Differentiation and sameness

Here I’m summing up my thoughts on a subject I did a lot of thinking and reading about this past winter. I was deep into learning about differentiation, and it’s flipside – sameness.

Differentiation is about standing out from the noise, and giving people a reason to choose you over others.

You’d think companies would be all about that.

Curiously, not so much.

In fact, it’s the opposite – the world has a massive sameness problem. Sameness is the default for most companies today.

What’s sameness?

Sameness is the combined effect of companies being too similar in their offers, poorly differentiated in their branding, and indistinct in their communication.

The language they use is vanilla, the product/service they offer like any other, and the marketing message identical to that of their competition.

If you visit websites of competing companies, you’ll find that most offer no meaningful differentiation. They say pretty much the same things. ​

The majority state their value proposition as if they’re the only company doing what they’re doing.

Like this one here:

You can’t compete on features (long)


Can your differentiation be features?

A lot of companies seem to think that. They’re working on incremental improvements instead of differentiation. “We have feature X that they don’t”.

The problem is, any feature that’s meaningful and popular will be copied. You can toot your horn for a few months, but they’ll catch up. As soon as Snapchat’s stories were catching on, Facebook copied it.


​Even if you have some really innovative stuff, you might have a 2-year runway.

The differentiation has to come from other places than features. They’ll always catch up.


​Tesla has all the long-range electric cars now, but every single car maker will get there soon enough. Tesla needs to remain a constant innovator to play that game. Maybe they can pull it off (need to have a lot of money and be excellent at execution), but most can’t.

Commoditization happens


​If you look at any mature category, you’ll find it full of products that are basically the same.

Take for instance A/B testing tools, or (mouse tracking) heat map tools, session replay tools, email marketing tools. They all got pretty much the same features – with minor differences. It’s increasingly harder to say how one tool is different and/or better than others.


​People ask me all the time “how is this A/B testing tool different from that other one?” I usually say “they’re pretty much all the same”. I’m a category connoisseur in this case, I can explain some key differences if you really want me to, but “they’re all pretty much the same” is 98% accurate.


​There’s increased commoditization happening in each category. Once novel features are now table stakes.

Almost all smartphones have great screens. It wasn’t always like that, but you can’t really compete on display screens anymore. Maybe you could compete on battery life, but if you make a better battery, you can ride that wave only so long. They will catch up.

A long time ago toothpaste manufacturers had only a few dimensions to consider—like “freshens breath” and “fights cavities”—in order to compete. Today, consumers expect that even generic toothpastes remove plaque, helps prevent gum disease, and whiten teeth.

What used to be novel, is now table stakes.

Markets are getting only more saturated


​Never before have we had so many brands out there. The barrier of entry to starting new businesses has never been lower.

There’s the old guard, and all the new upstarts – challenger brands. What do the challenger brands believe their biggest threat is? Market saturation.

AdWeek Challenger Brand Study 2019

Scott Brinker maintains the marketing technology landscape project. In 8 years it has grown more than 4,500%. There are over 7000 martech tools out there.

You want your me-too tool to be picked by someone? Odds are heavily against you.

What stands out, gets picked.

Over time, competitors become more similar


​The more competition, the stronger the commitment to differentiation should be.

But mostly the opposite is true.


​Constant comparison and benchmarking leads to conformity, and competitors become less differentiated over time. As the number of products within a category multiplies, the differences between competitors get increasingly trivial, almost to the point of ridiculousness.


​If you want to see sameness in action, just look at hotels. Almost every single hotel gives you shampoo, lotion, and some other toiletries (shower cap!?) for free, but no toothpaste or toothbrush. How did that come to be? Because they all copy each other.

Hotels clean your room, change sheets every day.

Why is this the default? At almost *every single hotel*? Why isn’t ‘choice’ the default?


It’s because you become like your competitors over time.


​You could say that people *expect* free shampoo and sheets changed daily, and you’re right. You need to provide these things, but this is table stakes. You need to match it, but go far beyond it to avoid the sameness trap.


​You can see the same in software. Your competitor has feature X, you need feature X. You build Y, they build Y.

If tomorrow 10 new startups would launch, tackling the exact same space – but they couldn’t see what others are doing – what would happen? I bet we’d see some wildly different companies.


​Sadly companies focus too much on the competition, and not enough on original thinking around how to best serve the user.

One of the hardest things to do is be original.


If you only read what everyone else is reading, you will likely think just what everyone else is thinking.

