It is no longer news that firms are finding it harder to decide what set them apart from a bunch of others. There's high chance you are still struggling with how to find differentiators for your firm so you can gain a competitive by standing apart. This has led to the situation of "copy me, I copy you" scenarios that we find today. And it's simple, when everyone is talking, no one is talking. So if you are the firm that is able to remain silent, when others are talking, people will pick interest on you. Remaining silent will mean different things to different people. In our context, it simply means you have figured out a way not to say things the way others are saying them.

That will raise curiosity, and people would want to find out more. 

What is a firm's differentiator?

A differentiator is any or a set of characteristics that separates you from the bunch of other competitors and places you on a higher level of advantage in the eyes of your target audience.

But it is not all differentiators that are differentiating. That's why you can't just wake up and claim one or two differentiator (s) for yourself. So there are certain ways to evaluate if a differentiator or a separate you are choosing for your firm are worth adopting. In fact, there are 3 of them.

3 Ways to Evaluate a Differentiator

  • 1
    Your differentiator must be credible, which is another way of saying it must be true. Don't go for it if it is not true.
  • 2
    It must be meaningful. Is what you are adopting as a differentiator something your target audience will see value in? If it's not, abandon it. If you are in doubt, ask.
  • 3
    Your differentiator must be verifiable. It is not enough to say that it is true. Can you demonstrate it? Can you prove it?

The above 3 criteria must be fulfilled on any differentiator you are adopting for your firm. Bearing that in mind, here are different routes you can take in finding differentiators for your firm.

LEE FREDERIKSEN, PH.D. of Hinge recently shared a detailed marketing article on this topic a highlight to which include:

  • 1
    Specialize in an industry.
  • 2
    Specialize in serving a specific role within your client’s organization.
  • 3
    Specialize in offering a particular service.
  • 4
    Offer a truly unique technology or process.
  • 5
    Focus on understanding a particular target audience.
  • 6
    Specialize in serving clients of a certain size.
  • 7
    All of your staff shares a specific characteristic or credential.
  • 8
    Specialize in clients that share a common characteristic.
  • 9
    Focus on solving a specific business challenge.
  • 10
    Have one or more individuals who are Visible Experts® in their fields.
  • 11
    Offer a unique business model.
  • 12
    Have a specific geographic focus.
  • 13
    Offer access to a unique set of information not available elsewhere.
  • 14
    Offer a unique set of contacts or relationships not easily accessible.
  • 15
    Do business with a distinctive level of service.
  • 16
    Distinguish yourself by the clients you have.
  • 17
    Focus on the size of your firm.
  • 18
    Emphasize your relationship with a parent firm or partner.
  • 19
    Focus on a notable signature accomplishment.
  • 20
    Specialize in producing a unique or very valuable result.
  • 21
    Look or act differently than all of your competitors.

In one way or the other, all the 21 differentiators listed above have been found to be helpful. Must times, you will have to combine them to get what you want - stand out. While they all are differentiators, they don't tackle the issue of helping a firm stand out from the same angle. My how I explained them below.

Ways you can find differentiators for your firm

You can specialize in an industry: Specialising in an industry has not just been proven to work very well but has also been found to be one of the easiest methods of setting a firm apart. It is simple, don't be a generalist firm that serves every industries on earth. Decide on a select industries to pitch your tent on. Let your message be around the fact that you understand the industry very well, so no one could serve them better more than those that understands them. You want an example? Becoming the Accounting firm that companies in the Oil and Gas industries turn to.

You can specialize in serving a specific role within your client’s organization: The twin to serving specific industries is specializing in key roles in organisations. This is because they often work together. See why this works... It is a fact that you don't sell to companies but to individuals. What if you go ahead to pick one office role in the organisations you have chosen and tailor your message to them? You can tailor your message to heads of marketing departments. You can decide to target the board of directors if you offer executive research services for instance.

Another way is to specialize in offering a particular service: In a bid to stand apart, you can specialise in offering a unique service. Can you focus on taxation alone and let go of bookkeeping and some other accounting services? While this will definitely communicate your differentiation and even make you a leader, there is a risk if new competition eventual arises. But if you become the leader first, every other person that comes will be on the second position.

You can offer a truly unique technology or process: Are you so very good with technology? Are you a master of a particular process that no one else has found the recipe for? Congratulations! You have just found yourself a great differentiator. Let's say you are a team of Construction Engineers who have found a way to build houses without laying foundation blocks, and have not just mastered it but no one has seen the trick. Guard it with passion, you have found yourself a great differentiator.

Focusing on understanding a particular target audience is also effective: You can also decide to offer your services to a particular target audience instead of the industries we have discussed above. This route is more specific and targeted. It will help you to easily sell your message, every other things being equal. You can instead of selling to the Consulting Industries, pitch your services to just Management Consultants.

