Become the First Choice in Your Market with Dash

Targeting Strategies That Work Part 1: Differentiated Marketing

Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash
Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash


If “marketing” were a one-size-fits-all operation, we’d be able to sum up the beauty of differentiated market targeting strategies in one statistic: high-growth firms are three to five times more likely to have a strong differentiator.

Unfortunately, it’s never that simple. But we can say professional service organizations who adopt brand differentiated market targeting strategies that speak directly to their most relevant audiences are able to successfully separate themselves from the competition, win more business, and avoid competing on price.

What are Market Targeting Strategies?

Depending on whom you ask, there are three to five different types of marketing strategies. The ones most organizations employ are:

  • Mass marketing, or undifferentiated marketing.
  • Segmented, or differentiated marketing.
  • Concentrated, or niche marketing.

Micro-marketing is another narrow targeting technique that typically focuses on individuals or specific locations.

Whether you use one or all of these approaches in your marketing endeavors, the goal is to reach those who are most likely to invest in your products or services. These target audiences have often been defined by demographics like age group, gender, and geographic location. As markets have become more differentiated, though, it’s no longer enough to target any group based on these broad factors. For instance, not everyone in an age group needs the services you offer. The same can be said about everyone who lives within 20 kilometers of your office.

Of course, anyone would be happy to sell to everyone, but unless you offer a service every single person needs it doesn’t make sense to put your marketing targeting dollars into strategies that don’t produce the most results. Even mega-stores like IKEA who excel at undifferentiated marketing have their detractors! Plus, today’s consumers want to be treated as unique individuals, not members of a mass culture.

Differentiating your services is one of the best ways to position yourself in the marketplace and reap potential value for your brand.

What is a Differentiated Targeting Strategy?

If you want a little more depth and clarity to your marketing efforts, differentiation is the way to go. Often referred to as segmented marketing, a differentiated targeting strategy is designed to identify and focus on primary target segments that have the most potential value for your brand. Once you determine your key targets, the goal becomes developing separate market targeting strategies for each.

One of our favorite practitioners of differentiated marketing done right is the sports brand Nike. In terms of shoes, the brand mostly sells trainers. But it wouldn’t get very far, or enjoy such mass appeal, if it simply advertised a single product, “trainers.” Like most other sports lines, Nike offers different products to different market segments. Instead of keeping their targeting broad (or undifferentiated), the brand uses separate campaigns to appeal to the individuals who make up their fan-bases: runners, walkers, golfers, cyclists, and so on. They use differentiated marketing techniques to give each of their target audiences the personalized experience they’re looking for.

How can your professional service organization differentiate itself if it doesn’t sell trainers? Great question! You start by taking a good hard look at how you’re currently positioning yourself. It’s not uncommon for professional service firms in like industries to use the same few tired cliches to describe themselves. “Full-service,” “highly-experienced,” and “trusted and reliable” are wonderful traits but here’s the deal: that’s not competing. It’s saying you’re just like everyone else out there.

Why Choose Differential Market Targeting Strategies

When you don’t want to drown in a sea of “me-too competitors” who are chasing your potential clients with the same worn-out pitches, differentiated marketing is a smart approach that helps capture your share of the overall market.

Let’s return to Nike for a moment. Still the dominant player in sports footwear, the brand consistently beats out competitors who use influencers and global stars to market their products. Why? Because the company understands its target markets and uses that knowledge to run campaigns that reach each segment on a personal level. Customers like feeling they’re the focus of the brand’s marketing efforts and remain loyal to Nike, even if other brands offer similar products at lower prices.

So, how can this marketing approach be applied to professional services? Basically, by making sure everything you offer is differentiated in how it’s targeted. If you want to stand out from the rest you must first understand:

  • What specific product or service are you marketing?
  • Who are each of your services for?
  • Do you want to market to a specific demographic or vertical?

Once you can answer these questions, you can establish the foundation for a differentiated targeting strategy.

Building Differentiated Market Targeting Strategies

Targeting can also be on a brand level where the entire brand is differentiated in who it’s trying to target. Say you’re a professional service company that offers a diverse range of products and services. Financial planning firms, for instance, tend to offer advisory services to clients within plus or minus 50 kilometers of their location. There’s typically going to be a mix in there, say of high-net worth individuals looking to diversify, clients interested in things like self-managed super funds, and those looking for retirement and estate planning services.

