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Ian Brodie

Vertical Differentiation or Horizontal Differentiation?

I was reading my good friend,  Ian Brodie’s excellent blog, and he introduced me to the term “vertical differentiation” in this article,

Ian helps consultants, coaches and other professionals to get more clients, and he was saying how difficult it is for these people to be unique.

Often these businesses provide similar services to their competitors and have little opportunity to do something new and different – what Ian calls horizontal differentiation.

Vertical Differentiation – Being Better Than Your Competitors

He selects several well known names and argues that what makes them different and successful is not that they do things different, but they do things better.

This is vertical differentiation.

The firms occupy the same horizontal places in the market but clients generally rank them as above competitors.

Vertical Differentiation And The Strategy Canvas

Just to be clear, if you use a visual technique like the strategy canvas (from the Blue Ocean Strategy book) or what I call a customer value attribute map, vertical differentiation is a higher rating on the attributes considered most important to the customer)

Vertical differentiation an interesting idea but I think relying on a strategy of being seen as better is dangerous.

Claiming To Be Better Is Dangerous

First, better is such a nebulous concept and especially for services where so much of what is provided is intangible.

How can a potential client assess whether one lawyer is better than another?

Second, even if they can make an assessment, better like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s difficult to influence since it comes down to personal tastes unless you introduce factors of genuine difference.

Third, if all the professional firms look the same, then different becomes better. Standing out suddenly makes the business look more attractive.

Imagine ten identical beautiful blonde girls in a room – you’d expect each to get an equal amount of attention. Now imagine one went out of the room and came back with her hair dyed brunette.

She stands out and becomes more magnetic. She’s no more beautiful than she was before, but she is different from the others and more memorable because of it.

That little difference can help focus attention and instead of being dazzled by sameness, genuine quality differences might be perceived.

The final big concern about basing a strategy around vertical differentiation and being better is that it increases competitive rivalry. Competition is focused on a few specific attributes. As one rival improves in one dimension of customer value, another is encouraged to take actions to match or improve on that same dimension.

This is likely to create a cycle that increases costs of services but, although the customer value delivered increases, the competitors are unable to capture that value because of competitive pressure on price. Businesses are trying to move away from the customer value line to create advantage rather than along the customer value line to create a different value proposition.

Better Is Worthy But It Can Be A False Perception Of Reality

I believe being better is very worthy (we should all aim to be the best we can be) but it can lead you into a false reality.

We all tend to believe that we are better than we are.

I remember reading some research on professionals who were asked to rank their skills and knowledge compared to their peers. Something like 90% rated their skills as better than average!

How does that work?

It obviously can’t. Average means that 50% are above and 50% are below (strictly speaking that would be the median).

It does point to the problem that people generally think they are better than they are. In marketing this means relying on false hope which isn’t a strategy for success.

Even Clients Will Give You A Biased Answer

I bet you think that you can ask your clients to get an unbiased opinion but the question is rigged.

“Do you think your professional firm is better or worse than average?”

It sounds like a fair question but what’s it really asking?

“Did you make a wise, intelligent decision and use a professional firm that is better than average  or are you an idiot and have you continued to use a professional firm that is below average?”

Yes, you can expect to hear that clients made a wise decision even if they’d never think of making a referral.

If you think you’re better because you’re biased and your clients think you’re better because they are biased too, then vertical differentiation can lead to complacency and you finish up with the stalemate that you see in many professional services.

Differentiating by trying to be better sounds like a cop-out to me unless customers are rigid about their buying criteria and what they expect to experience.

Advantage – ABCDEF

I commented on Ian’s blog with a little acronym I’ve used for years.

ABCD – your Advantage can be Better, Cheaper or Different.

After I’d written it, I thought some more and wish I’d extended it to ABCDEF – your Advantage can be Better, Cheaper, Different, Easier or Faster.

