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Differentiate or Die - Continuous Disruption

Date:September 16, 2014

Jack Trout termed this phrase in 2008 with his acclaimed book of the same name. Jack Trout and Al Ries collaborated on a similar work called Positioning – the battle for your mind. Both works concentrated on the art of differentiation. Differentiate or Die is definitely a stronger metaphor and clearly “differentiates” itself from a myriad of marketing books centered on positioning products and services.

The underpinning of the whole “differentiate or die” slogan is of course the USP (unique selling proposition) and how important it is in enabling your product or service to stand out among the competition. Brands must create a difference in the minds of their consumer if they are to survive.

The Internet has impacted marketing significantly as it has leveled the playing field allowing thousand of competitors – in absolutely every product/service category creating an endless number of choices for consumers and profit erosion for companies that have been in business for decades. Consumers are “bombarded” with marketing messages like never before. Google Adwords, Banner Ads, SEO retargeting, social media, and product forums are fully enabling consumers to make more informed decisions prior to acquiring a product or service. Competition has intensified in absolutely every business category.

Jack’s messaging – considered old in the Internet Age (9 years) has never been more relevant.  The Internet has ushered in a new era of “killer competition” and companies must differentiate their products/services with even a higher degree in order to compete and survive. Companies need to leverage their “uniqueness” in more creative ways to resonate with media bombarded consumers.

Here are Jack’s suggestions to organizations wishing to differentiate themselves and their produces/services:

  1. Establish a clear USP (unique selling proposition)
  2. Stress quality first
  3. Don’t copy your competitors - it degrades your uniqueness
  4. Don’t try to be everything – be selective
  5. Constantly innovate and tweak your product/service
  6. Be first in a new market niche
  7. Emotionally connect with customers
  8. Differentiate takes place in the mind
  9. Establish a leadership position in specific attributes
  10. Leverage your uniqueness

One of the companies I admire for their USP is 37 signals. 37 signals – differentiate themselves out of the starting blocks with an unusual name that stands out. They have a few products – one in particular that I have had experience with is Basecamp. Basecamp is a project management software (SaaS) that enables project teams from any business collaborate on project management. Basecamp “uniqueness” or USP is their software is simple, intuitive, and economical. They go out of their way to better the product by making it easier to use – rather than add complex layers and applications they have decided to stick to their guns by providing easy to use software. If their customers require a more sophisticated PM software, 37 signals will wish them well and thanks them for their patronage. 37 signals have sent a clear message to the market place and they clearly “differentiate” themselves accordingly.

Jack cites a number of commodity-like industries that continue to differentiate their product offering by adding value-added services and marketing programs so customers realize their value – which in turn helps their businesses, run more effectively. As Theodore Levitt (Harvard Professor) stated: “There is no such thing as a commodity…. all goods and services are differentiate-able.

My favorite quote is from Frank Perdue - “if you can differentiate a dead chicken, you can differentiate anything.”

How is your business differentiating itself?  It’s a question that we should be asking ourselves often as the Internet continues to disrupt commerce and life in general.




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Date:September 16, 2014