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Marketing Success Through Differentiation

In order to understand marketing success through differentiation, it’s important to learn the difference compared to positioning. Not all marketing is the same, and neither is your audience, which is why targeting individuals based on their needs applies directly to where and how your brand is disseminated. 

Whether it be on a shelf in 7-11 or in the customer’s mind, differentiation between brands must have a clear and decidedly opinionated impact. The primary difference between positioning and differentiation is that the former is more of an idea. It regards the individual and their mind, whereas differentiation is a strategy used by marketers to make their product or service stand out from their competitors. 

While there is certainly a relationship between the two, only differentiation can be used as a conduit that leads to positioning strategies for companies. And yet, either is capable of helping companies generate a higher return on investment and a better reputation for long-term success. 

Understanding Differentiation

In order to better understand differentiation, concrete knowledge of positioning should be studied: 

Positioning generally pertains to a product. It is essentially acquired space in the customer’s mind. Think of it as a billboard for a product between their skulls. It’s either going to say Coca-Cola or Mountain Dew, to use beverages as an example. 

To that point, there are an abundance of options available in the beverage market—and any market—so the way a company positions itself to the masses has a direct impact on its profitability.


There are two types of positioning: product and brand, both of which come with their own marketing strategies. Product positioning is a process of elimination that narrows down the most effective ways to communicate a product’s qualities, ideally meeting the target audience’s needs and even their behaviors. 

Brand positioning entails the audience and how they consider one brand over another. We call that competition. But its main purpose is to separate one brand from another by unique identifiers. 

No two little black dresses are alike, so to speak, especially when you look at the tags. 

We know that positioning is a major factor in how a company defines its standards, which is why its message needs to be loud and clear. Incoherent messages translate differently and are confusing, getting muddled to the point of no return on investment. Agreeably, no company with upward momentum wants that. 

Differentiation and Positioning

Here’s when differentiation consumes positioning and why it’s so important. This is the actual strategy in which companies actually make their products unique. Any industry is more attractive when it outshines its competitors with originality. 

Brands will constantly try to separate themselves from the rest in a bid to avoid cloning. In order to do so, however, the process means paying close attention to the competition. It’s a keep-your-enemies-closer situation that sees companies practicing their competitive advantages. 

Those advantages may come in the form of defining features, performance, experience, price, etc. An arsenal of resources should be ready at all times to achieve differentiation. 

The brand name is a high card to pull in the industry and acts as a resource for maintaining competitive advantage. That name comes with a reputation or will eventually have a reputation, so having additional resources on deck like solid internal processes and valuable, qualified employees add additional firepower. 

It’s important, if not required, to differentiate your brand in its respective industry because timing is of the essence. When a market is full, getting that first step in the door to introduce your brand can be dangerously convoluted. 

You always have to be thinking about what your product offers that the competition does not. It takes energy and effort but is worth it to play in the long game. 

Two Types of Differentiation

Now that we can separate positioning from differentiation, we need to define the two types of differentiation


Horizontal differentiation is essentially whittled down to personal preference and is unaffected by price or quality. Those little black dresses mentioned earlier? 

Say one is Alice & Olivia and the other is Anthropologie—which would you choose? 


Vertical differentiation is the polar opposite of horizontal differentiation. These are purely based on price points. While the qualities may be the same, the price is different. It’s like comparing a Volkswagen to a Prius. 

Numerous factors can go into differentiating a product from its competitors, some of which are detailed here: 

  • Easy to navigate design
  • Faster service
  • Better or more features
  • Price point 

As you brainstorm your way into a differentiation strategy, be mindful of your market. This is to say, go beyond who the product is focused on and analyze who the competitors are and what they’re doing. 

But most of all, analyze what they aren’t doing. In order to achieve success, the entire team has to be aligned and aware of the goal and challenges ahead. Together you can take inventory of your company’s best qualities and put them to work for you. Your qualities are going to be your greatest assets. 

Six Ways to Develop Differentiation


Consult your marketing mix to communicate a fresh thought in this area. Mattress brands are generating an industry in which you can order a compressed mattress through the mail, but it’s how they choose to differentiate themselves from similar brands that influence the purchase. 


With so many industries and products tethered to similar concepts, product-level differentiation helps provide some separation based on what the service offers. 

Oftentimes this comes in packages or “X-amount more free for Y-days.”


Eureka! There can be no differentiation, or strategy for that matter, without innovation. Innovating and inventing makes you the leader in your industry because the product will be the first of its kind on the market. 

Remember when video phones weren’t a thing? Exactly.

Price Differentiation

There are an awful lot of Teslas running amok in Los Angeles for their price point to be $100,000. Maybe that’s an extreme example of price differentiation

It’s like plane ticket prices. You can fly first class for an additional amount, OR for a lesser amount, you can fly coach. Either way, you’re getting to your destination. 


How many times have you walked out of a movie theater thinking the trailer was better than the actual movie? Props to their marketing differentiation team, though. 

Packaging is most commonly referenced as a product among other similar products on a shelf. In spite of a price difference, the best packaging may help influence the sale.


The customer feels as if you have their best interests in mind. Convenience goes a long way and even further when the service itself proves worthwhile. It’s the difference between driving further to a small bodega or a short walk to the grocery store. 

Point of Interaction

Every customer is different, which in some cases can be challenging. The idea behind POI is that every customer is taken care of and leaves happy. The interaction itself can leave a customer feeling jilted or as if they’ve been in the presence of a good friend. 

Most banks and retail businesses keep up to date with how customers perceive the front-end staff. Restaurants are also keen to audit the opinions of customers. When front-end staff is attentive and welcoming, that can mean a major shift in the overall experience.


If there is anything customers love more than variety, it’s being told what they want. As it were, sometimes a guiding hand isn’t always available. That’s why variety can play such a pivotal role in marketing strategy. 

In essence, the more your product has to offer, the more likely it is to sell. Similar to the adult beverage cooler at your local market, you’ll likely see there’s a “you pick six” option that allows customers to mix and match various beers when they can’t decide on just one. 

And that’s what variety does for strategy.

The more variety you’re offering can also differentiate your brand from the competition. While this option does require a heft investment due to the requirement of a product line, it is ultimately profitable.


At the start of your business excursion, there is probably not going to be much time to relax—not with a market saturated in competition and investors just as eager to turn a profit on their ideas. 

But not all of them will survive. It’s the business leaders that opt for differentiation that truly make a difference in the end. Only by separating yourself from the line of similar companies and their products will you get the chance to be truly original–it just takes time and research to get there.

How Harper+Scott Can Help

Harper+Scott helps brands establish their voice in an increasingly saturated marketplace, and give them unique identities that accentuate their strengths and values. Our services include the creation of branded merchandise, gifts with purchase, print and packaging, and more, handling kitting, fulfillment, and shipping. Our creative and design capabilities come free to our clients. 

Let Harper+Scott help you market your brand. 

Source List

Coca Cola Brand Positioning Hiba Nasir | Slideshare

Product differentiation – Developing Your Marketing Strategy – Learn – Marketing Essentials | Harvard ManageMentor

Price Differentiation | Definition and Examples | Price Intelligently

Horizontal vs Vertical Integration | Top 5 Differences (with infographics) | Wall Street Mojo