How do you differentiate yourself in a marketplace so intensely regulated that everyone has to charge the same amount for services rendered? Likewise, how do you differentiate yourself when the service you offer is free and people see little difference between you and your competitors?
Those questions became the theme of the most recent episode of Marketing Smarts, which we recorded live in Los Angeles on April 25. Our guests were Eric Granof of AIA, the nation’s largest underwriter of bail bonds, and Brad Abare, founder of the Center for Church Communication and communications director for the evangelical Foursquare denomination. And though you might not think bail bond marketing and church marketing have much in common, they do share this problem: differentiation.
To help AIA’s agents address this issue, they created a site, ExpertBail, that does three things: It provides a lot of content to educate people on the bail industry; it profiles agents to put a human face on the industry (a face that doesn’t resemble Dog); and, finally, it recommends agents that have been vetted according to the site’s standards. This “certification” can make a real difference, according to Eric, “when you go down that bail bond row.”
Why? Because after seeing bail agent after bail agent, you suddenly see “ExpertBail—Trusted” and think, “I”m going to trust that guy.”
In other words, when you can’t differentiate on price, and the product is essentially the same, you need to differentiate on things like character and trust. With ExpertBail, AIA provides a platform that allows their agents to do just that.
Turning to the world of Christian churches, we run into a strikingly similar problem. To the extent that they preach the same Gospel and are based on a common set of values, churches can’t really “compete” on message. For all intents and purposes, they all have the same message. And because church services tend to follow the same template (music, prayer, sermon, etc.), you can’t really compete on, well, service. So, how do you entice people to visit your church instead of the one down the street?
“What brings people in to a local church community,” Brad told me, “whether it’s a church or a parish or whatever the denomination is, is something unique about that church.”
Because all churches are offering the same basic product/service, they need to pay special attention to the question, “What makes you you?”
It can take a lot of work and soul-searching to come up with a satisfying—and differentiating—answer to that question. Some churches focus on the pastor or minister, and his or her teaching as the community’s unique selling point. The problem with doing that, Brad points out, is that if something happens to that person—they leave or, worse, become involved in some sort of scandal, as happens from time to time—then attendance inevitably goes down.
Rather than building a “cult of personality,” Brad recommends that churches focus on defining the “personality of the church.” Why was it founded? What is the goal of its ministry? How does it seek to serve the greater community? Churches then should work on bringing that to the surface. “That,” he says, “is how you connect with community.”
The bottom line is this: If there is nothing that truly differentiates you from your competition, you’ve already lost. Fortunately, there probably is something unique and special about your organization, be it a church or a business. Find and articulate that, and you’ve already won!
So how have you created differentiation when you can’t do so on product or price?
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Standing Out)