in their category and being different.

28Lions made their brand imagery connect with their target audience—to identify with the commercial builders in what they value most. This also connects with Abacus’ core values and purpose.

Abacus Business Solutions - Ad Campaign Standing Out From The Competition

The Takeaway

Company brands get ahead of their competitors when they have a differentiation and a strategy to execute it. Creating one that defines your ‘why’, analyzes the competition, narrates a story around your audience, and makes it distinctly memorable will position yourself with purpose in your prospects’ minds as they consider your brand over another.

Work with us to put your business on the path of success by creating a radical difference that matters, standing you out from the competition.

Nicole Andrew

Nicole Andrew is a 20 year brand designer, Level-C certified brand strategist, educator, and co-owner of 28Lions, a branding & marketing consultancy agency.