Once you paint a picture of your buyer and her ‘whole problem’, it’s time to start thinking about how you solve her whole problem in a way that is unique from your competitive set. As you know, the advertising industry is very mature and thus highly commoditized. You can’t throw a rock in any major city in America without hitting some kind of marketing firm or ad agency. Even digital agencies have been around for over fifteen years now. What I frequently find when I work with agencies is that they spend a lot of time nuancing language around their value proposition that is essentially identical to every other agency in their category. They are crafting category benefits instead of considering how they uniquely deliver those benefits to clients. 

A good thing to think about when you’re undergoing this exercise is the four quadrants of differentiation. The quadrants bucket your offering by degree of uniqueness (vertical axis) and degree of value to the client (horizontal axis). The bottom left is the crap quadrant. This is the place you should park any part of your story that everyone in the agency knows is total bullshit; the stuff that hasn’t demonstrated any value to the client and isn’t particularly unique. This could be the fact that you’ve been in business for thirty years or the fact that you created a new ad unit back in the 90s. Nobody cares. The top left is the cool quadrant. This is for those groovy tools and processes that you created (and quickly trademarked) that sound awesome but have not demonstrated a lot of value to your clients yet. The bottom right quadrant is for the commodity capabilities or processes that everyone in your category offers. Admittedly, they may offer a lot of value to the client, but they aren’t different than your competitive set and thus, not worthy of promotion in your materials. Most of the things agencies think are differentiating end up here. The top right, the sweet spot, is for your true differentiators. This is for anything that is truly unique from your competitive set that also demonstrates significant value to your clients. These could vary by target audience, competitive set, vertical or geography, so it pays to think about this in a segmented way. What I often find is that when agencies undergo this exercise, little nuggets of uniqueness emerge that they may never have considered before – a capability, a process, the way they package their services or the way they price it. And if nothing differentiating emerges (which sometimes happen), you will need to consider how you will innovate the business before doing any outreach.

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