Categories: Marketing Strategy

Why Content Differentiation Dictates Success (and How to Find Yours)

Does standing out online against competitors feel like a game of cat and mouse?

They publish an interesting guide – you rush to publish something similar with slight changes.

They expand to a new social media platform – you develop a strategy for that platform to make sure you have a presence.

Their thought leader publishes an opinion piece in a big-name guest blog – you gather a list of pitches for that guest blog site.

Here’s a secret: When you figure out your differentiation factor and develop content around it, you can all but forget about what your competition is up to online.

Instead of trailing their content, you’re 100% focused on your audience because you already know what it takes to offer something unique.

It’s the equivalent of going from someone obsessed with posting Instagram photos to spite their ex to someone focused on themselves for personal growth.

Quick takeaways:

  • Content differentiation tells you how to reach the right people with useful content. You end up targeting a slightly different audience than your competitors, which boosts your chances of building a sustainable audience.
  • You’ll have a better grasp of how to solve specific pain points and where to reach your audience online, creating a positive reinforcement cycle for organic traffic.
  • Content differentiation forces you to focus on connecting with your audience instead of promoting products/services from a slightly different angle.

Why is Content the Ultimate Differentiation Factor?

To be frank, what other choice do you have to differentiate your brand?

According to Chiefmartec.com, the martech landscape grew over 13% in 2020. In other words, anyone in this industry now has to compete with over 8,000 similar solutions:

Chiefmartec.com

SaaS isn’t in a better position either, with thousands upon thousands of solutions listed on G2.

How can you stand out in markets like these – with global competition no less?

Sure, the experience you provide is critical but how can you share that experience except through content?

Without content as a differentiation factor, you’re always two steps behind the competition. You might even end up losing money or degrading your brand’s offerings to keep up – both of which often happen when you choose things like price, product, or experience to stand out.

Plus, content is scalable, flexible, and taps you into a specific market.

Content is the Best Tool to Reach New Targeted Audiences

Most B2Bs use content marketing to generate demand and leads, create brand awareness, and establish trust. It’s all about relevancy.

CMI

Notice how all the most common goals sit at the top of the funnel? That’s because content is the most effective way to reach targeted audiences with relevant content.

Digital advertising like PPC is ineffective and costly. However, a long-term content strategy that’s optimized for SEO lets you:

  • Structure content around specific primary keywords.
  • Publish consistent content in specific niches.
  • Use your unique voice to connect with specific audiences.
  • Solve pain points without selling anything, thus building trust.

These are all incredibly important because first, the consistency shows Google where your expertise truly lies above anyone else – instant differentiation.

Over time, Google will rank you for more searches in your niche. Meanwhile, your content will earn shares, links, and engagement in your target audience because it’s always relevant.

You Need Content to Compete in the Same Spaces as the Other Guys

Facebook, LinkedIn, podcasting, YouTube, guest blogging – how can you offer audiences a unique solution in the same space as competitors without content differentiation?

Publishing content with the same answers in the same topics puts you back at square one. You still end up using your products or experience to stand out – which no one will care to learn if your content doesn’t do the talking first.

You need content that stands out by offering something totally different.

Unfortunately, this is a major problem among brands who saw the SEO potential of content and threw blinders up. They were so focused on outranking competition for the same keywords that they never stopped to think about what made their voice and solutions unique.

It’s Adaptable to Each Stage of the Sales Funnel

After driving demand, leads, and brand awareness, you’ll notice the next most-popular goals include:

  • Lead nurturing
  • Customer loyalty

That’s because content seamlessly scales for each stage of the sales funnel.

Keyword research for content alone gives you incredible insight into the searcher’s intent. For example, someone searching “what is content marketing” is likely in the awareness stage and needs an introductory guide to the topic.

Meanwhile, someone searching “best content marketing strategy for SaaS” is looking for a specific solution to their problem – and either in the middle or bottom of the funnel.

Look at all these question-based keywords around the main topic of digital transformation:

Semrush

Content Gives People a Reason to Visit Your Website and Interact with Your Brand

WordStream estimates that the average conversion rate across landing pages in all industries is just 2.5%. In other words, over 97% of people who visit your website are not ready to buy anything.

Well, if you don’t offer these visitors a useful reason to visit your website beyond completing a purchase, why would they care to visit?

They won’t.

Content marketing’s revolutionary nature stems from the fact that it’s not promotional (at least it shouldn’t be). People read and share your content because they know it’s not a sales pitch – it answers a real question or solves a real problem without selling anything.

To take advantage of that, you need a content differentiation factor to offer something relevant and unique.

Content Differentiation Forces You to Put Your Audience Needs First

Two types of content absolutely don’t work: generic content and promotional content.

You can’t avoid both of those sins if you don’t tap into your audience’s mind to put their needs ahead of your own.

If you’re not focused on using your content differentiation to provide something relevant and unique, your content will always end up too generic. It will say the same thing as everything else out there and no one will care.

Plus, your goal shifts away from selling something to every visitor. Instead, you strive to offer content itself as the solution, leaving the end result genuinely useful and not promotional.

This CIO article wouldn’t have made it onto the first page of results for “what is digital transformation” if it was overwhelmingly promotional:

CIO

It Builds Authority and Trust in Your Target Audience

Content differentiation shows a specific audience how your expertise applies to their real-world problems – all without selling a product.

If you can manage to solve their problems and connect with them through content, they’ll learn to trust you as a provider and return to buy when the time is right.