―Haruki Murakami


​Copying is easy, being original is hard. It’s just much easier to be a copycat.

Making something that people already know they want seems like a smart idea, and easy to do. Which is why so many go for it.

What they’re often missing in the process is thinking about second-order effects – that they end up with something that’s just like the other stuff out there.

This is why most brand messaging is nearly identical. Instead of doing the hard work of gathering insight from the customers, and discovering open positions in the market – companies look at their competitors for direction.

Original thought is hard, so marketers use messaging they have seen before. Often they go for the obvious – stuff like “easy to use email marketing”. Or in some cases, don’t even bother to make it clear who it’s for.

Sure people want it, in principle. But if you go to market with this message, you will go nowhere.

Being original means doing the hard work of thinking for yourself.

Real differentiation is hard


​It’s not enough to be just a little bit different. The differentiation needs to be big enough that would tilt the decision in your favor.


Adding words like “robust” to your email marketing software description will not do much.


You need to be really different. And that involves risk, changes, venturing into the unknown. ​

Why should someone buy from you?


​The easiest way to think about differentiation is about giving people a reason to choose you over others.

That’s what a unique value proposition (or unique selling proposition – USP) should do right?

USPs originate from the 1940s, and were created for TV ads. Back then it was easy to have a unique proposition since there weren’t that many products around. Making one-of-a-kind claims was easy. Things have changed dramatically since then.

Before the quality revolution buying shitty products was actually a thing. Like buying lamps, TVs, and radios that didn’t work, or broke within weeks. This is unimaginable today. 99% of products – even from no-name brands – just work. We assume a certain level of quality.


​Former key arguments like cheaper, faster, stronger, longer-lasting etc are now table stakes. We expect things to be long-lasting, support to be fast, and service to be courteous.

And if you’re going to go for a superlative – our product is the fastest, easiest etc – people just won’t believe you. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof.

If you’re using table stakes arguments to sell your product, or pitching like it’s the only game in town, you need to rethink how you think about differentiation.


Small, subtle differences are not enough


​There are people who are new to the category of products you sell, and there are experts – folks who intimately know this category. Most people will be in the novice category.


​Where a category connoisseur sees the differences, a novice sees the similarities. Where a connoisseur can identify subtle differences, and knows to look for them, a novice lacks the necessary experience and filters to assess the minor differences in a meaningful way.


​That means that being just a little bit different is not good enough. At least not when you’re trying to increase awareness, and gain market share.​

It’s scary to be different

It’s tempting to be a safe and boring company. To do safe and boring marketing, post safe and boring stuff. It’s inoffensive, and thus beyond criticism.

You don’t stand out, and also won’t get hit. Nobody will call you out. You are just like everyone else.


​The problem is of course, that nobody will care either. If you are an old and established company with deep pockets, you can get away with it. If you’re an upstart looking to grow, it won’t serve you.

Sure, some people prefer to buy from boring companies, but they already have one, and are not looking for you.

Radical differentiation

When it comes to differentiation, companies don’t have an issue with being different. It’s the radically different part that’s hard.​

Radically different is not a safe choice, most deem it too risky. It’s hard to predict how it’ll play out.​

Consumer research won’t tell you much about it, since in interviews people much prefer options that they already know and have seen. They want better and slightly improved. Innovative/new stuff does poorly in focus groups and user surveys. ​

Coming out with something new is an area where you need to rely on your imagination and guts. Pay attention to the jobs to be done, the end goals of the user. Don’t look at the competition when it comes to how to deliver it, or you get more sameness.​

When differentiation doesn’t matter

Differentiation has gotten criticism from Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute who believe its role in the B2C setting is less important.

There’s some consumer research that shows that consumers can’t really see a difference between different brands. That they don’t even see different categories.

For example, consumers will likely rate competitor companies A, B, and C similarly on attributes such as how trustworthy or efficient they are and their rapport or relevance. Not only that, but the attributes consumers associate with particular brands tend to overlap with those of other brands. Ford is just as different and unique as Toyota or Mitsubishi.

Instead, they advocate distinctiveness, which is about increasing the visibility and recognition of the brand in its competitive environment.

Differentiation matters much less if you have a big market share.

If you’re already an established, well-known brand in a mature category, differentiation is less of an issue.

Nike vs Adidas vs New Balance. It’s all brand differences. Only category connoisseurs might be able to highlight some functional differences between the shoes.

