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Five Tips on Differentiation

November 28, 2012

Today’s post is written by Krista Sykes, Ph.D., founder of the strategy + writing firm Architecture In Context. You can reach Krista at or follow her on Twitter at @AKristaSykes

What distinguishes your firm in today’s ultra-competitive professional services arena? If your answer involves “design excellence,” “client service,” or similar marketing catch phrases, you are far from alone. Today most A/E/C firms look and sound alike, and many put forth such mantras as central to their identity. The problem is, attention to design and client collaboration aren’t defining characteristics. They are now the industry norm. A message of distinction—the idea that differentiates you from the rest—reaches beyond these givens to something that is singular to your firm. Your firm must differentiate itself from the competition.

In the ABX work session “Differentiate: Start Competing on Your Distinction and Not Your Fee,” Mike Reilly of Reilly Communications offered a plan to achieve distinction. Part way through the gathering he initiated small breakout groups for participants to practice uncovering their point of differentiation. For Reilly, the audible hum that filled the room during this exercise “confirmed that this discussion of differentiation is something people value and need.”

For those of you who missed Reilly’s insightful presentation, here are five tips to keep in mind as you explore and develop your firm’s unique marketing message:

  1. Communicate Value: A differentiation program educates your current and future clients by communicating what makes your firm truly valuable. This can occur through a variety of scenarios—client interactions, marketing collateral, social media, networking, etc.—but the message is a clear and consistent one.
  2. Start with Questions: To determine your point of differentiation, begin by asking questions within your firm about the value you bring to clients. Describe real cases that illustrate your firm’s strengths.
  3. Be Authentic: Reilly states, “Differentiation starts with something that’s important to the person, to the firm.” Differentiation rests on passion, and true passion can’t be faked.
  4. Partner With The Right People: A differentiation program needs champions within the firm. Cultivate allegiance with firm “leaders” at all levels to help the differentiation campaign come to life.
  5. Scale As Needed: If your firm pursues a differentiation program in full force, fantastic! But this isn’t the only way to proceed. You can explore and execute your point of distinction as time and resources allow. Tailor your differentiation program according to what will be most appropriate—and effective—for your firm.
One Comment leave one →
  1. November 28, 2012 12:07 pm

    Kudos to both @reillycomm and @akristasykes. Great points about differentiation, well summarized. @smpsbos

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