Making the most of difference for competitive advantage

“Notice anything different about me?”
Five words that will strike fear into anyone’s heart. The panic as you rapidly assess the options…is it their haircut, new clothes, new car? Help! You’re not sure…Maybe go with the clothes car haircut—that’s probably safest.

Cartoon of a stick person sitting at a table with "?HUH" about her head. Another stick person stands in a doorway with "TADA!" above his head. Through the window, you can just see the outline of a car. The caption reads, "Chloe was struggling to spot anything different about Tim this evening - but then she hadn’t yet seen his new Porsche on the drive."


This is essentially the question businesses ask their potential customers to answer on a daily basis. “Notice anything different about us?” Not necessarily different from yesterday, but different from our competitors.

But more often than not, it’s really not obvious what is different about the business, its products or its services. In a sea of choice, customers need to be able to understand your proposition and what makes you different; what makes you better; what makes you ‘the one’.


You’ll understand from your own purchasing decisions that differentiation is critical to your buying selection, whether you are buying a new car or choosing where you want to grab a bite to eat. At times, you might not be very aware of your decision making process, but you’ll be using multiple buying criteria to make the choice.

  • For example, when buying a TV, Debbie and I could have got it cheaper online; however, the 5-year guarantee that John Lewis offers made buying from them much lower risk.
  • When we’re looking to eat out, there are so many places to choose from, but Millsy’s do a full gluten-free menu that is almost identical to the normal menu which makes me happy. (Remember not to underestimate the power of the minority!)
  • In choosing a tradesperson to work on our house, recommendation is critical—either in person or online to ensure peace of mind that the work is going to be of decent quality.

You get my drift. We always have to justify our buying decision to ourselves in some way, and we’re drawn to difference. We’re drawn to those things that meet our needs.

While this might seem basic, and even somewhat obvious, you’d be surprised how many companies haven’t considered what makes them different or what their key competitive advantage is. Even if they have, it’s often from their own internal perspective (e.g. “We use the DC4543sXF chip instead of the DC4543sXW chip used by our competitors”) rather than their customers’ viewpoint.

Cartoon of two stick people. One is standing in front of shelves on which there are gadgets. Above his head it says, “It’s got a much better chip than the others.” The other stick person is looking at this scene with a thought bubble above his head that shows him eating a plate of chips.

The opportunity

Herein lies the opportunity, for your marketing strategy, innovating your differences, and developing your competitive advantage. By taking your customers’ view of the world, digging into how they see you and your competitors, and understanding your customers’ buying behaviour and decision making processes, you’ll begin to understand how you can make yourself noticeably different—in a way that your customers actually care about!

Article by

Matt Stocker

Matt is founder and director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. As a strategist, designer, innovator and geek, he's known for his creative thinking. Matt thrives in challenging environments and loves to push the boundaries of possibility. He's a big picture, visual thinker who is always running 5 to 10 years ahead. More about us

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