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Don’t Stand Up – Stand Out! by Phil Jesson

Phil Jesson

Phil Jesson

Many companies that claim to be “thought leaders” with a highly differentiated offering are nothing of the sort. A little scrutiny reveals that they are often “me-too” companies with a “we are one of many” and “we are no better or no worse than anyone else” message.

So what is it that allows a company to lay claim to highly-prized thought leader status? I think that you have to be able to hang your marketing hat on one of five pegs:-

1. PRICE – some companies invest a lot of time, money and effort in improving their sourcing, purchasing and supply chain management so that they can go to market with a strong price-related argument. For example ASDA , who position themselves as the shopper’s friend, have consistently won awards for having the lowest-priced supermarket trolley or basket. So what is their thought leader message?

“We are the most competitive – you will never get it cheaper anywhere else!”

2. NICHE – If you are an Accountant specialising only in high net worth individuals in London, Morgan sports cars, a haulage company that specialises in only transporting dangerous chemicals or a Marks and Spencer’s food hall you have accepted that you are not going to conquer all sectors of the market. Your strategy, by design, is to become a very big fish in a relatively small pond. So what is the Niche thought leader’s message?

“Don’t go anywhere else – we are the experts in your world!”

3. DIFFERENTIATED – Some companies decide that they do want to conquer the world i.e. they want to sell a large quantity and range of products to many different market sectors in many different ways. Their strategy is to stand out from their competitors rather than stand up them! In the car manufacturing sector Volvo differentiates itself on safety, Lexus on quality and affordable luxury with BMW happy to be seen as “the ultimate driving experience.” If you are setting your marketing stall out with a clear differentiation theme then you have three messages available to you:-

• “We are the first company to…………………………………………..”
• “We are the only company that……………………………………….”
• “There are many of us but we are the best because……………..”

So, with 2011 in mind, here are some questions and thoughts for you to reflect on:-

• Which of these five messages are you going to use?

• Do you have different messages for different products and different markets? For example, Virgin’s Cola product (when it was around) was positioned on “price” but their airline product is a very “different” experience

• One message is not “better” than any other – you can be very profitable with each of the five thought leader messages. The danger comes when you lose clarity, focus and unity around the boardroom table and end up not knowing exactly who you are, where you are and what you are!

• As the good book says “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do!”

Phil Jesson is Marketing Director of The Academy for Chief Executives ( and is also a speaker, consultant and coach in key account management and the 80-20 Pareto Principle ( He has worked with Pirelli, Tarmac, Grant Thornton, EDF Energy, Bass and Fedex but is equally at home in the SME market. He has recently published his first business book “Piranhas In The Bidet” which has received many five-star reviews on

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