Mailchimp is number one in email marketing, it doesn’t need to be different, others need to be different from Mailchimp. The fact that people know it exists is everything.

People have a very limited consideration set

A lot of what marketing has to accomplish is to get into the small, even tiny, consideration set of buyers.


​There are 100s of email marketing tools, yet most still only consider MailChimp plus 3-4 other top vendors. Mailchimp even gets recommended by people who’ve never used it – because they’re number one. People know its name.


​It’s hard to get noticed. We favor the familiar.

That means that brand reach and awareness is key. However, if you’re perceived as “pretty much the same”, it’s an uphill battle. If you’re an email marketing upstart, and you have no significant differentiation from Mailchimp – it’s going to be extremely difficult to make it (unless you have a lot of money to spend, and even that is likely not gonna save you).

You can get away with sameness in a fragmented, young category – but over time the one with the most money (or who can gain the most market share regardless) will come out as the leader (and position itself as such in the mind of the customer). If you’re exactly like them, it’s going to hinder your growth.

It’s better to go for a particular positioning from the get-go, and play to win in that category. Like ConvertKit is for “audience building for creators”, and have seen great growth in the recent years, now #1 in that market.

Market share more important than being different

Market penetration/popularity of the brand contributes significantly towards people liking a brand, and thinking it’s good.

When you ask people for recommendations for a tool, inevitably you hear names that are the most popular/biggest in their category. Not ones that necessarily score the best on a spreadsheet.

The majority of the people are satisficing anyway, not doing detailed comparisons and analysis (way too much work).

People often recommend tools they’ve NEVER used, but see all the time (Salesforce, Intercom, Hubspot, Drift, Optimizely etc). I giggle every time when I see a Twitter convo were one freelancer recommends Optimizely to another freelancer to use on their blog, for A/B testing. These guys have no clue how AB testing works, the sample sizes you’d need, or that Optimizely runs you ~$150,000/year, but they have heard of it, and now recommend it.

Gaining market share is the best thing a brand can do for its loyalty metrics, word of mouth, and getting into consideration set of buyers. The more people know you exist, the more people like you. The more popular you are, the more popular you get.

Having a meaningful differentiation – one that people can easily articulate – goes a long way when you still need to carve out your share of the pie. ​

Competing on price


​You can start with lower pricing as your competitive advantage and differentiation, but without structural advantage, it’s not sustainable. If you make price the main reason to choose you, you’re playing a fool’s game as anyone can mark down a price. Somebody can and will be cheaper.


​Odds are that you need to move upmarket eventually, as you need margins to fuel your growth, and hire better people.

Walmart and Southwestern have pricing as a differentiation, but they have the structural advantage to do so sustainably. Cutting prices is insanity if the competition can go as low as you can.

Differentiate or die

The marketing classic Differentiate or Die offers ideas for 8 types of differentiation (commentary provided by me):

Being first.

Getting into the mind with a new idea or product or benefit is an enormous advantage. Hubspot and inbound marketing. Coca-Cola – the original.


​Of course, being first is one thing; staying first is another. It takes hard work and enormous energy to stay on top with a new product or idea. Continued innovation is a must to sustain it. ​

Attribute leadership

This is when you double down on a single attribute, and be the best, known for this one aspect or use case. Zappo’s did it with customer support. WP Engine used speed as their attribute. Copytesting is the only audience intelligence tool 100% focused on copy.

You cannot own the same attribute or position that your competitor owns; you must seek out another attribute. Don’t play the game of category leaders, find an opposite attribute that will allow you to play off against the leader.


​Obviously some attributes are more important to customers than others. You must try to own the most important attribute.

Be the Preferred Provider

This is the “more doctors smoke Camel” and “dentist recommended toothpaste” type of differentiation.


​Tylenol has been doing the “#1 Doctor Recommended Brand‎“ for decades.

Can you become the preferred tool/service of a particularly influential segment?

Heritage

History has the power to make your product stand out. It can be a commanding differentiating idea because there appears to be a natural psychological importance to having a long history, one that makes people secure in their choices.


​Levi’s built America, Red Wing Shoes were the primary suppliers for the American Army during the first and second World Wars, and pizza like your grandma made it in that region of Sicily.

Leadership

While people love underdogs, they usually bet on winners. Consumers love a leader. It feels safer to choose Optimizely rather than a smaller A/B testing tool. Optimizely is the leader, after all! There must be a reason for that.