And if they never buy – that’s okay too! You’ll be the first brand on their mind when the topic comes up in conversations.

7 Ways to Make Content Your Differentiation Factor

If you’re ready to make content work as a differentiation factor, you still need to figure out how to offer something unique and better than the competition.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Who are my top three competitors?
  • What are their content strengths and weaknesses?
  • What keywords and main topics do they base their content around?
  • Which audiences are they trying to reach through content?
  • What pain points do they solve through content?

These answers offer a starting point to understand what you’ll need to do differently through your content.

Remember, the goal isn’t to compete for the same audiences on the same topics – it’s to reach totally different audiences with unique content.

1. Shift Attention to Audience Pain Points Instead of Product Promotion

Your content differentiation factor needs to offer something useful that has nothing to do with completing a purchase. What pain points and problems can you solve through content without relying on sales tactics?

You could start with a simple Google search to explore pain points in your area of expertise. The People Also Ask section gives us some general ideas as a starting point:

Google

You could take it a step further with Answer the Public. Just plug in your main topic and explore tons of niche ideas:

Answer the Public

Look at all those potential niches to dig into: healthcare, small business, B2B, startups, ecommerce, nonprofits, and more.

Remember, these are just starting points. Next, explore your ideas on social media and Reddit to see the current conversations and biggest industry problems you can solve.

2. Find a Unique Angle to Set Yourself Apart from Competitors

Why should anyone read and share your content over a competitor? This is the ultimate question. Because your incredible content doesn’t matter if your competition already cornered the market with their authority.

By running a keyword analysis in Semrush, we can see that Salesforce dominates the SaaS keyword market:

Semrush

However, Salesforce only seems to rank for 388 organic keywords within this topic – mostly general high-volume keywords.

Semrush

This tells us we could differentiate our content by digging into a niche SaaS topic or audience. We’d also want to research those top Salesforce keyword competitors to see which niches their content covers so we can choose something unique for our content differentiation.

3. Develop Your Thought Leadership Voice

Your thought leadership voice is an important part of content differentiation because it helps you connect with your audience. It also helps you connect with different audiences than your competition.

A thought leadership voice is unique to you and your brand. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How do my opinions on industry topics differ from my competition’s?
  • What emotions do I want people to feel as they read my content?
  • What key message do I want readers to take away from my content?
  • What kind of language does my target audience use?

Remember, your goal isn’t to make everyone like you – that’s too generic. You want to make specific groups of people love you.

4. Understand What It Takes to Reach and Engage Your Audience Online

Too many brands think they have a unique content differentiation factor but then end up following their competitors around online.

In some cases, you certainly want to make sure your brand presents itself as an alternative on the same platforms as your competitors. However, the goal is to think beyond the competition by going to places they’ve ignored or neglected.

You can carve out your own niche in untapped markets this way by researching things like:

  • Ignored pain points from keyword research
  • Common complaints in industry subreddits
  • Negative reviews and comments on competitor social media accounts
  • Existing blogs on industry websites

This will give you a solid idea of what kind of content, solutions, and message your target audience wants but can’t find anywhere.

5. Laser-focus Your Content to Specific Topics for Authority Building

It may sound counterproductive but limiting yourself to certain topics is the best way to become an authority. Otherwise, you become an expert in everything and master of none.

Google doesn’t like a jack of all trades. Google can’t tell where your real expertise falls but it knows you can’t be an expert in everything. You may end up ranking poorly for everything or ranking well for random topics you don’t care much about.

At Marketing Insider Group, we focus on four main topics:

MIG

We aren’t trying to rank for every keyword slightly related to our brand. We only want to rank for highly relevant keywords in these topics so we can establish our expertise.

And it pays off. We rank for nearly 30k organic keywords in our niche:

Semrush

6. Always Do Better than Existing Content in Your Niche

Successful content differentiation involves three main parts:

  • Targeting a different audience
  • Covering different topics
  • Creating better content than what already exists

If you figure the first two out (niche audience and topic) but neglect the last part, what’s the point? Your audience will still go somewhere else for the information.

Run Google searches for your keywords and investigate everything on the first page – both competitor websites and non-competitors who publish similar topics. You must outdo everything available if you want to establish yourself as a go-to expert on certain topics.

7. Offer Something Totally Unique to Build Links Through Content Differentiation

It’s also smart to look for gaps in content formats or research as you decide how to use content differentiation for your brand.

Detailed guides, infographics, video tutorials, explainers – where do other websites fall short?

Do you have access to data you could transform into visualizations and share as reports?

These unique elements are what earn you backlinks and shares because the content isn’t available anywhere else. Best of all, your links will come from high-authority sites in your niche so they should send targeted (and engaged) traffic your way.

See how we’re ranking in the first row of images for the keyword “content marketing strategy?”

Google

That’s why it’s so important to focus on specific topics within your expertise. You don’t want traffic from visitors who aren’t in your target audience.

What’s Your Content Differentiation Factor?

Do you already have a defined content differentiation factor? If so, it’s still smart to revisit your approach every so often to see how the content landscape has changed.

New websites and competitors arise every day. We must stay diligent if we want to maintain our audience’s attention and trust.

Plus, your audience’s needs and pain points change all the time. You can’t confidently create the most relevant content possible without consistent audience research.

By helping clients find their content differentiation factor, they enjoy 138% organic growth YoY on average. See how our content builder process works now.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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