Differentiated marketing lets you go beyond these table stakes and distinguish yourself as an advisor who unequivocally rises to a higher level than the rest. It also encourages you to think about client segments currently underserved by your competitors and which you might be able to market to.

Whether it’s planning a single campaign, building a better website, or creating a service page, as you think about your messaging you want to consider how your unique qualities can position you as an appropriate, personal, and impactful service provider. Put another way, you want to develop a relevant, authentic message that highlights your specific value proposition to a targeted clientele who are motivated to choose you over your competitors.

We talked earlier about how trying to be everything to everyone rarely works, particularly for professional service firms. To start, who in this approach is “everyone?” If our hypothetical financial planning firm focuses on debt management for younger clients, there’s no upside to marketing to other market segments who don’t need this service.

In a recent post we discussed how if you have expertise in a particular vertical, horizontal, or multi-segment market, you want to think about how you’re using your messaging to appeal to those people. How do you decide how to market to different targets? For example, with high-net worth individuals, do you appeal to price or status? One of the greatest advantages to differentiated marketing is that it allows you to be much more specific in your campaigns.

Are there potential pitfalls to the approach? There can be, and it usually comes down to not applying the right tools, technologies, and tactics to make sure, as much as possible, that the intended target of your differentiated strategy is the one seeing it. If you mix your messages too much you risk ending up with a prospect who sees multiple messages, many if not most of which don’t apply to them. What’s so dire about mixed messages? The practice inevitably erodes trust and position.

Here’s a good test to determine if your differentiated marketing strategy will be effective.

  • Do your website, service pages, and marketing campaigns and materials reflect a consistent message?
  • Does your messaging highlight what makes you unique when compared to your competitors? Is it focused on establishing your product or service’s superior value?
  • Are you clearly articulating the specific problems your services address and the specific ways they solve your client’s problem?

Done right, differentiated marketing allows you to compete on distinction and expertise, not price. Instead, it highlights how your unique offerings deliver better value which then justifies the related costs. In the end, because you have the specialized expertise they need, your targeted audiences will find you much more appealing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is market positioning?

The strategic exercise used to establish your brand in potential clients’ minds, market positioning is strongly related to differentiation. The two are interdependent and the process consists of three steps: identifying unique competitive advantages on which to build a position, choosing the right competitive advantages, and selecting an overall positioning strategy.

Why is differentiation in marketing important?

A key aspect of effectively marketing any professional services business, differentiation tells potential clients why your services are superior to others in your industry or niche. Rather than focus on price comparison, a differentiated marketing strategy aims to highlight unique benefits you bring to the table and helps you distinguish your firm as being the best at what you do.

Why is identifying a target market so important?

Target markets are potential clients who share similar needs or characteristics your professional services firm hopes to serve. Identifying target markets helps your firm develop effective market targeting strategies that resonate with those most likely to use your services.

What are some simple examples of differentiation?

Some common differentiation strategies include different marketing messages to different customers, separate campaigns based on client demographics, diversified messages that highlight a client’s specific needs, and promotions based on client online behavior.

What is “meaningful differentiation?”

Related to but separate from a unique value proposition, meaningful differentiation is a strategic approach used to create your firm’s story. Once you’ve identified what unique characteristics and offerings set your professional services firm apart, you’re ready to craft your unique value proposition or your central unifying message. That unique value proposition is then used to guide your firm’s messaging and is the basis from which all marketing decisions can be made.

How do I choose meaningful differentiators for my professional services firm?

Key differentiators should be unique, measurable, and defendable. They should effectively position your professional services firm to the needs and interests of a particular target segment. Internal and external research can help you find the right differentiators and assist you in determining multiple differentiation opportunities. For instance, if research shows your firm excels at boosting client ROI in areas where your competitors don’t, that’s a differentiator you want to use in your marketing efforts.

If they’re to be successful, all identified differentiators should meet three key criteria:

  1. They must be true. You can’t simply make them up.
  2. They must be important to potential clients. If not, what’s the point of highlighting them?
  3. They must be easily provable. If you can’t demonstrate a claim is true, it won’t be believed.

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