Communicating Product Differentiation

When marketing a product to potential customers, it can be difficult to clearly communicate how your product differs from others. It sounds easy enough but defining and communicating product differences is not a trivial task. The failure to explicitly characterize how your product is unique and different often results in severe opportunity costs that include missed sales and lost relationships with loyal customers or channel partners.

Product differentiation is an issue we confront every day at SAGrader. It is apparent in product development strategy when determining which features to build or not build, and it is grossly visible on the front lines of marketing and selling our product to our target market.

Take a look at the following hypothetical conversation that might take place between our marketing team and a potential partner.

SAGrader – SAGrader is a tool that automatically grades student essays.

Partner – OK, so SAGrader scores essays on grammar, word choice, organization and other writing traits…yeah, I’ve seen those products and have actually used a couple in the past.

SAGrader – No, wait. SAGrader can give students feedback on some writing traits but it really works best in content area courses like history and biology. You see, SAGrader is tied to learning objectives and gives students specific feedback on how well they understand course content.

Partner – Huh. So SAGrader does score essays over some writing traits but also grades essays for content? How does that work?

There’s nothing technically wrong with how SAGrader is introduced. Indeed, SAGrader does automatically grade student essays and short answer assignments. What is missing in the introduction is how SAGrader is different from other products that perform the same core task.

Whereas other automatic grading tools give students feedback on writing traits like grammar and spelling, SAGrader is tied to learning objectives and provides students with content-specific feedback on their comprehension of course material. This is how SAGrader should be introduced to prospective customers and partners.

In the hypothetical conversation, the partner associated SAGrader with all of the other automatic essay grading tools he or she is familiar with. This is a critical unforced error and the misunderstanding creates a significant hurdle between introducing SAGrader and selling it to a customer or partner.

By the time we get around to explaining how SAGrader is different we likely created an environment that is not conducive to closing a deal.

No one wants to commit unforced errors. The good news is that you can avoid them. In this case what it takes is a concerted effort to define the process for communicating how your product is different. Start by creating a short list of the variables or values that set your product apart from the rest.

Then script the language you might use in your pitch and create a clear and succinct value proposition. Finally, make sure everyone on your team understands how to communicate your product’s core differences. Rehearse and test your pitch over and over again until it becomes ingrained into your company’s culture. This is a necessary step to help avoid missed sales conversions.

Make a conscientious effort to embrace differentiation. Doing so will help increase the efficiency of your sales and marketing tactics as well as highlight your product’s value.

Photo via

  • I’ve found that customers can often surprise you by the products they lump together in the same category. I just read an interesting case study from the guys at todayLaunch who didn’t think they were competing with HootSuite until they realized all their customers were choosing between the two. Once they understood (and excepted!) this, they were able to better differentiate their product.