Either A Brand Is Different Or It Is Dead

And after that gentle title, Simon Silvester launches into:

“Tom is a brand manager. His approach is thoroughly professional. He’s searching the world for best practice, and is bringing it to his brand. He’s also benchmarking his brand against competitors, making it look as good as they do. And he’s optimizing his communication plans, ensuring they’re best-in-class. What’s the problem? ‘Seeking best practice’, ‘benchmarking’ and ‘best-in-class’ sound important. But they all mean Tom is copying his competitors. And because his competitors are professionals too, they are copying Tom back. In today’s world, everyone is searching for the same best practice. Everyone benchmarks against each other. And everyone optimizes their communications plans. Everyone is copying each other. And so their brands are becoming clones.”

He points out that in a world of perfect information where everyone has access to the same quality research and online information, there’s a tendency for Tom and everyone else in an industry to come up with the same insights at the same time, launching the same products with the same key messages.

Which is a problem because it’s differentiation that drives brand strength and it’s differentiation that’s threatened by analysis that puts everyone on the same road instead of the road less traveled.

Getting the balance right between points of parity (things that you must do to be perceived by consumers as credible in your category) and points of difference that can help you stand out from the rest has always been a tough marketing challenge. I think that Simon’s report is a useful reminder that we should not get so infatuated by the power of sophisticated tools that focus on points of parity (like benchmarking) that we forget about the trickier challenge of finding ways to be different.