When there is no appreciable difference in a product or service it becomes a commodity. Commodities are ultimately sold based solely on price. Differentiators are the unique features or differences in your product or service that make it stand out, make it special, make it anything but a commodity. In your individual situation you may not be able to differentiate your product, but you can differentiate your services and how you deal with your customer. Payment terms, delivery, and availability are the traditional differentiators for commodities; however, these differences are temporary and don't necessarily create lasting loyalty.
Gasoline is usually thought of as a commodity. There may be compelling differentiators in terms of where you specifically buy gasoline but the product itself is viewed as a commodity. You might be loyal to an individual gasoline station because of its location, hours of operation, or your relationship with the station owner, but few people are fiercely loyal to a brand of gasoline. However, a notable exception is Shell Oil.
In the 1960s, Shell Oil produced stunning advertisements featuring two identical automobiles driving in the desert. Each car had a special beaker attached to the hood. The beaker on one car was filled with Shell Oil gasoline with platformate. The beaker on the second car was filled with gasoline without platformate. The two identical cars with the same amount of gasoline took off together and traveled at the same speed.
The two cars drove through the desert for a few miles. The car fueled with the gasoline without platformate spit, sputtered, and rolled to a stop while the car with Shell Oil gasoline with platformate continued on for what seemed like a substantial distance. Finally, the Shell Oil car drove through a banner and came to rest. The announcer's voice proclaimed the benefits of Shell Oil with platformate and encouraged the audience to take advantage of this difference.
There are two reasons why this was such a stunning advertisement. The first reason has to do with the composition of gasoline. A chemist friend tells me that all gasoline of that era contained platformate. Shell Oil's scientists had to go to great lengths and expense to remove the platformate from a batch of gasoline so they could fuel the losing car in the commercial.
Secondly, and most importantly, these advertisements clearly differentiated Shell Oil from all other brands of gasoline. Even today, many years since the advertisement last appeared, many believe Shell's products to be superior. Shell's gasoline is considered a premium product. There is a difference. If people perceive a difference then there is one.
Some people may feel that Shell Oil did something dishonest or misleading by running the platformate ads, but nothing could be further from the truth. Shell Oil didn't say it was the only company that sold gasoline with platformate; in fact, the commercial didn't talk about other brands of gasoline. Shell Oil differentiated by very carefully describing its product. It differentiated by talking about the virtue of its own product.
A company that sells bottled water can differentiate by describing where its water comes from and how it is filtered. The company doesn't need to compare its product to others in the marketplace because its description of the product is a differentiator if no other competing advertisers are describing their product in the same way. The difference is that you know how one company processes its water, but you may not know how its competition processes theirs.
The brewery giant Anheuser-Busch produces Budweiser beer. Budweiser proclaims their product to be the "King of Beers." Was there a vote? Was there ascension to the throne by birthright? Budweiser tells us that its beer is beechwood aged. I don't know if all beer is beechwood aged, or even if beechwood aging is a good thing, but I do know that Budweiser is beechwood aged. Budweiser uses beechwood aging as a differentiator. Telling your customers what you do or how you do it is a differentiator unless everyone else is making the same claim.