The easier and faster helps to give a couple more dimensions to think about how your business impacts on the customer’s experience. Depending on your definitions, easier and faster could have come out of either the better or different categories.

I’d like to know what you think.

Is there merit in following a vertical differentiation strategy and being better than competitors rather than having horizontal differentiation?

And if it is, how can you communicate that you are better?

in 3 – Your Strategic Positioning

Ian Brodie’s Momentum Club

I will review the Momentum Club from Ian Brodie.

>>> Click over to the Momentum Club (affiliate link)

Who Is Ian Brodie?

Ian is a UK based business coach who specialises in helping consultants, coaches and other professional service businesses to get more clients.

He rejects the hard sell approach that some coaching marketing specialists recommend that is such a turn-off to professionals who want to spend their time working with clients rather than marketing to them.

In their place, he uses an approach he calls Pain Free Marketing (affiliate link) and writes an excellent blog at IanBrodie.com (affiliate link).

Ian is a good friend and, when I decided to form a mastermind group of coaches I respected, he was one of the first people I invited to join.

Who Is The Momentum Club For?

Ian sees his core market as coaches and consultants but ideas that apply to these two professions also work for many of the other professional services.

He loves the Internet and is active in social media and has over 107,000 followers on Twitter. However he also recognises that the traditional offline marketing methods have their place too.

What’s Different About Selling Professional Services?

Why would you want this training instead of or as well as Profit Before You Pay?

Because selling services and especially professional services can be very different from general marketing and sales.

  1. Services are intangible. With a product, you can see what you’re getting before you buy. You can judge the product attributes and decide if it looks as if it meets your needs. That’s very hard to do with services which are “squidgy” around all the edges and hard to define without a lot of effort.
  2. It is hard to judge quality, even after the service has been delivered. Do you really know how good a job your lawyer did? If he made sure that you were found not guilty, it was “mission accomplished” but how well did he do drafting those terms and conditions or advising you on your intellectual property options?
    What about your tax accountant? Even if he saved you tax, did he save you all the tax that it was economical to do or has he opened you up to potential trouble in the future by using a loophole that is being challenged?
    Sometimes the results are tangible and will give buyers comfort but other times, it takes something going wrong to identify a poor service. In theory a problem avoided will point to a good job done (e.g. a computer software house using four digits for the year and thus avoiding future costs caused by the millennium bug scare stories) but the buyer will very rarely identify these situations.
  3. Market size is a poor indicator of quality. Apple grew because of the high quality innovations like the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Growth comes naturally and causes economies of scale that help consolidate consistent quality. That doesn’t necessarily happen in professional services. As firms get bigger, sales staff and those who do the work are disconnected. More people get involved and knowledge and insight gets divided amongst the team. Clients keep having to repeat themselves to different people. But dealing with a high quality one person consultant or coach, it all seems so simple and straightforward.
  4. Price is a poor indicator of quality. Bigger professional service firms usually charge more than small firms but buyers have to be careful about following the rule that “you get what you pay for.” At the same time, no one should buy professional services on the basis of the lowest price.
  5. Professional standards and associations damage opportunities for differentiation. While the intention is to assure a high quality service, they tend to turn a service into a commodity where it’s hard to judge which will be most suitable.
    At the same time, sometimes professional qualifications are assumed when they don’t necessarily exist. For example, in the UK, accountant is not a legally protected word so anyone can work as an accountant, regardless of their knowledge and experience.
    Worse, some professional sounding bodies don’t have the legitimacy that an uninformed person might assume.

These issues result in a “buyer beware” situation which makes it hard to convince sceptical buyers unless it is a forced purchase, required by law or situation.

There’s ls also the issue that marketing too hard creates the impression in the buyers’ minds that “they can’t be much good if they always need more work.”

As a professional service supplier, you can’t abdicate responsibility for marketing and the profitability of your business. You might want to because you don’t want to spend your time marketing. You’d much rather provide the service.

