Differentiation in communications


In my early marketing days in the head office of health and beauty retailer Boots, I remember many of the marketing training courses I attended making a big deal of differentiation in the marketing process.

To be successful in growing market share a business needed to be differentiated from its competition – something which it could achieve in one or many dimensions – for example by price, quality, speed or features.

Beyond the marketing community the notion of differentiation is a strong one in effective communications and public relations too.

To be effective, communications need to be differentiated in the complex and busy environment in which most of our target audiences live. Our message and the vehicles we use to communicate it need to stand out to be noticed.

But being differentiated isn’t enough. Just like the product on the supermarket shelves needs to appear different to its competitors in a way that appeals to the consumer, the messages and the channels we use for communicating need to be differentiated in a way that resonates with our audience. And they need to be differentiated in way that’s credible and appealing to that audience group.

For me that’s where some public sector communications work falls down. It’s either not differentiated at all, usually in an attempt to target too large an audience segment or in a failure to identify any segment (“this is aimed at all adults in the county”), or is differentiated in a way that does not resonate with the chosen audience segment.

So differentiating your communications is important. But differentiating them on the basis of something that your target audience actually cares about is even more important.