Sometimes people don’t know you’re the leader, so make sure they know. Maybe you’re the sales leader. Or maybe you have the highest customer satisfaction rating, or the best track record, or you’re a leader in some other particular aspect or in a specific segment.

Whatever the exact measure of leadership, any such claims must be specific and credible to work.

Specialize in your market

Focusing on a single target user or use case will make you a specialist, and different among the many generalists. People perceive those businesses to have more knowledge, experience or understanding of their area, hence giving customers a reason to choose them.


Paperbell is not just a scheduling and billing software, but scheduling software for coaches. Pilot is payroll for international employees (differentiated against Gusto or ADP). USAA is a highly touted and specialized (military) financial services company that has $155 billion in assets and $30 billion of revenue and $2.5 billion of profit on a consumer installed base of only 12.4 million members.

Make your products in a special way

Focusing on the unique design or technology in the product can help distinguish the product in the marketplace. This can be a secret ingredient or a branded methodology. It doesn’t matter if anyone understands it as long as it sounds impressive and credible.


​Allergan’s CoolSculpting has been growing like crazy these past years. Do people really get how it works other than “freeze your fat off”? No. Does it matter? No.

Be hot

This is about tooting your own horn. It’s the Kim Kardashian strategy: you’re popular because you’re popular.


​Zoom has been the hottest thing during the crisis. Could have been Skype, Google Meet, Gotomeeting, anyone, but Zoom became hot. And that led to way more hotness.

Clubhouse is all the rage these days. Notion is conquering the world. Roam Research has a cult. Momentum becomes the reason to choose you.


​Being hot or experiencing tremendous growth can get your product or company some altitude; once you’re there, you can figure out something else to keep you there.

Customer experience as a differentiator

Customer experience is how customers perceive their interactions with your company. And it can be a powerful, driving force of differentiation between companies. A true differentiator.

Most companies focus on customer acquisition, and not on providing the best experience. They spend WAY more money on getting the customer in the door, than they do trying to keep them and delight them. Everyone calculates their CAC and LTV, but what about CKC (cost to keep a customer)?

Standing out with a better customer experience is a relatively low-hanging fruit way to differentiate since the bar is quite low.

If you wanna learn more about this, I highly recommend the book Never Lose a Customer Again, which lays out a fantastic framework to follow.

Double down on it

Identified your key differentiator? Now double down on it. Optimize your machine to deliver on that promise.


​Are you faster? How about you make it 10x faster.

Cheaper? Go way cheaper, make it all about cheaper. (Only works if the competition can’t match that due to some unit economics or structural advantage you have).


​Better quality? Make that quality advantage 10x better than anything else out there (has to be specific though.)

Better customer experience? Go for the 11-star experience.


​That way your differentiator will truly become that.

Blue ocean strategy

Blue ocean strategy is a famous concept that largely deals with the very same issue. It originated from a study that took place over 10 years and analyzed company successes and failures in more than 30 industries.


​In their classic book, Blue Ocean Strategy, Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne coined the terms ’red ocean’ and ‘blue ocean’ to describe markets.


​‘Read ocean’ stands for mature markets rife with competition (red from the blood of competition), everyone becoming heavily commoditized. Profits margins are increasingly low. In the red ocean companies focus on satisfying existing customers’ needs, they fight for the existing customers, and prioritize the existing demand. In red oceans, it’s impossible to use both differentiation and low price strategy simultaneously.

‘Blue oceans’ in contrast would be new markets, unexplored space, without competition. It’s about creating a market that is yet to be discovered by a wide audience.


​Over time, every blue ocean can turn into a red one as it matures, and more and more competitors get in on it.

Blue ocean strategy is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand. If a company can identify what consumers currently value, and then rethink how to provide that value, differentiation and low cost can both be achieved. This is termed ‘value innovation’.

The way to beat the competition is to stop trying to beat the competition. There is no competition, but there’s also no demand yet – you need to create it. And you can simultaneously use differentiation and low price strategies.

The key point of the Blue Ocean Strategy is the satisfaction of consumers’ needs. You focus solely on the customer, and not the competition as you are the only one in this market.

Category creation

When Drift entered the market of already crowded live chat tools, it didn’t say “we have this feature that makes us different”. They called the whole game something different – ‘conversational marketing’. They changed how people should think about them. They stood out. They were different.

They did this by creating a category.

Category creation is not about being first to market with a new product or service. Sometimes this is the case — but often it is not.