The end result is that marketing professional services is difficult. There’s a balance that needs to be found.

That’s why I recommend you consider carefully the specialist training provided by Ian Brodie in his Momentum Club.

What I Like About The Momentum Club

  1. Ian’s character and approach. Some coaches and trainers are too full of themselves and will put you off an idea, even if it has merit. Ian is softly spoken (with a Geordie accent), well researched and never over the top with fake enthusiasm. He’s very approachable and welcomes questions and feedback.
  2. The low cost, no risk trial for the first month. At the moment it only costs £5 and if you decide you don’t like the training, you can even ask for and receive a refund.
  3. The Core Marketing lessons are available from the start. Ian has put together a series of videos to help you to get the basics of your marketing right including your mindset, your value proposition and the idea of adding value in advance to prove your worth.
  4. The monthly implementation projects. Ian wants you to change your business and how it makes contact with, attracts and converts clients. To help you to take action, he has created step by step guides that walk you through the process. Each month a new project appears.
  5. The monthly masterclass webinar.There is more general training on marketing and selling topics that give members the chance to ask and get answers from Ian.
  6. The gradual introduction of the training each month means that you don’t get overloaded. If you buy some other training you might not know where to start because there is just so much there.
  7. There is a balance between online and offline strategies but favouring online. At the moment I’m 21 months into the webinars and 18 months into the projects although I’m lucky that Ian has given me free membership. (I did say that we were good friends at the start). It wouldn’t be right to tell you what’s coming each month but Ian covers a wide range. There is a bias towards online but that’s what is changing most often.
  8. All the training can be downloaded as a video or pdf slides. You can watch from Ian’s website or you can transfer the training to another device that isn’t dependent on Internet access. This also means that you still have access to any downloads even if you decide to cancel your membership. It may be a small point but Ian has made sure that all the files are downloaded with clear, sensible names. In my experience, this is far too rare but it shows the care and attention Ian has given to his Momentum Club.

What I Don’t Like About The Momentum Club

No training product is perfect and it wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t point out some of the negatives.

  1. You won’t get value for money if you don’t take action. I say this on each of my reviews but I am guilty of spending money and not following through and I suspect that most people who are regular purchasers do the same.
  2. There is a lack of natural flow and structure in the projects and webinars. For example, an early project is about getting more traffic to a website which is fine if you already have a good website but a problem if you don’t. Three months later, there is a project for improving your website. An early webinar is about Linkedin, the how to do it project is some months later. This means that it will suit existing coaches and consultants better than new start-ups.
  3. The delays in providing the training mean that your big problem may have to wait. The downside of introducing training gradually so that you’re not overwhelmed means that the order Ian delivers it may not suit your needs. I’d encourage Ian to consider offering a version that provides everything for one much larger payment. As Ian thinks of new things, it can be expanded for free. This wasn’t an option at the start as Ian was working one or two months ahead of publication but he now has a lot of training provided.
  4. There is a little used forum. The idea of a forum and members asking questions of Ian and each other is great but it’s not used much,. I’ve seen this with much more expensive training but it is a waste of an opportunity to engage with Ian and the peer group. I feel guilty because I promised Ian that I would do more to get this off the ground.

My Overall Thoughts On The Momentum Club

Coaches, consultants and small professional service firms should pay attention to Ian and his ideas.

He is very practical and avoids any marketing that smells bad. I’m sure you know what I mean.

The initial offer with its low price and money back guarantee means that anyone who is short of work and needs more clients should give it a try.

>>> Click over to the Momentum Club (affiliate link)

How To Cancel Your Membership

If you join, you will pay a monthly fee until you cancel. I think it’s important that you know how you can stop it before you start.

The club has a contact form that is accessible from every page that lets you email Ian and he also gives you his telephone number – 0161 408 0984. He doesn’t have any support staff so you’ll be dealing directly with him.

If you’re an affiliate of mine and you’re having trouble I’ll also get involved but I can’t imagine that happening. Ian is one the good guys.

