Thoughts after Reading: Different - Part Two

Previously, we talked about how companies get more and more similar while they try to differentiate themselves. So the question is, how can they differentiate themselves?

Professor Moon highlights three ways that work:

1) Reverse Positioning

Here, old expectations are stripped away. forcing their consumers to rethink the category. Instead of adding more and more new features, features are removed until a minimalistic version emerges. This sometimes comes as a relief to consumers who have become jaded with the endless parades of "exciting" new features from other companies

For example, Company A produces printers. Instead of giving new models with the ability to fax and scan and connect via Bluetooth and WiFi, they produce a cheap, powerful version that can print quickly and well but without any other features than its printing ability. Consumers who are looking for a simple, economical yet efficient printer will be pleased to know that they don't have to pay for features that they know they will never use.

2) Breakaway Positioning

Here, the company straddles categories. Instead of being part of a particular category, it is positioned as a member of another. This redefines its competition and the expectations that consumers will have of its product.

For example, Company B found a way to miniaturise mobile powerbanks. Instead of marketing it as the smallest-ever powerbanks and having to compete in that category, they add speaker parts to one version, selling it as a miniature speaker with an unusually high battery capacity. In another version, they add projector parts and turn it into a miniature presentation projector that is portable and can last for hours with a single charge. In yet another version, they connect a few and make a lightweight, durable battery for laptops.

In each manifestation, they use the same technology to produce products of different categories, marketing each one in its new category.

3) Stealth Positioning

Here, instead of minimising what may be perceived as weaknesses, the company positions them as strengths instead, often coming up with a quirky product that nevertheless gains acceptance and, eventually, fans.

For example, let's say Company C makes mobile phones that function a little slower than most others in the market. Instead of upgrading their hardware or software, or downplaying the weakness by focusing on other strengths, they highlight the lag by coming up with a new marketing angle and feature - "Have you ever regretted pressing "Send" the moment you did? Now, with Company C's mobile phone, you have 3 seconds to decide to cancel that text before it goes out!" As a bonus feature, they may even add an easy-access button that turns your phone to flight mode instantly, facilitating your cancelling of the text.

Professor Moon gives great examples of successful companies who have used the abovementioned strategies. The examples given are my own, out of my understanding of each method. 

The book has caused me to see marketing in a new way, highlighting how creative solutions can produce fantastic results. I highly recommend it.

Thoughts after Reading: Different - Part One

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...