Creating a new category is about educating the market about not only new solutions, but often new problems that are not top of mind. Category creation requires radical product/service innovation, combined with business model innovation, aided by data about future category demand.

The number one and two companies in a category make most of the money. if you can’t be the first in a category, your best route might be to go create your own.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of GE, reviewed the company’s businesses, and decided to focus on nine categories of business where they held the no. 1 or no. 2 position, or were close to achieving it. If GE couldn’t be first or second in a category, they would get out of that business.

“And so we entered that market knowing that we had to go out, create a new category and be the only way to conceive of it,” said Dave Gerhardt, former VP Marketing of Drift.


​Category creation is about selling the problem, not the product, and thus positioning your innovation as the best solution to the problem.


​Category creators by definition have no direct competition.

There are 2 pretty decent books on this stuff: Play Bigger (I hated the self-congratulating style, low-hanging examples, but the ideas are good) and Category Creation (a mix between interesting stuff, and basic marketing; worth a read anyway). ​

Differentiate with brand

Companies used to compete on features – who does what. Since the start of mass marketing, benefits, and experience.

In recent decades it’s been increasingly about the brand. Functional differences get replaced by values and ideals, and identity.

Who am I if I buy your brand? What does it say about me?

I buy Patagonia because I believe in sustainability, and I care about the earth. When I buy Nike, among other things I champion women’s equality and oppose police brutality.

I buy CXL Institute because I like to think of myself as a go-getter who’s going places.

When I buy jewelry from Tiffany’s, and pay a premium for that diamond, I value the best.

That means your brand is your defense against commoditization

A strong brand is your best, most sustainable long-term marketing asset. Invest in it before you need it. It’s something your competitors can’t copy, it can be your strongest ‘why’ for choosing you.

Functional/attribute differences matter, and innovation goes a long way, although that’s not a game everyone can play. But pretty much anyone can compete on brand.

Soft innovation and emotional points of difference will go much further in the world of endless features and benefits.

Things have finite value. The meaning we attach to stuff, the stories we tell ourselves about it have exponential value.

How to be different through branding

In her excellent book Different, Harvard professor Youngme Moon details three types of brands that stand out in the competitive landscape today. They are Reverse Brands, Breakaway Brands, and Hostile Brands.

Reverse brands

Most brands continually improve their value proposition because they assume customers can never be fully satisfied. However, Reverse positioners assume that although customers do want something more than the baseline product, they don’t necessarily want more features.

So reverse brands remove certain aspects from a product that customers might expect, and add in new unexpected things. Case in point: IKEA.

When the classic furniture store was full of salespeople and furniture that would last a lifetime, IKEA provides no in-store assistance, and the furniture might not last very long. While classic furniture outlets do home delivery, IKEA shoppers must build their own furniture from parts. But you get great design at affordable prices. Its stores have an airy, ultramodern look. There’s a restaurant offering Swedish meatballs, and other delights.

It works. While U.S. furniture stores have been steadily losing out to retailers like Wal-Mart, IKEA has become the largest furniture store in the world, 2nd in the US. And nobody has been able to copy IKEA.

Breakaway Brands

Breakaway brands recognize that product categorization is arbitrary. We wouldn’t eat cookies for breakfast, but lots of people eat sugary cereal with the same nutritional value every morning. Because it’s “cereal”.

Diaper manufacturers had a problem. Most parents were embarrassed to buy diapers after their baby turned 3, and potty trained them well. So they invented pull-ups: diapers that look like underwear, and the use-case for it was for 3-5-year-olds. Social stigma was gone, and profits soared.

That’s what a breakaway brand does – you take an existing category, and redefine its use case. Cirque du Soleil did this as they reframed the circus from involving animals to amazing acrobatic and physical feats by humans.

Hostile brands

Hostile brands “play hard to get.” The antithesis of “feel good brands,” hostile brands defiantly demand a decision – love me or leave me.

They’re intentionally polarizing.

Unapologetic about its aspects that some might consider shortcomings, even flaunting their flaws. When Mini Cooper launched in the United States, the brand made no apologies for being a small vehicle in a country that loves SUVs. They actually boasted of the fact that the vehicle was very small, the anti-SUV if you will.