I Am An Affiliate

If you join, I will earn an affiliate commission.

That gives much a financial incentive to persuade you to buy but that’s no different than retailers of products who earn a margin. I’ve made my affiliate status very clear because I believe it’s the right thing to do but other people may hide it.

I only recommend training programs that I believe can help you and I try to make it very clear that you must take action.

>>> Click over to the Momentum Club (affiliate link)

in Small Business Training Programs

What Do You Want To Be Famous For?

Today I feature another excellent article from my good friend and mastermind partner Ian Brodie of IanBrodie.com who helps coaches and consultants get more clients. The article looks at your positioning or branding  in terms of what you want to be famous for?

What big idea, concept or expertise do you want people to link to your name? I’ve written before about the few words you want people to think of when they hear your name – What 3 Words Do You Want Customers To Think When They Hear Your Name

Over to Ian.

What Do You Want To Be Famous For?

Back when I was a young(ish) consultant working for Gemini Consulting I was lucky enough that my personal mentor was a very experienced marketer and business developer. He eventually went on to become head of Marketing and BD for Gemini globally.

I remember very clearly a discussion I had with him a few years into my career.

We were reviewing my performance appraisal for that year. I’d kind of hit my stride – had done really well and got great reviews. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, so I wasn’t expecting Kieron’s question:
“OK, that’s all fine. But what do you want to be famous for?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, so far you’ve done a bit of everything. Strategy, marketing, supply chain work, change management. What are you going to focus on?”

“Can’t I keep doing a bit of everything? I like the variety. ”

“Not if you want to progress. You might have been the star in your previous company – but everyone is a star here. Everyone is a high performer. Unless you focus and really build up your skills, there’ll always be someone better than you at each of the things you do. You’ll never be the first choice when a project manager has a role to fill.”

And he was right. Although it took me a couple more years to finally bite the bullet and specialise in marketing and sales.

Once I’d specialised I was doing more marketing and sales work. So I got better faster. Soon I was pretty much the “first name on the team sheet” for marketing and sales in my chosen sector. Then I became the first person the firm turned to to sell and lead marketing and sales projects in that area.

And it’s the same with clients.

While we might enjoy variety, clients want the best person for the job. And that’s usually a specialist.

If you have a water leak you call a plumber, not a general handyman. If you have epilepsy, you need a neurologist or epileptologist, not a GP.

Later on, once you’ve established your expertise, the client may broaden the range of questions they ask you. You may establish enough credibility in wider areas that they come to see you as a trusted advisor.

But it starts with “earning your spurs” by doing a brilliant job at helping them with the initial problem they have.

And to do that job brilliantly, you need to focus so that you develop real expertise in that area.

Years later, I read a quote which really brought that point home to me. It was from magician David Devant – the leading turn-of-the-century conjurer and first ever president of the Magic Circle in London.

When approached backstage by a young magician who told him he knew about three hundred tricks and asked how many Devant knew, Devant’s answer was:

“I know only eight. But I know them very well”.

As Devant highlights, you can only be a true master of a small number of things. Be they magic tricks, business disciplines, areas of the law or client industry sectors.

It may be painful, but to be the greatest value to clients, to help them with the trickiest challenges (and therefore the most lucrative work) you must become a master. And in my mentor’s words – you must become famous for it.

So what are you going to be famous for?


Ian Brodie

You can learn more about Ian and his marketing and sales ideas at IanBrodie.com

Do you agree with Ian?

You even have the chance for a bit of self-promotion because you can tell me what you want to be famous for by leaving a comment – just no keyword spam comments because I won’t publish them.

in 3 – Your Strategic Positioning

3 Marketing Secrets Stolen From My Local Coffee Shop

My first guest blogging article goes to my friend and mastermind partner Ian Brodie, of IanBrodie.com. Ian is an expert in helping consultants, coaches and other professionals to get more clients with his practical marketing and sales advice.

