Let’s be honest. You and most of your competitors are all pushing essentially the same products or services – which means, if you want to distinguish your business in the marketplace, you need to focus on the little things that make it unique (or at least seem unique).

For example, consider residential real estate agent Rhonda Alderman. Instead of talking about her home-marketing services like every other agent, she branded them as something totally unique, something she calls “Elite Showcase Marketing” (she even trademarked the term). Any prospective client flipping through Rhonda’s marketing materials would think she offers something other agents don’t.

Take a good look around

Before giving any thought to how you might “differentiate” your products or services, you’ve got to get an understanding of what’s happening around you.

Start by studying the competition:

  • Study your competitors’ websites, advertising, marketing materials and blog posts.
  • Use Twitter and social networks to see what your competitors’ customers are saying about them.
  • Sign up for your competitors’ products or services to evaluate their customer service and offerings (be a difficult “customer” to get the best insights).

Then evaluate the wants of the marketplace:

  • Go online and hunt down the most recent industry research (professional associations and trade publications are usually the best sources).
  • Read the writings of influential industry bloggers.
  • Use Twitter and social networks to see what your target audience is saying about key issues.

Look for opportunities to be different

Once you’ve got a read on what the marketplace is yearning for – and which competitors aren’t satisfying those needs – then it’s time to start positioning your products and services to fill the voids.

Typically, the best approach is one of the following:

  • Create an attractive name and brand for some of your current products or services (e.g. “White Glove Shipping,” “Elite Showcase Marketing,” “One-hour Transformations”).
  • Start highlighting and emphasizing some of the little things that make your product or service just a bit unique (odd hours, speed of service/delivery, etc.).
  • Start offering a complimentary service or product (or team up with another business that provides it).

Make those the focus of your marketing

After taking the time to develop a few key differentiators, the last thing you want to do is treat them simply as added features. Instead, build your marketing around those unique elements. Use them to get peoples’ attention, then, once they’ve been wowed by your uniqueness, show them everything else you have to offer.

Keep monitoring the situation

As times change and your competitors evolve, it’s natural for your differentiators to lose some of their magic. To make sure you’re always offering something unique and desirable:

  • Use changedetect.com to monitor your competitors’ websites (and latest offerings).
  • Monitor your competitors’ blogs by subscribing to the RSS feeds.
  • Use Twitter and social networks to monitor what your target market is saying about you, your competitors, and the industry at large.

While you don’t want to jump from one marketing differentiator to another every time you spot a gap or a trend, you do need to make sure that your products and services always seem special and out-of-the-ordinary.