Yes, Eskimos really do have more than 50 different words for snow.
Why there’s “aqilokoq” for “softly falling snow” and “piegnartoq” for great sledding, to “matsaaruti” for wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners, “pukak,” for crystalline powder snow that looks like salt. The Inupiaq of Wales, Alaska, use 70 terms for ice ranging from “utuqaq,” ice that lasts year after year; “siguliaksraq,” the patchwork layer of crystals that forms as the sea begins to freeze; to “auniq,” ice that is filled with holes, like Swiss cheese. (See this article in the WashPost, doubters).
If our Northernmost neighbors can find room for multiple ways to describe the most plentiful stuff they know, surely we, dear marketer, can find ways to separate our products and services from everyone else.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review in 1980, Theodore Levitt forcefully pointed out that there is no such thing as a commodity—in consumer or industrial goods. In the marketplace differentiation is everywhere.
But why? Why is differentiation so critical to marketing?
Simply put, we will pay more for what we perceive to be difference. And difference can be produced by pulling on one of at least seven distinct levers:
- Target: Because not everyone cares about what your organization does or makes, we must learn early to focus on those that matter: the people who need what you make, and desire your solution. Insights into your target audience that lead to a superior understanding of motivation can go a long way to drawing a firm line around how you solve problems others can’t.
- Purpose: Customers can be very tribal: they find community in shared ideas. We see the differentiating power of purpose in politics, social networks, car ownership, and American’s odd belief that peanut butter pairs well with chocolate. How you state your purpose can set your offering apart. Using your product can be self-affirming and rewarding.
- Story: The story you tell about your product and your heritage can be a powerful motivator and a distinct feature. Many of our favorite brands are as much story as they are performance—think about how you feel about Apple’s genesis or Nike’s much applauded transition from footwear manufacturer to champion of fitness everywhere. How you tell your story gets you noticed and feeds word-of-mouth.
- Experience: What you are like to do business with can be very attractive—how we meet customer need can be fulfilling and valuable. Southwest, Nordstrom, Zappos and Rackspace have all made a name for themselves by providing stellar customer service.
- Quality: Here in California, In-N-Out burger still attracts long lines of passionate customers despite the availability of much cheaper, more readily available burgers. One reason for In-N-Out’s continued ascendancy is the quality of their product, which, unlike its rivals, actually matches the product it advertises (and tastes awesome IMHO).
- Strengths: This is an easy one. If you are well-known for a specific attribute others find valuable, differentiation is often a given. We see strength in Amazon’s domination of the cloud in terms of high awareness, robust services and widespread use.
- Attitude: We love an underdog. We love a rebel. We often seek out and reward those who challenge the status quo because they see a need to do something different. And we agree with them. We see this effect in the zeal of Trump and AOC supporters alike. Many of our favorite brands started life with a novel take on the world. See how Eat24 upended online food delivery by attacking cooking—and ignoring their rivals claims to have organized the Internet. How we talk to the world about what we do—and don’t–can be as liberating and refreshing as our products.
Ultimately, effective brand differentiation needs to create value in the minds of its intended customer. And to do that you must pull on one or more of the difference levers to set yourself apart.
Making the decision to be different is a vital part of any marketing strategy. If you’d like to know how we can help you pull that off, send us a email.