Differentiate or Disappear

You thought I was going to say “Die,” right? That's the title of one of my favorite books by Jack Trout. Differentiate or Die is a great book and you should read it. But death would be too quick and painless.

No, the reality is that it's worse than death if you can't differentiate in the market you're in. Because you'll still be alive. And watching others accomplish what you could have (or already did) can be seriously painful.

Quality won't distinguish you

You know this. I know this. But we all still fall into this trap. We think we can distinguish ourselves on quality. Whether it's a better product, a cleaner UI, or an easier product – we all try to tell ourselves (and our customers) the same story. Choose us because we've focused on quality and have a better product.

That doesn't work.

First, if you're the market leader, you have to do better. You have to convince someone your premium price is worthwhile. And you know the folks behind you are copying features left and right (and offering it all at a cheaper price).

If you're not the market leader, and a late market entrant (no worries, you have three strategies you can leverage), the leader's brand is well known. You won't win by listing your features and telling people you're the same. It's not worth their trouble to switch. And they're not sure they believe you.

You can't differentiate yourself on integrity or support

The other way companies try to differentiate is on their integrity and/or their support. You know, “we care more,” and “we try harder.” But honestly, unless you're in the top 1% of players providing support, you can't win this one.

Mostly, you can't win because we're all jaded. We just don't believe anymore. Today I got a letter telling me that a company I do business with had too much of my money and they were sending me a check. That's not normal.

So if you're sending customers some of their money back, maybe you got this. The rest of us can't go there and win that corner. So we have to take a different corner.

You need to understand your own story

When I joined Liquid Web we didn't have a Managed WordPress Hosting product. Today, four years later, we do – branded under Nexcess. But there were 10 other companies that had it.

So we had to create a product. But more importantly, we had to create a product that could stand out. Differentiate or disappear. We have new staff today that may not remember those days (because they joined us afterwards).

But it's our job to make sure that everyone who works to support, sell, or tell our story knows the backstory of how we came to create the best Managed WordPress hosting in the business.

We took known problems and went about solving them.

  • Four years ago, no hosting was offering to do image compression (included) for your site.
  • No one was doing plugin updates with visual comparison. And we still don't charge for it.
  • When you sync staging to production, we merge changes between the two. No overrides.
  • We perform as fast as many of our competitors, without any caching (great for eCommerce & membership sites).

These were, and still are, serious challenges. And your normal $3 or even $12 hosting won't solve them. In fact, there are hosts that start at $30/month that need you to pay even more to get some of these features.

We knew we were entering a market later than everyone. So we knew we needed to step apart from everyone and do some things differently. And we were happy to tell customers not only who we were good for, but who we weren't good for.

Let me ask you some questions:

  1. What problems are you solving that your competitors aren't solving?
  2. What kinds of customers aren't being served right now by your competitors, that you serve?
  3. Why did you create the product you did?
  4. What kinds of results are customers seeing that they couldn't see with others?

This isn't about my product or yours

This is about telling a story. A story that allows you to differentiate yourself. It's more than being able to tell your “why” story. It's about being able to build an identity that is different than all your competitors. One that lets you stand out.

When we went to build our Managed WooCommerce product, I told people over and over – we're not competing with SiteGround, Kinsta, WP Engine or Pagely. Those are hosts. We're competing with Squarespace, Webflow, and, of course, Shopify.

It's why we built StoreBuilder – to use AI to generate a unique store design instead of offering merchants a set of templates so stores could all look the same.

You see, you get to tell your own story but you also get to pick your own competition. And it will shape the problems you see, the customers you focus on, and the product you have to build.

The time to differentiate yourself is now

The reality is that there's never been a more congested time in the space we're all in. The competition isn't resting. And they're not going away. And even when some quit, others are standing in line to take their place.

So what that means, for you and me, is that we need to get focused. Or we'll be gone.

Differentiate or disappear.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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