Hostile brands may make us uncomfortable at times (like some clothing brand being intentionally for skinny people), but in the end, their polarizing nature makes them stand out in a sea of homogeneity.​

Brand traits of successful commodity brands

In his book Bigger Than This, Fabian Geyrhalter discusses eight “brand traits” of successful commodity brands. ​

  • Story. This is the best way to stand out with a commodity brand when you don’t have any innovation – have a story. Fishpeople Seafood is a B-corp that tells the story of meticulous standards for sustainability and accountability. They focus on their founder stories, but most importantly – you can trace the fish you’re about to eat, and get the story behind the fish.
  • Belief. This is about shared values. This is where a brand deeply connects with its tribe through a shared belief and this is achieved by understanding its members. This takes a lot of monitoring, listening, and most of all, conversing in an open, casual manner on social media, events, and so on. Passionate beliefs become the driving force of your business. Black Rifle Coffee Company is a pro-gun company that gained national attention in 2017 for taking a stance in support of Donald Trump. They live their values, and thus attract (and repel) a certain group of people.
  • Cause. Aligning your brand’s existence with a cause can give you a strong brand positioning. Your business exists to right a wrong, do some good in the world. TOMS shoes comes to mind.
  • Heritage. Connect your product with the desire of consumers to form a deeper connection with a place – real or imaginary. Or even time in history. Nostalgia in branding has always worked, even back in the day. That is why Coca-Cola shows us the old Santa Claus year after year. They pulled it off, but heritage can be hard to scale.
  • Delight. This is similar to the customer experience focus discussed previously. Small unexpected gestures will lead to a consumer seeing you as a friend. When you repeat this step and this way of thinking, you move from a friendship to creating a community. Aim to create a brand vibe no other can steal.
  • Transparency. Leading your brand with transparency will gain immediate trust with your consumers. I instantly think about Buffer and their transparent salaries. Moz and Convertkit have also been very transparent. Transparency and honesty takes a serious commitment. What if you ran a radically transparent company? Live-streamed internal meetings? All strategy documents and alike public? Nobody is that brave. But you’d have no competition, that’s for sure.
  • Solidarity. Solidarity is the idea of aligning your brand with someone else’s dream. It requires you to show deep empathy for a very specific audience and align your offering, your story, and beliefs and messaging around your followers’ point of view. You need to exemplify the values of your tribe in everything you do and say.
  • Individuality. Personalized products and experiences. A unique story and customized product will keep winning consumer attention through individuality brand factor. Surprise your tribe by being personal, and thus make your brand personable. Wonderbly made a splash with their Lost My Name books, being instantly different.

Personal brand

Another way to give people a reason to choose you over others is through personal branding. If prospects like the people associated with the company, they’re more likely to buy from them.

Tesla has Elon Musk. If I like and respect Elon, I’m more likely to buy a Tesla. Who is the name behind Chevrolet or Mazda? No clue.

Microsoft had Bill Gates and Apple had Steve Jobs – even huge conglomerates use personal brands. Google. Virgin. Hubspot. Salesforce. It’s just so much easier to relate to another human rather than an entity.

I like Rand Fishkin and enjoyed his Whiteboard Fridays, so I’m more likely to sign up for Moz (even though he’s no longer with the company) than SEMRush. I’ll give Sparktoro a spin because I like Rand.


You don’t even need to be the founder or CEO to use a personal brand for creating differentiation. Look at what Dave Gerhardt did with Drift when he was the VP Marketing there. He’s now at Privy, and while most folks have no idea what Privy is, they already have a favorable gut feeling about it because of Dave’s personal brand.

As Basecamp’s founders wrote in Rework, pouring yourself into your product is a powerful way to stand out from the crowd:

“If you’re successful, people will try to copy what you do. But there’s a great way to protect yourself from copycats:

Make you part of your product or service. Inject what’s unique about the way you think into what you sell. Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it.


Competitors can never copy the you in your product.”


​100%. And because I might be a fan of the outspoken founders of Basecamp, and I will choose Basecamp over other CRMs (or at least include it in my consideration set).

Who owns differentiation?

Differentiation and positioning can’t be delegated to lower rank marketers. It’s not a tactic somebody can ship. It’s not a line of copy one writes.

Differentiation requires a commitment, and needs to be driven by the C-suite. The CEO needs to own it. It’s a strategic decision and commitment.

Conclusion

Marketing is a game of attention. If you do what everyone else is doing, it’s hard to get it.

If your goal is to gain market share and awareness, and your product is not clearly differentiated, it’s a problem. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that’s easy to solve.


​Differentiation is hard, and requires all-in commitment. Do it anyway, it’s like a multiplier that gives extra oomph to everything you do.

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