Differentiation in the Modern World (Insight)

We are trained as marketers to worship at the altar of Differentiation. Differentiate or die, we’re told. What this often leads to, whether it pertains to product innovation or advertising, is a whole lot of differentiation for differentiation’s sake, without a clear sense of purpose or an insight into what makes the brand uniquely relevant.

Uniquely relevant is a good phrase, as it captures the two things you want simultaneously: to distinguish oneself from the crowd in a way that is meaningful and responsive to the needs of the audience.

In a mature (and therefore more affluent and sophisticated) market such as North America, the only true differentiators today are Values and Experience. What you stand for, and the uniquely pleasing experience you can provide – are the primary ways in which we can distinguish ourselves in a meaningful way – and are perhaps the best way to justify or earn a premium.

Because at the end of the day, the only reason to differentiate is so that we can remain a sought after and a more highly valued offering, vs. turning into a commodity. Case in point: We just won a new client named Renova, a paper products brand from Portugal who took Europe by storm with not only a differentiated product (coloured toilet paper, for example) but with brand expressions that spoke more to creativity and sensuality than to the ‘staple’ of toilet paper or facial tissues. They seem to represent the idea of “individual self-expression”, particularly artistic expression. This transcends their category and makes them uniquely relevant to the growing creative class, people in affluent societies who use brands and products as part of the colour palette with which they create their identities.