WHEN YOU SHOW SOMEONE THEIR SOUL, YOU SET THEM FREE.

Differentiation Starts with Being Different

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Standing out is the most basic element of branding.  Getting noticed is the spark that leads to brand awareness – and maybe even convinces someone to buy your stuff.

This is called “differentiation”.  Here is a definition straight from Wikipedia:  In marketing, product differentiation (also known simply as “differentiation“) is the process of distinguishing a product or offering from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors‘ products as well as a firm’s own product offerings.

Differentiation in the glory days of branding meant buying “breadth” – simply buying enough advertising and promotion to create a brand.  All it took was money and a decent ad agency.  There are hundreds of examples of brands that were created this way.  The irony is that very few of them were actually good products.  Case in point: harken back to the crapmobiles that American car companies were pushing in the 80s and 90s.

In the past few years, three massive changes have taken place that have stood marketing on its collective ear:

  • Media fragmentation permanently changed “appointment television”
  • Social media made everyone hyper-connected
  • Over-commoditization created an over-supply of just about everything.

These 3 trends – and their ripple effect – changed the definition and purpose of differentiation.  Now, differentiation starts with actually being different.  Godin calls it a “purple cow”.  I call it bacon.  Regardless of the metaphor, you have to make or do something that has “wow” built right in.

A few modern brands get this: Ford, Apple, Google, Zappos, Ikea to name a few.  But many brands are still using the lens that the sheer act of creating an ad or promotion is differentiation.

Examples:

  1. Verizon’s Xoom – Part of the ever growing “pad” market, Verizon’s ads for the Xoom make little to no differentiation with it’s #1 competitor, the iPad.  The ads show the same features and benefits as other pads on the market – albeit, presented with lots of explosions and cool graphics.  Maybe the Xoom is different and better than the iPad, but you’d never know it from the commercials.
  2. Yahoo Mail – Yahoo is now spending ad dollars on promoting their e-mail program.  Maybe they are going after the straggler/laggard market, but the language of the ad is straight out of 1999.
  3. Bank of America – Their ads are particularly annoying because they promote features that other banks have had for years: on-line banking, bill pay, better ATMs, etc.
  4. State Farm – I’m sure State Farm is full of good people, but their new campaign of young, hip people singing the State Farm jingle has zero differentiation.  Maybe the message is that State Farm is available in case you need help, but that is lost in all of the gimmickry

Keep in mind that these are not poorly produced ads.  They are well-shot with high quality production.  The problem is the mindset behind the ads.  Competition for minds and dollars is an intense as ever.  So if you decide to spend money on promoting your stuff, at least give your marketing people and ad agency something to work with.

Is CMO a Temp Job?

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As has been discussed far and wide, the average tenure of a CMO is somewhere around 21 months. Rarely is it the incompetence of the CMO. Most of them are bright, accomplished people. In most cases, it is because the CMO was set up to fail with unreasonable revenue expectations or asked to market a bad product. What is interesting is that this trend doesn’t seem vary much with great companies v. poorly run companies or good products v. bad products. It appears that the modern CMO may be the most transitional executive position. Why is this?

Effective CMOs are typically big idea people. They tend to be strategic marketers not tactical marketers. Rare is the person who can excel at both the big idea and in the minutia of the execution. As such, the execution of the tactics is handled by Brand Managers, Marketing Managers, etc. – in essence, the “assembly line supervisors” of the marketing system. Speaking of “system”, the execution of marketing is a commodity. Once the idea is created and the execution system is in place, it is natural to drive costs out of the system. In short, it is cheaper to pay several tactical people than to pay one CMO. If the big idea and strategic marketing are successful, what does a CMO do? After the launch, most of the details will be handled by managers. Unless the company has other initiatives, there are really only a couple of places to go – out or up; either leave the company or get promoted to CEO. The latter is actually occurring more frequently.

CMOs typically get one shot to be right. If they are brought in and their strategic marketing/branding plan doesn’t work, they are shown the door. It is a bit like being a football coach at a big time college – win now or die. There is not a lot of patience to build a brand internally by focusing on quality control, creating employee evangelists, opening up the marketing to allow customers to participate, etc. Most Boards and CEOs want results NOW. Unfortunately, sometimes greatness takes time.

The biggest issue that creates the “temp” feeling of the CMO role is that the marketing rules have changed. When done properly, modern marketing is about creating a large enough customer base to reach word-of-mouth critical mass. This means an initial outlay of external marketing dollars, but only to reach the point where your customers become your primary marketing driver. At this point, almost all marketing should turn inward. As such, the CMO must evolve to a role of something more like “Chief Branding Officer” or “Chief Experience Officer” (CXO?) – someone who obsesses about the customer experience, customer feedback, product quality, etc. Unfortunately, in most corporate hierarchies, these are Department Head-type roles, not executives.

In light of all this, it is no coincidence that the CMOs with the longest tenure, that have overcome the “temp” curse, are in innovative, forward-thinking organizations. In fact, they may not even be called “CMOs”. It is likely that they started with a strategic marketing role, but because of their own flexibility and the innovative culture of their organizations they have continued to evolve their role to provide value to the over-all brand. This follows the “Good to Great” philosophy of the “right people on the bus, in the right seats”. Who says they can’t change seats?