January 2013

How To Be Different but Not Too Different

Why do consumers think of Ikea as something other than a cut-rate furniture store? Ikea has differentiated itself from other low price furniture emporiums and taken on a unique identity, creating its own niche as a lifestyle enabler. It offers well constructed, attractive, “no-frills,” furniture displayed in realistic scenarios. You can shop there without being hounded by commissioned salespeople desperate to make a sale and best of all even though going to Ikea is somewhat daunting, its always fun. Some of the most important reasons to differentiate your offerings were the subject of the last post. This week we are going to look at a variety of successful ways to create true, sustainable differentiation from your competitors, taken from observations in Youngme Moon’s book, “Different: Escaping The Competitive Herd” In a nutshell, Doctor Moon offers up three routes to differentiation: Reverse Positioning, Alternative Framing, and Hostile Branding. The first, Reverse Positioning is when you start subtracting features from your product to differentiate it from the competition. In most highly augmented products there are features that consumers don’t know how to work, don’t need, don’t want, and probably will never use. However, at the same time that you strip your product to its bare bones by Reverse Positioning it, you must add something new and sexy to your offering. JetBlue is a classic example of successful Reverse Positioning. Its lack of seating by class, meal service and frills, is ameliorated by its cushy leather seats with TV’s on the backs, and more legroom in every row. Alternative Framing is when you change how a customer perceives your product so that it occupies a new niche not far from the one it used to live in, but still distinctly different. When HBO launched, it branded itself as “HBO NOT TV,” and even today, this branding continues to differentiate HBO from its competitors. I have lots of friends who say that they don’t watch TV, just HBO. Pull-Ups are another good example of alternative framing. Ask yourself, are Pull-up’s diapers or big boy underwear? Are Kellogg Nutri Grain Bars, a nutritional meal, or cereal in bar form? The reality of what the product is doesn’t matter to the consumer if they have psychologically embraced its new form. If you can turn your offering into a Hostile Brand, you can even make its use a lifestyle statement. Hostile Brands present their products with all their pluses and all their minuses and dare the consumer to join the user tribe. When they were introduced to America, Mini Cooper’s size scared consumers. So what did their manufacturer do? They emphasized how small the Mini Cooper is by running an entire ad campaign pointing it out. Tiny Mini Coopers were shown everywhere looking adorable, in images that emphasized their diminutive size, on top of SUV’s, next to elephants, and in the middle of traffic. Where does your company or product fit in this dynamic? To compete do you keep on adding features, playing follow the leader? When was the last time you sat down and had an internal think session where you worked to frame the story of your product in such a way that it was truly differentiated?
Apple differentiates itself by covering all the bases. It proudly proclaims its Hostile Branding in its long running Mac vs. PC campaign which creates an us versus them mentality. It’s hostility extends to the fact that Apple charges more for their product
than other products of similar utility, and has no intention of lowering it’s prices to gain market share. At the same time, it gives us plenty of Alternative Framing when it asks the consumer if they want a telephone, an iPod, an e-reader, or a mini-computer or if they just want an iPhone. Finally, it practices Reverse Positioning by taking away features other companies offer such as removable batteries in phones and tablets and rewarding the user with what many consider superior screen resolution and user experiences. Ultimately it rewards its loyal consumers by giving them the satisfaction of being the member of a distinctive tribe an Apple products connoisseur. Is there a way you can reframe how your customers and more importantly your potential customers see what you have to offer? Can you stop being a “call center” and become a communications hub? Can you stop being a piece of sophisticated software and offer customized business solutions? Can you take away unnecessary features that you have added to your product to keep up with the competition, streamline your offering and add one killer new feature that no one else has? Can you turn yourself into the customer and figure out what the one thing you would want in your product is that no one else is offering and then create or add it? Can you dare potential customers to walk away from your competitor’s enhanced version of your product and join a movement towards simplicity, efficiency, and ease of use? Take any of these steps and you are on the road to differentiation that is sustainable and has true meaning. That is until your competitors realize what you are up to and race to emulate you. At which point because you are brave, you will already be on your way to the next unique way differentiation of your product. If you want help recreating your story in a unique light, all you have to do is whistle, and I’ll be there.
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