When you read it, you’ll immediately see why I wanted to publish it.

Over to Ian.

3 Marketing Secrets Stolen From My Local Coffee Shop

About 2 years ago, a new coffee shop called Caffe Latte opened in our local village.

It was a bit of a risk: we had a bypass built a decade ago and since then the village centre has slowly died. And I must admit, I didn’t rate its chances of success highly.

But it’s worked brilliantly. Not only is it thriving, but it’s revitalised the centre of the village. Far more people come in to town and use the local shops – and there’s a real sense of community returning.
Kathy and I love to take a walk up there a couple of times a week. We often take a book or some work to do and just sit there for a couple of hours.

I’ve been in there so often I kind of know the business inside out now. And I’ve picked out three lessons from how Francesca, the owner, has marketed Caffe Latte that I think we consultants and coaches and other professionals can learn from. Particularly if we’re a small firm or one-man-band.

Francesca competes against the big chains in other local towns – Starbucks, Costa, Cafe Nero. Just as we might compete against Accenture, KPMG or Linklaters.

Positioning. The first thing Francesca got right was the positioning of the business. It’s not just a “like Starbucks but cheaper” – pricing is roughly at the same level. She recognised that we don’t choose a coffee shop because it’s a few pence cheaper than the alternative. We choose it for taste, atmosphere, food – a whole range of reasons.

Yet so many professionals position themselves as “like X, but cheaper” (substitute the name of a big firm for X – usually the firm the professional used to work for).

The thing is, you’re not like Accenture or KPMG or Linklaters. You’re not a big name that no one got fired for hiring. You’re not a bland but safe bet. You’re an individual with a whole load of things to offer that you need to focus on rather than just being a cheap version of a big firm.

Personality. What Caffe Latte has in abundance is personality. It’s a reflection of Francesca really. Quirky, fun. You go there and you feel part of the family – like Norm in Cheers. The staff are all like that too.

As solo professionals or small firms that’s something we can do too. We don’t have to conform to a bland corporate image. We don’t have to please everyone. We just need to find a few clients who can love us for life.

If we put our personality and our passion into our business we can stand out a mile compared to our corporate competitors. Yet so few of us do so.

Instead, we hide behind our smart suits and corporate websites. We speak in corporate tongue rather than in the plain English we’d use at home or with our friends. How many solo professional’s websites have you seen that say “we” when there’s only the one of them in the firm (sadly, mine used to be like that too – though thankfully I’ve grown out of it).

We shouldn’t be trying to copy the corporates – we should be trying to find our own unique personality and voice.

Innovation. That’s a big word. Can a coffee shop really innovate? Well, yes in the sense of constantly trying out new things to see what works and abandoning things that don’t.

Francesca started up with a big kids area and creche. Didn’t work. So she changed it.

She tried hosting themed days and celebrations. Worked brilliantly.

She tried live music. Didn’t work. Stopped it.

She tried changing the menu, adding new food and sweets no one else was doing. Worked brilliantly.

She’s used Facebook for marketing. Installed free wifi. Worked brilliantly.

The big chains don’t have the flexibility or the bravery to allow their stores to try out new stuff like this. They all have to be the same.

And that’s a huge advantage you can have over your big competitors too. In the time it would take them to set up a committee to look into doing a feasibility study to develop a business case to maybe think about something new – you can have tried it out and figured out whether it will work or not.

Yet how many of use that advantage? How many of us are constantly trying out new offers, new services, new marketing tactics?

Caffe Latte has been such a success they’re now franchising the model out across the country. Maybe we ought to think about what we can learn and apply to get our own equivalent success.

And, of course, if you’re ever in the little town of Handforth just South of Manchester – do pop in to Caffe Latte and you might well see me in there.


You can learn more about Ian and his marketing and sales ideas at IanBrodie.com

in 4 – Lead Generation