According to Moon, author of “Different:Escaping the Competitive Herd,” while 99% of business leaders she talks to earnestly believe that their brand is unique in its competitive set, in truth the vast majority of brands are indistinguishable to the average consumer.
“Think of yourselves as wine connoisseurs for your category,” said Moon. “You may be able to easily see the differences, but for the average person looking at a hundred labels in a wine shop, it’s all just wine.”
Moon said the problem of "sameness" is pervasive because we have so many choices. As the selection set in a category grows, the consumer starts seeing “same” and tunes out.
It is possible to stand out in such an environment, Moon said, but it’s exceedingly rare.
Her research found standout brands do so by “flipping the fundamental”—they upend a fundamental assumption about their category.
She provided examples—Ikea, Twitter, MINI Cooper—of brands who differentiated themselves in a big way because they defied the instinctive urge to “stay close to the competition” and inverted a value proposition. Often, this involves taking a presumed negative, putting it front and center and turning it into a positive.
Moon also noted most brands struggle with appreciable differentiation because:
1. In a really competitive industry it’s almost impossible to resist the pressure to match the competition (this leads to the “flocking birds” effect).
2. Game-changing ideas don’t typically survive in most company cultures because they tend to look a lot like crazy ideas and they’re scary.
3. We look to customers to tell us how to be different when they can usually only tell us how to be better.ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Dresner is IIR USA’s sr. editor and special communication project lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @mdrezz.