Different- A Marketing Book Review

A Different kind of marketing book 

I stopped reading most business and marketing books several years ago as I found that most of them had nothing new to say. They would repeat the same mantras with an emphasis on a small insight or would take a nuanced idea and shine a very bright light upon it. Many marketing books typically have one idea that gets illustrated over 100 pages and probably should have been a blog post. However, if a book is well-written with a clever and provocative way to view the world, I know I can learn something and enjoy the journey too. 

This past week, I found something Different

The great blur toward similarity
While using Stumbleupon, I stumbled upon Different by Harvard’s marketing professor Youngme Moon. Her book, aptly named, is very well-written and an enlightening look at marketing. She argues how in a struggle to be different, brands are merging and categories are taking prominence. When every battle is to add a feature, the competitive landscape becomes more similar than different. Think about the toothpaste aisle and when one brand adds tartar control, the others respond. When mouthwash is added, the herd follows. Marketers engage in augmenting, adding and slipping toward sameness. She describes this as a great blur toward similarity

In her clearly written book, Youngme Moon identifies three types of marketing strategies that are in fact different and lead to a fresh approach. And, in an interesting method to promoting this book, she created a trailer- as you would find in movies- to help describe her thesis. Nothing like illustrating your thesis on being different by being different! 

You can watch it here:

"What I liked about this book is that her writing style and approach to the subject gets into the contours and folds of marketing in interesting ways."

She tells stories as an academic and as a Mom. In one chapter, standing in the cereal aisle, she describes how people categorize the cereal brands and truly nothing stands out because everyone is playing by category rules. Everything merges together into a breakfast blend of brands. No one is really challenging the approach to what cereal means since it is always about adding and augmenting with more fiber, less sugar, less fat, more this and less that. Those of us who buy cereal, know the rules of categorization for this aisle, can segment kids versus adult brands or indulgent versus low-fat. But nothing is really different. 

She provides three archetypes of brands that are different:
Reverse brands will eliminate benefits and featuring new dimensions in the category. In their act of removing features, they add new value and bring forward areas to emphasize that are often missed. Ikea is an illustration of this point in that unlike most furniture stores, they do not provide the very essential features of assembly, delivery or sales help in the store. Category mandatory requirements aren't provided. Instead they offer a fresh approach on buying furniture. The strength of their brand is in what they don’t offer and in reframing the way the entire category operates. 

Breakaway brands push the category into a new direction or place and redefines the space. She talks about Swatch and the way in which they redefined the category of watches in fresh and unexpected ways as precision and telling the time take a back seat to fashion and accessories. Swatch redefined what it meant to sell a timepiece and put the emphasis on fashion over function. 

Hostile brands that actual try to keep people out by making membership in the brand hard work. They tend to be extremely polarizing forces that requires you to get off the fence and make a choice- love it or hate it. Brands like Red Bull or Benetton are examples of brands that push your buttons and try and establish difficult points of entry for becoming a member of their tribe. A great examples she describes is Marmite, a food spread made from beer yeast by-products, whose tagline is "Love it or Hate it."  When was the last time your brand forced your target to commit? 

Marmite brand, forcing the consumer to commit
I loved this book since it made me think about marketing and brands along a multi-dimensional plane where the challenge is to move away from competition as you redefine your unique place in the category. Products like Pull Ups, are an intriguing example of how the diaper companies were struggling to find ways to keep children who grew out of traditional diapers (Pampers from P&G and Huggies by Kimberly Clark) in the category of needing something to protect their clothes. Their consumers stay in the category a very short time- 2-3 years so the challenge was how to get them to stay longer. 3 year old kids don't want to wear diapers anymore because they see themselves as big boys and girls.  In rethinking what a diaper is Kimberly Clark re-imagined the product and made children’s underwear with diaper-like protection called Pull Ups. This created a new sub-category of big kid underpants. Today it’s the fastest growing segment of that overall category and it did it by rethinking the definition of a diaper.

I am always interested in new ways of seeing old things. In my food world, I recently found a recipe for lasagna cupcakes. It’s a great example of rethinking what lasagna could mean when you change the shape and form that it is delivered. Dyson’s recent introduction of a fan without a blade is another beautiful example of challenging the essence of a brand by deleting one of the features (a blade) that you assume has to be part of the product. 

Fanning the flames of what a fan stands for
Blue Oceans
The only other book I have read in the last decade that focused on this very issue was Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne. It too establishes fresh ground in describing ways of looking at blue oceans where competition doesn't exists versus the bloody red oceans of competitiveness. This book describes in great detail over 150 brands over 100 years in 30 industries and how to create a world without the competitiveness that exists in most categories. Blue Ocean Strategy is another marketing book I would urge you to also read. 

The difference between Blue Ocean and Different by Youngme Moon’s book is that her story unfolds and is revealed through a personal voice that is crisp in delivering her message and friendly in telling each story. Reading her book was like a conversation over coffee with a marketing colleague. I was reminded of one of my favorite professors at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications named Ray Birdwhistell.  Ray was an anthropologist whose work in Kinesics and non-verbal communications was landmark in nature. He used to talk about observing cultures and once remarked that the moment most people in a community start believing something is true, that is often the moment when it started to be false. I took me 38 years to start to understand his observation about following the herd. It was a subtle reminder about what different really means. 

If like me, you are fascinated by marketing and enjoy allowing your brain to be stretched into new places, Different is a must read book about the discipline of marketing. Never pedantic or preachy, the book gently walks with you through the maze of marketing sameness and shines a light on what different really means. 

Be different. Read something fresh that challenges your worldview.  

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