|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.
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.
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.
|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.
|Fanning the flames of what a fan stands for|
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.