Brand Differentiation 101: How to Set Your Business Apart

Katie Fleming

Katie Fleming

Co-founder and COO of Owner Actions

A red apple lays in a pile of green apples to signify how important it is to set your business apart

It can be tough for customers to distinguish between your brand and another, especially when the price points, products, and services you offer are relatively the same. When they can’t see what sets your business apart from others, many choose the brands they know, or they go with the business that responds fastest to their needs.

This news is a plus for businesses that have built their reputations, are fast and responsive to needs, and are proactive about staying in contact with their customers. But newer businesses—and businesses in highly saturated markets—need to take more dramatic steps to set their business apart and become the go-to choice in their market.

Here, you’ll find some proven brand differentiation strategies. But, first…


What is brand differentiation?

Most businesses have features that make them stand out from their competitors. Brand differentiation is about leaning into those differences, especially with features that are noticeable and valuable to customers. This creates a true competitive advantage.

Differentiation can be a cost advantage. You may become the leader in your market because you can help your customers achieve significant cost savings. This may be because of your connections with key vendors, your abilities to complete certain tasks in-house, your low overhead expenses, or simply your sales volumes.

Of course, differentiation can come in many other forms, too. In fact, many forms of brand differentiation can help businesses that can never be the low-cost provider become the brand of choice in their market. Finding the factors that work for your business is key to your long-term success.


What is a factor that sets my business apart from others?

There are many ways to stand out as the brand of choice in your market. Here are some options:

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Upfront costs

Many look to price alone when making a selection. If you can meet or beat your competitors’ pricing, you will attract the bargain seekers.

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Total cost of ownership

Price-sensitive buyers who are a bit more sophisticated in the selection process often opt for brands that promise low maintenance costs or offer affordable service and support packages.

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Unique pricing strategies

People often choose businesses that allow them to buy precisely what they need without forcing them into comprehensive solution packages.

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Unique services

Conversely, people may favor your business over competitors if you pair the item they need with a service that improves their enjoyment or satisfaction, introduces more convenience, or reduces their risk.

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Customization is an undeniable trend among buyers. If it’s possible to create customized, personalized products that help your customers stand out themselves, you may want to find ways to do so.

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You may attract a pool of eager buyers by offering small selections of items that are difficult to attain. These buyers are often more interested in status and uniqueness than low prices.

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When all else is equal, customers often choose brands that make their shared interaction enjoyable. Customer service is certainly important here. Still, other options like offering samples of products or services or using new technologies (such as augmented reality to help customers picture a product in their environment) can really set a business apart.

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Taking experiences a step further, companies that make the research, selection, purchase, and post-purchase processes fun can help their customers feel like they’re part of something magical. This feeling could entice the “just browsing” shoppers to follow through with their purchases.

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Emotional attachment

Feelings matter to buyers, and fun doesn’t have to be the feeling you use to connect with your buyers. You might tap into nostalgia, comfort, care, acceptance, or other feelings that resonate with members of your market.

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Buyers often prefer the mainstay in the market. Experience matters, and it’s an attribute you can play up to attract those who value it.

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Sometimes, ease of use is a major deciding factor for shoppers. If your solution is simpler to navigate, implement, customize, or maintain, make sure you highlight those benefits. If it’s not, think about taking steps to streamline it to access this key advantage.

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Systems integration

Business buyers value options that easily integrate with the tools and processes they’ve already implemented. Increasingly, non-business buyers are looking for integration, too. Whether you can add features to make your products or services work with a home automation device (such as Alexa or Google Home) or create an app that makes interacting with your product or service easy, you might look for ways to promote easy integration into your buyers’ daily routines.

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Risk mitigation

Promises are a powerful way to earn people’s confidence. That confidence may come when you promise reliability through minimal downtime or on-time guarantees. It could also come from performance records that show how consistent you are in providing customers with their promised solutions.

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Customers want what they want right now. If fast delivery is one of your competencies—or if you can develop it through a courier service or a round-the-clock support team—use it to attract people who value immediacy.

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Social proof

Lots of shopping make their buying decisions after reading online reviews. Stellar reviews are easy to attain when you’re performing at your best. Get these reviews in writing and use them to your advantage on your web and social media sites.

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Third-party proof

Similarly, buyers are looking to authority figures and reputable organizations to confirm a business’s quality and appeal. If you have certifications, expert testimonials, and/or news articles touting your solutions, use them to win over skeptical shoppers.

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Right place, right time

Often, people choose to buy from the business that gets in front of them before they’re in decision mode. If you pay attention to what your customers are talking about on social media and searching for online, you can develop targeted ads that will capture these pre-purchase buyers and sway them toward what you have to offer.

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Professional image

A business’s image can give buyers confidence that the solution they purchase will be genuine, helpful, valuable, and relevant to their business. Great websites, well-designed ads, and carefully curated social media pages can help you distinguish your business from its competitors.

Should my brand differentiation strategy include all of these factors?

No. In fact, your brand message will weaken if you start making too many “what sets your business apart from others” statements. Instead, focus on one to three of the tactics that will mean the most to your market.

You might start by enhancing your professional image and building social proof. Or, you could position your business as a low-cost solution and set up pricing strategies that win over the price-conscious segment of your market. Whatever set of options you choose, be sure they matter to your customers and make sure they set your business apart from your rivals.


What’s next?

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