Here is a takeoff on our byline: “Differentiate yourself”.
Differentiation in mathematics mean the process of finding a derivative of a quantity. Derivative is creating a mathematical map of how a particular input and specific output co-vary.
However, differentiation in marketing is not about evolution of variables in a system, but about their perception. The marketing game hinges on perception of the product or service. As every elemental marketer knows, if a product is able to create a unique perception about itself, it will become a permanent tenant in the shoppers mind. It will come to occupy a specific memory address. Otherwise, as Marcus Aurelius would agree, every city cannot be Rome. So marketing success cannot be scored without differentiation of yourproduct or service in your consumers mind.
However before we delve into actual strategy of “how to differentiate” there is one more reason why we should treat this as the most important thing that we can do to ourselves or our business units. If you notice, nature, runs on a differentiation strategy. (It though stands on integration strategy). Physicts say, it all started at Big Bang when nothing existed. Universe came into being out of this nothingness. Then emerged planets, environment, biosphere, species and then bipedal homo-sapien. Thisnatural trajectory is called evolution. Evolution, you would know if you were attentive in your sixth grade biology class, happens by natural selection. Which means nature differentiates and then selects which is most adapted to environment. So when a specie differentiates ( as man differentiated from monkey) who ever is most suitable gets selected to dominate the ecological niche.
However our whole life, we yearn to integrate back into the whole ( and not stay differentiated).This integration need (unknown to Abraham Maslow) most spiritual leaders tend to base their marketing empires on. They, as opposed to marketers who are playing on differentiation, are playing on our deep seated need of integration.
However the paradox is that more differentiated you are, pressing is your need of integration.
By contrast, less differentiated you are less spiritual you are.
So overall the takeaway is that unless you are clearly differentiated first, the chances of your holistic integration are bleak.
So now lets talk about principles of how to differentiate.
Lets start by first deflate some conceptual myths .
1) You are not differentiated because you were born or because you made a product or because you have the best service in town available. Even if you believe you are the best or your service, as a business, is above average you are not differentiated. This is because differentiation does not exist in person, product or service. Differentiation, in human transactions, exists in perception of it. So you are not differentiated because your mother told you so or your investor believes it. You are differentiated if your customer believes it or your employer/leader or the cheering crowd, believes it.
2) Differentiation is easy, natural and talent based. This is as far from truth as Celine Dion is from Mozart. Differentiation is sweaty, messy and hard work. During this hard work, if you get a moment of inspiration and insight, thank whoever is your gratitude deity.
3) Differentiation is for select few. Only few talented people, big brands, researched products can get differentiated. If it was not for this widespread belief, mediocrity will not know what reason to hitch a ride on. It will feel so lonely. Differentiation is for anybody who wants it. It is not an exclusive dining club but a walk in buffet.
With some fresh air now lets talk about how to of the differentiation.
1) Differentiation starts with a commitment. Period. You commit to yourself that I or my product or my service will be excellent. Not average, not good but EXCELLENT. It is not a new year resolution but an allyear worship: to be the best.
2) No commitment is ever honored ( in a world dominated by Machiavellian percepts) unless you have a stake on it. So when you commit to excellence, stake your future, your success on it. That is the only chance you will be able to achieve it. Unless your back is to the wall, youhave no support.
3) Now go narrow to be the best. You cannot be excellent in everything so a wide play is impossible. As Jack Welch is his famous neutron Avatar ordained, be narrow in your market definition but then own it absolutely by being the best. So as a person or as a business you have to define and own one very small niche. Be the super fast express delivery e-retailer, or thebest locksmith in NJ, or the best footballer in your school team or the avant garde artist who uses red color the best. It does not matter what is the niche or how narrow it is. You have to be the best in it. That’s your differentiation strategy.
4) Be first or just be different. These are two other strategies which help you differentiate from others who are competing with you, for future. If you are first, you are defining a new emergent niche. You have arrived first and hence you will set the rules of the party as its host. That s a huge differentiator. However even if you are not the first, you can stilldifferentiate by simply being different. George Clooney is not the first actor in Hollywood, neither is he the best ( at least in my opinion, even after his rave act in O brother where art thou..) but he is different. So put him in a crowd and he will be differentiated. People will perceive him differently.
One of the classic examples of Somebody who has played the differentiation strategy on a global scale is Apple. They were not the first to mobile phone but they became first to touch phones. They by all counts are still the best and they are esthetically different. In fact they are playing on all three strategies of differentiation. Hence they are perceived differently by both public and wall street.
Likewise at Media Mosaic, each campaign we run for our clients, each person we have in our team, has the onus to differentiate. Wehave an ongoing commitment to differentiate ourselves and help you differentiate as well.