In an increasingly noisy marketing landscape, standing apart is a huge challenge. There’s so much happening, that it’s easy to blend into the background. On the most recent episode of my podcast, Peep Laja and I explored why differentiation (and brand positioning) matters and how companies can effectively create a unique place in the market. Peep also touched upon why many companies are afraid of being different. Mark Evans: I’ve been talking about brand positioning and differentiation and storytelling for the last few years. At times, it feels like a Don Quixote kind of exercise tilted against windmills, because I understand the value of differentiation and brand positioning. But many companies have sort of took it for granted. And they focus more on tactical execution. How many posts can we create? How many videos can we make? Do you think this is the pendulum is swinging back to differentiation and brand positioning because of the current marketing landscape?
Peep Laja: I do think it’s having a moment. The message is getting increasingly heard and companies are increasingly thinking about it. It ii=s also the fact that the marketing technology landscape in eight years has grown like 5,000%. There are more than 8.000 more tech tools out there. If you’re an email marketing software or a startup just getting started, you cannot win by writing a couple of blog posts on how to write good subject lines run some PPC ads. It just doesn’t work. People have very limited consideration sets. If you want to get into their consideration set, differentiation is a must-have. Mark Evans: How do companies differentiate themselves when their competitors talk like you, walk like you, have the same benefits and features, and probably the same pricing? It’s about slightly different flavors of ice cream. How do you stand apart? How do you differentiate your brand when you’ve got dozens, if not hundreds of competitors who walk the same and talk the same? Peep Laja: I think you’re absolutely right. That is because real differentiation is hard. It’s not enough just to be just a little different or be another flavor. Differentiation needs to be big enough to put the decision in your favor. Then, there is the radical part of differentiation. It is scary to be different. It’s tempting to be a safe and boring company. You say safe and boring stuff because it’s defensive, and thus, nobody will call you out and you won’t get criticized or get hit. You’ll be just like everybody else. Of course, the problem is that nobody will care either. It is a double-edged sword. So how do you differentiate? It is the old classic, differentiate or die, which is 30 years old. I think a lot of the things that they were saying 30 years ago are still valid today. You have to be first or attribute leadership. When WP Engine, the hosting company launched, like they were all about speed. Now, there are, of course, so many clones for WP Engine that are using the exact same argument: fast WordPress hosting. WP Engine is large enough and they have a big market share that differentiation is much less important to them. Market penetration market share is, by far, the most important thing. If people know you, it is much easier for you. Differentiation is first and foremost, important for smaller companies that don’t have a big market share. I think everyone should invest in customer experience as a differentiator because it’s just easy to do and easy to be different through customer experience. Most companies are doing the bare minimum. By brand, of course, it means you have a certain set of values that you stand for. You attract a group of people and, at the same time, repel another group consciously. It means you need to be polarizing and people will feel uncomfortable. Mark Evans: I like that you mentioned the fact that it’s easy to be safe and boring, There’s the analogy that if a herd decides to run over the side of a cliff, everybody decides that that’s the best thing to do as well. So we all jump over the side of the cliff. At the end of the day, that’s not such a good thing. But I’m curious about why marketers and companies are afraid to be different and think out of the box and really stand out in a way that may strike people as offensive, or strikingly different. Is it because of a lack of confidence? Is it just the way that things have always been done? Is it a necessary evil these days? And maybe evil is the wrong word. But is it something that’s necessary to differentiate and carve out a competitive edge? Peep Laja: I think one of the hardest things to do is to be original. Very few of us are legit, authentic, original thinkers. Copying is easy, being original is hard. It much easier to see something and then take that but like add something new to be a little bit better. I think creativity is a big part of it. Most people are not able to imagine something that they haven’t seen before. Two is that differentiation is not just marketing and I guess it’s not like a line of copyright because it’s the whole DNA of the business. That also means the CEO or the senior leadership as a whole needs to be bought in. If the company is big enough and there’s a legal department whose job is to cover their ass, they’ll be less interested in doing something more radical. If there are investors involved, doing something more radical might affect their finances so they’re more risk-averse. If your CEO gets marketing, you’re more likely to take some risks because ultimately it is a risk in strategy and differentiation is a strategy. Any strategy is a hypothesis. You might have good inputs and data into why the chosen path might work. But it’s still a risk. It’s still a gamble. It’s an experiment. And it’s one that you need to play out over a long period of time; maybe two years, two years of testing your messaging, Want to hear more from Peep, including why he thinks a lot of marketing should be outsourced? Listen to the podcast. If you like what you hear, share it, and rate it.