You know something is a buzz word when everybody talks about it, but very few do it. Such is the case with differentiation. Differentiation is not a new concept. Jack Trout wrote about it. Tom Peter’s preaches about it. Every CMO, VP of Marketing, and ad agency guy with hipster glasses talks about differentiation.
So why do so few brands actually differentiate themselves? Because too many don’t understand it.
For most brands, differentiation starts with advertising. Create a snappy, well-executed campaign that drives a wedge between you and your competition. Having a big budget to own mindshare doesn’t hurt either. However, what if the only thing different about you is your advertising? The consumer is much smarter and much more connected than they used to be. Now, advertising differentiation without actually delivering it makes you look stupid.
More advanced brands focus on product/feature differentiation – making or do something different. This is difficult and expensive because even if you create something that isn’t a commodity, it will gravitate quickly towards commoditization. Being first doesn’t last as long as it used to. Example: power steering and AC used to be options on a car.
The latest form of differentiation is creating different/better customer experiences. However, even on low-dollar items we expect a certain level of customer service. An customer experience can be expensive. For high dollar items, user experience is a commodity. We consumers are spoiled so user experience becomes a game of oneupmanship. Which is great for us, but expensive and tedious for brands.
All of these areas matter, but they aren’t enough. To truly be Bacon, you must create differentiation in a completely different way.
I call this Cultural Differentiation. This means creating a brand that thinks, looks, and behaves differently than anything else in your market.
Dave’s Killer Bread (the photo above)
PBR (Professional Bull Riding)
Death Cab for Cutie (alt rock band)
There are numerous other brands that embrace Cultural Differentiation, but these 5 serve my point the best:
- They all know exactly who they are.
- You know exactly who they are when you experience them
- They are all great at promotion without being over-promoters.
- They built their brands through word-mouth.
- Being different is a standard, not a strategic initiative
In short, they didn’t have the goal of creating differentiation as part of an ad campaign. They started with simply being different. Then let being different permeate everything they do.
Cultural differentiation creates relevance, strategic clarity, and a fun brand to be around. So back to the question “Why don’t brands differentiate themselves?”
But most of all, a lack of identity. They don’t know who they are, so they have no sense of what makes them different.
Want to be different? Start there.