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Week 7, 2022—Issue #191

The Onliness Statement: Differentiation, Rational, and Formula

Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash

Each week: three ideas to make work better. This week, those ideas will help you differentiate your product or service.

“When everybody zigs, zag,” wrote Marty Neumeier in the appropriately named Zag — The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands. I read it years ago whilst working at a branding firm in San Francisco. My professional focus has changed since then, but the book has stayed with me.

Fig 1: Marty Neumeier’s Onliness Statement.

1. Differentiation

Zag is a book about brand strategy and differentiation. It’s short, pithy, and decidedly practical — structured as it is around a 17-step process designed to help you “find your Zag” and differentiate your offering. At the heart of this process is Neumeier’s onliness statement (see above) — thusly named because it’s a single sentence with which to describe how and why your offering is different from that of the competition.

2. Rationale

You’ve got two options when choosing a competitive strategy. Differentiation or cost-leadership; you either do what nobody else does, or you do it cheaper than they do. That’s it. Failing to choose is not an option — that just means getting stuck in the middle and being forced to compete on price. You must choose. And assuming you choose differentiation, the onliness statement is the tool you use to figure out how.

3. Formula

The onliness statement provides a formula with which to explain the what, how, who, where, why, and when of your strategy. The exact order may differ, but as each question (or combination of questions) represents an opportunity for differentiation, you can and should address them all. You should also create alternatives, for yourself as well as for your competition. Keep going until you can honestly say that your offering is unique.

I use the onliness statement to sharpen my thinking around strategy and positioning. I use it in workshops to build consensus and shared understanding. The fact that it’s so short and simple means that it’s an excellent communication tool.

What the onliness statement doesn’t do, however, is tell you how to address each individual particle. It doesn’t tell you what product category to go into or what unmet need to address etcetera. The onliness statement pulls it all together but the rest is up to you.

Consider the following:

  • What do you do? Think: industry vertical and product category. Are you providing a product, service, or a productized service?
  • How do you create value? Think: attributes and experiences. Consider frameworks like 7Powers and Doblin’s 10 Types of Innovation.
  • Who is your customer? Think: segmentation and targeting. Are you using demographic, psychographic, and/or behavioral segmentation criteria?
  • Where are your customers? Think: market and geography. Are you the only X in the world, region, country, city, or neighborhood?
  • Why should they care? Think: Jobs-to-be-Done and unmet needs. Are you familiar with the mechanisms that lead to consideration and adoption?
  • When and why now? Think: trendspotting and future thinking. What is the underlying trend or movement that makes your strategy especially relevant?

That’s all for this week.
Until next time: Make it matter.


PS. Examples are always helpful and the book provides many. Here are two of my favorites for Harley Davidson and The White Stripes, respectively:

Fig 2: Onliness statement for Harley Davidsson.
Fig 3: Onliness statement for The White Stripes.



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