This is probably my most popular tip for professionals, and it bears repeating.
To position yourself in your industry, especially if it’s highly competitive and even a cutthroat one (in some of the industries I’ve worked with, competitors can be downright ruthless and nasty), you need to differentiate yourself.
You need to claim superiority but without stating it outright.
If you do, you raise the eyebrows (and sometimes, the ire) of licensing bodies, or of resentful competitors who want to tip you off to them.
Reason is, many professional services are limited in how they market themselves. For example, cosmetic surgery is an industry in which licensed doctors are prohibited form stating that they are better, higher quality, more skilled, etc than their peers.
Same thing with lawyers. Bar associations keep a close eye on how legal professionals market themselves. It's the same in most regulated industries.
But there are better and immensely more powerful ways to claim superiority.
One of them is branding, but not “branding” in the traditional sense. A brand is something that identifies a business, product, or service. Inherent in that brand is value, meaningful value, that is translatable into dollars and cents.
It communicates your uniqueness, creates recognition, differentiates you in the marketplace, instills trust, and promotes loyalty.
But it’s more than creating a memorable impression or distinguishing yourself from competitors. Branding grants you an almost instant credibility and a sense of superiority, without the need to state it directly.
As a young marketer, a mentor once told me something that profoundly affected how I think about marketing:
“Implication is more powerful than specification.”
It is more effective to imply superiority — to be perceived as being superior — than to being or outright stating that one is superior. You create the perception of superiority by positioning yourself as the leader of a new category.
This is called “category design.”
Case in point.
One of my former clients is a hair transplant surgeon. As with any cosmetic procedure, superiority is a matter of artistic ability, not medical know-how.
However, some of his competitors are the leaders because they have been doing cosmetic procedures since forever. Moreover, some use outdated methods like the old, unsightly “plug” technique.
A typical plug is a small graft of hair that contains 80-100 or so hair follicles. But most doctors nowadays use what they call “micrografting,” which are smaller plugs and more natural-looking.
A “micrograft,” whilst smaller, contains a fraction of that. Typical ones can contain around 20-30 follicles. Smaller ones, 5-10.
This procedure is far better but, in the wrong hands (as any doctor can become a hair transplant surgeon, regardless of skill), it can still look pretty unsightly.
The issue is, doctors cannot say this.
They cannot say “our method is more natural-looking than plugs” or “other techniques are terrible and obvious.” Because by doing so, they are dissing their competitors, which they can’t do or else they can get penalized and even risk losing their medical licenses.
My client is a pioneer in his field. He does meticulous microscopic dissection or hair follicles, under powerful binocular stereoscopes, where the grafts are transplanted as single hair follicles.
Literally, one strand at a time.
Not only that, but he transplants them using needles, not scalpels or “hole punchers” (eek!), which is the common process with plugs.
This gave this doctor the ability to insert hair follicles at an angle so that, when they grow out, they look like normal hair.
The results are truly amazing. Once the transplants heal and the hair starts growing back, they look natural and undetectable. Or as the ads I created for him said, they look like “born-with hair.”
So he advertised the fact that he offered “micrografting.”
However, every other hair transplant doctor says they do, too. It's a common term used to convey that grafts were smaller than typical plugs.
Still, my client used the term to convey that he offered true microscopic grafts. He wanted to advertise that his “micrografts” were more authentic than other procedures on the market from doctors who claim the same thing.
The problem is, he couldn't say that. He couldn't claim superiority.
But here’s the bigger problem…
Micrografting is an existing category.
So by using the same terminology, my client was unfortunately competing in an existing and overwhelmingly competitive category.
At the time, he tried to differentiate himself by creating long ads that advertised his use of “stereoscopic binocular microscopes.” He initially thought that people would “get it.” That they would understand how superior his method was.
Problem is, nobody will. And it’s hard to educate a market of balding men that has been bombarded with terms like “micrografting.” In their heads (bad pun, I know), this doctor is no different.
I mean, “micro” means “microscopic,” no?
So in order to instantly convey his unique and superior approach, without having to educate a market who cares more about the results than they do about the process, we decided to reposition him.
The way to do that is to create his own category.
By doing so, it instantly conveys superiority by virtue of the fact that no one is in the same category. He claimed the category as his own rather than superiority in an otherwise oversaturated one.
So we called it “micro-follicular hair transplantation.” And the grafts were dubbed “follicular units.” By doing so, he received several great benefits:
- He was instantly known as the pioneer behind “micro-follicular transplantation.” Other doctors claiming they do the same procedure would only remind the market of him.
- His superiority was automatically implied without stating it outright. After all, it's his category. He owned it.
- He didn’t have to waste precious ad space on explaining and educating the market on the use of binocular microscopes. It conveyed the concept quickly and efficiently.
- Above all, it communicated his artistic ability in itself — as most men (and some women) who suffered from hairloss had a good idea of how unsightly plugs looked like.
Here’s the thing.
You can brand a business, a product, or a service. But often, a great way to differentiate and position yourself is to look at your processes and define a whole new category that you can instantly be the leader in.
Every professional I know has some process that’s unique or different. Even if it’s only because it’s created or delivered by that professional, who is a unique individual with a unique set of skills, ideas, and approaches.
What do you do that’s different?
Never mind thinking that “different” has to be entirely new or unique. The fact that you do it is unique in itself. Put a name on it. Brand it. Claim your category. And promote it. Call it the “Dr. John Smith Method.”
Because, by claiming your own category, you also claim superiority by default — without the need to state it outright or stepping on any toes, and with more potency, impact, and influence than self-serving braggadocio.