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The ocean of sameness

At the end of July I was sorting and selecting what I was going to read on holiday, summer is the time when you can enjoy reading during the day, and in my case on the beach.

But I just landed on a blog and read an article that I have reread over and over again during the holidays, it is one of the best I have read on branding to date, it is called "The Sea of Sameness" and the author is Peep Laja.

Very well documented and even better written, it talks about the strategy of differentiation at the level of products and services, as I say documented in a sublime way with contrasted data, examples and recommended readings.

Right at the start, he sets the record straight with a quote from the legendary Michael Porter: "Instead of competing to be the best, we should compete to be the only one". And then he flawlessly lays out the definition of differentiation strategy: "Differentiation strategy is a way to stand out from the noise and give people a reason to choose your business over others". You can say it louder...

Interestingly, the opposite strategy is still, in fact, being followed today and in general, resulting in a massive similarity between products and services and leading to an inevitable similarity between many companies.

What is similarity?

A combined effect of companies trying to be similar to each other through offers, poorly differentiated by their branding and the same happens in their communication.

That is, if you visit the websites of several companies that compete in the same sector, you will see (with rare exceptions) that they present their value proposition in such a way that it seems that only they do it. And he gives the example of Sendinblue, which I think is very clear.

And why is similarity so widespread?

First of all, it exposes the mistake of competing by means of X functionalities or features of one service or product that another lacks. The problem is that sooner or later it will be copied, and he gives as an example, for me a great one, the case of Snapchat Stories that was copied by Facebook. The result? Commoditisation.

The main challenge for companies when launching a product or service continues to be market saturation in the first place. For example, according to the article, in the technology marketing sector, more than 7,000 technology marketing tools have appeared in just eight years, an increase of more than 4,500%. (2011: +/- 150 tools, 2019: 7,040 tools).

And he continues with another phrase that could not be clearer, "Copying is easy, being original is not so easy". And it is clear that being a "little different" is not enough, differentiation requires a greater effort for the purchase decision to be made in your favour.

And why should they buy your product or service?

The easiest way to generate differentiation is to give people a reason to choose you over others. And he expounds on the "Unique Value Proposition" USP, which originated in the 1940s, created for TV commercials. And at that time it was easy to create a USP because the market was not yet saturated. It was even reasonably easy to create a good claim.

And things have changed radically, for example, the "quality revolution". To influence factors such as the durability and resistance of consumer goods like lamps, TV's, radios, etc. is unimaginable nowadays, since the consumer assumes it. In other words, we assume a certain level of quality.

Differentiation through price is not sustainable.

And it is true, you can start with price as a competitive and differentiating factor, but without a significant structural advantage it is not sustainable over time. Someone will be able to lower the price sooner or later. Walmart and Southwest do it, but they have a structural advantage that makes it sustainable.

And here's a pearl, "Being different is scary".

It is tempting to be safe in a boring company (this reminds me of how they put IBM in the series Halt and cath fire), ultimately being a commodity makes you harmless and even more so, away from criticism.

The problem is, obviously, that nobody cares about you. If you are an established, well-capitalised and healthy company, you can go that route. But if you want to grow it won't work.

You need radical differentiation.

The hard part of finding a path to differentiation is that you really have to find or create a radically different factor. And it's not a safe bet, it's risky and it's hard to predict how it will work.

It reminds me of the phrase of a great friend: "Beware of benchmarks".

And here are some examples.

I invite you to read Peep Laja's article, thank you very much for having made it this far.

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