If You Can't Be Different Be More Relevant — And Therein Lies Your Difference

Earl Cox follows up on his previous post, "The Commodity Trap" with how relevance can be the real difference for marketing winners.

Author’s note: this post builds on my previous post titled, The Commodity Trap

“Brand Differentiation” has long been the brass ring for marketers. It’s also been their golden goose by driving preference and commanding premium prices. Without it business success can be elusive. Unfortunately, brand differentiation has become largely out of reach because of pervasive product parity in virtually every category of business. As such, I believe the marketing winners going forward will need to navigate a sea of sameness by cultivating a “relevance difference.”

What people really care about

“…the task is not so much to see what no one else has seen, but to think what no one else has thought about that which everybody sees.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer, Philosopher, 1788-1860

Most marketers look for brand differentiation in the wrong place. They typically focus on the product’s tangible, rational traits looking for a “magic bullet” attribute that only they can claim. But again, there rarely is one. So, product branding alone isn’t enough in a parity environment.

Rather, it’s the organization behind the product that’s most relevant to consumers today. It’s less about what they’re buying and more about who they’re buying from. Therefore, marketers need to shift their focus from what they’re selling to who they are.

Cultivating common ground


More than ever, consumers want to do business with organizations that share their convictions. To cultivate this common ground, it’s critical that organizational brands demonstrate their convictions with their actions, not just words. Brands must “walk their talk” and reflect behaviors rooted in a purpose that aligns with their customers’ values and permeates their culture and customer experience.

The best organizational brands are famous for it.

Method cleaning products

Organizational Convictions: Believe in using business to solve social and environmental problems.

Actions: Method Soap for Hope product line that supports breast cancer causes.

Airbnb lodging

Organizational Convictions: On a mission to unlock the power of sharing space, resources and support in times of need.

Actions: Enable and promote their host community to open their homes for displaced groups due to natural or man-made disasters.

Dove beauty products

Organizational Convictions: There’s a need to redefine beauty standards to support body image positivity among future generations.

Actions: The Dove Self-Esteem Project providing education and support.

Patagonia outdoor apparel & gear

Organizational Convictions: Believe in using business to protect nature.

Actions: A self-imposed “Earth Tax” to support environmental non-profits.

Essentially, these organizational brands have relevant social missions, not just product propositions, that consumers can buy in to.

So, in our product parity reality, cultivating an organizational brand that acts on its convictions is the road to greater relevance and sustainable differentiation. And, that can be very good for business.

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