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    Marketers and Customers Benefit from Differentiation and Segmentation

    Seth Godin recently posted an item on his blog about differentiation and segmentation being selfish marketing practices. That prompted postings on other blogs, most of which agreed with Seth, but a few disagreed.

    Basically, Seth said that using differentiation and segmentation techniques is being selfish: "Both assume that people care about you" and what you've said about yourself.

    Seth also said, "Any rational person spending a fair amount of time with product information will have no trouble figuring out why you're different."

    Brian Carroll agreed with Seth, saying that most companies have lousy "value propositions" that have too much about features, capabilities, and hype.

    Diego Rodriguez said many marketers don't spend enough time making their offering distinctive and valuable.

    Arnold Seefeld disagreed with Seth when he said, "differentiation helps you to identify the most interesting things about you or your product."

    On segmentation, he said it helps the whole company — product designers can focus more on one particular group of needs, marketers can choose proper media to reach each segment, etc.

    And in talking about the ultimate in segmentation, he said, "one-to-one communication is the best we can have, building strong relationships between each customer and the brand/company."

    As I read these posts, I wondered if Seth is right — that using differentiation and segmentation is being selfish!

    Some time back I wrote about how customers use differentiation to make good purchase decisions. So it hadn't occurred to me that providing prospective customers with this information could be considered a bad thing!

    Yes, it's selfish when companies focus on telling customers why their products are great without also telling customers how they'll benefit from using those products.

    However, professional marketers know that they need to focus on the customer. Marketing information needs to highlight the features, functions, and benefits of the products that are important to each market segment. This helps customers move beyond the basic features provided by all products in the category so they can spot the differences among products.

    Marketers who don't understand the time constraints of prospective customers will soon be former marketers. Gone are the days when customers — both consumers and B-to-B buyers — will spend much time trying to determine how one product is better suited to their needs than another product. It's up to the marketer and salesperson to guide the prospect through this process.

    When a company produces undifferentiated and untargeted marketing messages, it generates inquiries from confused, unqualified leads. It's hard enough to get salespeople and channel partners to follow up on good leads — the challenge doesn't need to be made harder by providing poor quality leads, too!

    If your salespeople are having to answer very basic questions about what your products do, then you might be practicing "selfish marketing" — talking too much about yourself and to little about how customers can benefit by using your products.

    So how do you know if you're using selfish marketing? As with many marketing issues, the market knows — and the market will tell you. Here are some ways to observe and learn how the market feels about your marketing:

    • Track all leads from the very first contact through making a purchase — from all market segments — to learn how each target market responds to your marketing communications and sales activities.
    • Ask top salespeople if most of the leads received from marketing understand the basic benefit of the company's products.
    • Ask new customers how you could have made their evaluation and decision process easier.

    Using these techniques to observe and learn about your customers will help you make the most of your market segmentation and product differentiation practices.

    Cliff Allen is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons, and has consulted with companies on strategic marketing for 20 years.

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