The size of the clients is also a great route: What if you come from the angle of serving clients of a certain size? Many firms have done this, and it is quite a successful way to stand out. You can go after large companies with a certain number of outlets. For example, you become the accounting firm that serves restaurants with up to 10 outlets. You can also go after Smaller Companies with around 5-50 employees.

You have incredibly awesome staff?: Another way is to come from the angle of who you have. If all your employees hold a particular characteristics or qualifications that make them unique, then its good you make a song of that. The challenge here is like that of an African proverb that says, "No one says that his mother's soup is not the best." It's the same with using professional services employees as a factor in trying to differentiate a firm. Everyone claims to have a great team, and the client that wants to hire you too expects you to be great. But if there's a way you can make a better claim, to bit the claim of others, go ahead and adopt team's qualification and expertise as a differentiator.

Serve clients of a kind: You can also come from the angle of serving clients that share a certain characteristics instead of a role. What about serving women in business? If you are a law firm, what if you go the angle of serving just pensioners to help them protect their future? There are other possibilities, a good research will open more doors.

Magical power to do the impossible: Do you have what it takes to help people solve problems of a particular nature? It can be a good differentiator. An example can be helping people secure loans from World Bank. It can also be bringing businesses out of depth. The challenge with this is that you have to be very very good and the chance of someone else solving such problems has to be very slim, or even impossible.

Present a different business model: When it comes to the services industries, there are different pricing strategies and business models that people adopt according to what works for them. Most times, it is always because of what the precedents are doing already. Taking the opposite way can be a differentiator for your firm. If your competitors are charging by the hour, you can decide to charge per project, or even set up a retainer program.

Become the King of a geographic location: Another very effective way of differentiating a firm is to have a specific geographic focus. Here, you choose to serve other businesses within say Lagos, Delhi, North America or even Tokyo. Note that there is a difference between that a business is located in Lagos, from that it is serving people in Lagos. The challenge with this route of differentiation is that technology has almost completely cleared the geographic boundaries that earlier existed.

Don't Spill that that!: Information remains priceless. Data remains invaluable. If you have access to a set of data, as a result of years of research, that no one else has, it will be a good differentiator for your firm. Hinge, the US based branding and marketing firm for professional services have their firm positioned around research findings.

Put your network forward: It is not about who you know but who knows you. If you have built credible and reputable relationships over the years, that you can tout, the relationships you have is another way to find differentiators for your firm. What about becoming the Legal firm that has access to the highest Chief Judges in a state? Remember it must make sense to your target audience.

Go with a specially quality service, if you have: "Quality service" this, "quality service" that. Though the recurrent situation of firms circling around the quality of their services offerings as a differentiator has turned to nothing but redundancy, it is still a good route to take if you have a unique service that cannot be imitated. But take note that many are already on this route. So, "How will we be sure that you are not one of them?

Awesome database of happy clients: Ooh! There we go! The clients you have can be a very strong differentiator. If you are an old firm looking to rebrand, maybe due to Mergers & Acquisition, it will be easy to find an honourable list of previous clients to make a poster of. But if you are just few years in business or are even just starting your firm, please try the other options.

find differentiators for your firm

Are you big or small?: Are you are very big guy with a huge number of employers and mighty office buildings to boast of? Then you have got yourself a differentiator there. In other words, you can take the route of the size of your firm to differentiate yourself. If you are small in size, that will be a good differentiator too. Many companies would prefer a firm with a few employees to one with a thousand of them.

Do you have a strong predecessor?: Do you have a parent company that is well known, or even a partner company with strong root in the heart of those you are targeting? You can adopting that as a differentiator.

How popular are you?: Have you made the news in recent times? Maybe so many times even, for one or two big accomplishments. Congratulations (shakes hands) because you just got yourself a differentiator that is sure to stick.

Snow effects results: Another one is valuable result. We have talked about something similar in number 9 above but they are not the same. Here, you need more than one results to solve a particular problem. It is in more of a form of series of results that pile up to solve a challenge. Whenever someone talks about "snow effect", remember this.

Turn the other side: And one very hard one to do is looking the opposite of where others are looking. Do you acting differently than all your competitors can be a very good differentiator? Well it is. But being are not doing this. Just open another tab right now and browse through 3-5 firm websites, you will see how everyone is just copying and repeating everyone.

Key Take Away

While differentiation your professional services firm from others out there are not that very easy to do, it is not a mission impossible. 

find differentiators for your firm

The above are some of the numerous ways to find differentiators for your firm. You can combine the options highlighted to come up with one that will give your firm a competitive advantage. But don't forget that they must be credible, meaningful and verifiable.


How Elinae Can Help

With our Branding program, we can help you identify competitive differentiators that will help your firm stand out from the competition and build a brand that drives sustained growth.