Written by Youngme Moon, a Senior Associate Dean and Professor in Harvard Business School, Different is about, well, differences.
In it, Professor Moon shows us how so many companies attempt to differentiate themselves, only to end up making themselves more alike to their competition. She makes the point that, unless you are a brand loyalist (a breed of consumer that is getting increasingly rare) or a brand connoisseur (usually only focused on one or two genres/categories), you are unlikely to be able to see much difference between brands of toothpaste or other toiletries, beverages or most groceries, even mobile devices or most electronics for that matter.
She believes that this comes from the way many of us think of "improvements". Instead of working on accentuating our strengths far beyond the median, we spend time on bringing the qualities that are below the median up to par, thinking that this will improve the overall result.
For example, Vendor A makes his own sausages and hot dog buns but the mustard he uses is nowhere nearly as good as Vendor B's, who makes his mustard using a secret family recipe, but serves sausages and buns from a food supplier. Becoming aware of this, Vendor A spends time trying to make his own mustard. Unfortunately, this takes time and attention away from his sausages and buns, which take a dip in quality, almost to the point where they are only a little better than those from Vendor B's food supplier's.
The result is that Vendor A now serves hot dogs that are so similar to Vendor B that there is little discernible difference between them. He would likely also have lost the customers who loved his home-made hot dogs and who did not care much about the mustard.
If Vendor A had continued improving his recipe for his hot dogs, ignoring his apparent weakness in sauces, he would have maintained an important difference between his product and those of Vendor B's.
This is a simplistic scenario, of course, but it is a fair representation of Professor Moon's point.
How, then, do we accentuate the difference? Stay tuned for Part Two...