Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Different Is Better

You can see it everyday on store shelves, over the air waves and on the world wide interweb. Companies are struggling to differentiate; to offer products and communicate in a way that sets them apart from their competitors. There's a rash of mass commoditization going on in every industry. We've let our brands become homogeneous so all that customers have to go on is price. And the fact that we're in a tough economy isn't making things any easier. If you listen to consumers all they'll tell you is they want more of the same for less money. If you look at competitors, you'll follow them over the cliff. So how do you break out of this rut? Ask yourself one simple question.

"What do you want to be famous for?"

Great brands are famous for something. Apple is famous for ease of use, while others like Dell, Vostro, and Toshiba battle over functional territory like speed, memory and price. Volvo is famous for safety, while others like Chevrolet, Nissan, and Dodge clash over style, features and price. Walmart is famous for low prices, while Sears, Target and Kmart struggle to compete on service, style and low prices.

The key is to be famous for one thing. Find something that's important to your customers, makes you different from your competitors and then own it completely. Your fame factor should drive everything about your business, not just your marketing. Everything about Apple from its product design, operating systems, stores and communication is about being easy to use. Does that mean their computers aren't fast? That the iPhone doesn't have a lot of ring tones? That iTunes doesn't have an extensive catalog of songs? No. It just means that easy to use is front and center.

Once you figure out what you want to be famous for, you have to be true to it every step along the way. Volvo stumbled in the 80s when they produced a commercial that faked a demonstration of safety. Tiger Woods' brand has been decimated because his actions are so at odds with the in control, family man image he projected. Ben & Jerry's struggles to maintain its quirky, hippy, counter-culture image now that it's owned by Unilever.

Successful strategy is knowing what to excel at, what to be good at, and what to ignore. Finding your fame factor is the first step in achieving this.


  1. Hey, Harvey - I got to your blog via an eMail from Willy. I like your observation about commoditization of everything - which is being driving by technology IMHO - but I think your notion of being famous for one thing is a bit of an oversimplification - mostly because markets change - and a brand to stay vital needs to go with the flow. Volvo's safety, which was once a differentiator, lost its power because everyone has been legislated into building safe cars. And anyone who uses a computer knows that none of them are truly easy to use - what Apple does is recognize that and go to extraordinary lengths to help you figure it out. Seems to me that all the great brands I can think of are famous for one thing - and that is an iconic leader - Jobs, Jack Welch, Henry Ford, Thos. Watson. et al.
    Thoughtful post.

  2. Arthur, Thanks for the comments. Yes, it probably is a bit of an oversimplification, the form of daily blogging leads to that, I'm afraid. But I'd argue that it's better to start with a strong focus and slowly evolve than try to be all things and get nowhere. The leadership thing is definitely a key. Apple's a good example of this. Without Jobs, they have floundered. Ultimately that "one thing" is vision. Companies with vision to see and create a future succeed and those without end up chasing the market, their customers and ultimately their tails.