Here is what happens.
A point of difference is identified. It could be an extra 50 minutes on a mobile tariff, a longer warranty, alternative skins for your laptop, uk call centres. All of them are positive attributes, all of them are researched and when pushed respondents state a preference for them but do they make a difference. Probably not, yet we hang most of our marketing on them. Of course if you are first to offer something like 36m warranties when everyone else offers 12m or all the laptops are silver black and grey and you offer a host of coloured skins then brilliant go for it but otherwise tread carefully.
Focussing on points of difference can give you a nice warm feeling, your job is done. All you need to do is to tell everyone; responses and customers will surely come. But then you find testing the approach in the real world reveals that people are not that interested in what you perceive to be the important part.
When markets are commoditised or several competitors are offering similar services - white goods, communications, energy even automotive you need to stand out, be distinctive. This doesn’t have to be rational and probably can’t be unless you transform how you support or deliver your product. You need to zig when others zag. Context is important, the mundane looks good when everyone else offers risky or quirky. Bond markets look pretty sexy for most investors these days although Greece and Italy are doing their best to de-sex them. Being distinctive could be your brand, your values, your service commitment, your web design, the in store experience. It is important and increasingly so.
Honda are great engineers, so are the germans. In fact most cars are well made according to JD Power. But Honda grew market share by being different, almost maverick to the disciplined German approach. They had different interpretations of engineering obsession, the considered test and learn Germanic approach, the clunk of the door, versus the creative and total commitment approach of the Japanese. This was reflected in their cars and styling. The points of difference like Honda’s v-tech engines were terrific but sensibly they recognised it was not enough to excite consumers, it could have done the opposite. Reinforced the good but boring Honda tag.
European flights. Easyjet. They are orange, they are cheap. Should they talk about speedy boarding, the range of services in flight, number of destinations or UK airports they fly from? No. Shouting price in an orange style seems to work.
Marketing courses talked about the importance of differentiation, economics courses told us it was best to be second into markets. Learn from mistakes, minimise risk and steal best practice with pride. If you can do this but do it in a distinctive way then perhaps you have cracked it. And maybe this explains the successes that are Toilet Duck, Go Compare, Shake n' Vac, Yeo Valley, Lynx.