The guru's guide to being different, not better

By Barry Urquart

"First among equals" is not a phrase or principle that has currency in contemporary marketing. It has little capacity to effectively increase revenue or establish a company as a compelling magnet for consumer expenditure.

Beware commoditisation

Technology and immediate global communication have both contributed to innovation, creativity and, interestingly, a sense of sameness. Over very short periods of time, duplication and substitution contribute to a world of sameness, or commoditisation, if you will. The phrase "a bank is a bank is a bank" is tellingly descriptive.

Some business owners and marketers are driven to be better. That is, better than they have been in the past or better than their competitors and substitutes. It's a laudable but misguided ideal. Consumers often find it difficult to comprehend marginal "betterness".

Be different, not better

It is significant that most consumers can readily perceive and are attracted to that which is different. In reality, a company or product that is different is incomparable.

This effectively triggers an important psychological process that results in sustainable competitive advantage. The logical sequence is that being different means one is first and therefore better, which stimulates interest, demand and a sense of value.

Differentiate how, not what

"When you can't differentiate what you sell, differentiate how you sell it." That is sage advice. Most carpet retailers price and advertise their merchandise based on a cost per lineal metre. For those who offer carpet priced on a square-metre basis, differentiation ensures price comparisons are not the sole or primary criterion that influences or determines the purchase decision.

In the past, Australian car-hire companies charged a flat daily rate, plus so many cents per kilometre driven, plus insurance, plus petrol costs. The innovation by a new competitor to simplify the process and charge an inclusive flat daily rental effectively doubled the size of the market within 12 months. Notably, competitors quickly followed and differentiation was lost.

Small points of difference do matter. Smaller legal practitioners, for example, have scope to quote a predetermined full-fee structure rather than apply open-ended hourly or the more common six-minute charge. Such initiatives are attractive features to consumers.

Think laterally and vertically

Ongoing quality and application improvements are imperative. Upwards and onwards. So too is the need for left-field thinking and striving to be different. It is a rewarding and engaging experience for all.

Price comparisons are difficult and somewhat meaningless when one is able to maintain a point of difference. So, go on - dare to be different!


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