Differentiation or eccentricity- you can’t just paste it onto your business with the glue of marketing communication. It needs to be solidly baked into the business. It needs to be real.
Now we move on to my call for a more extreme approach to differentiation. In today’s volatile, global economy it is no longer enough to be different. You now need to be eccentric.
Many of our favorite brands are eccentric. Not surprisingly, their eccentricity often grows out of the fact that many were built by determined and equally eccentric entrepreneurs. Richard Branson of Virgin. Herb Kelleher of Southwest. Howard Schultz of Starbucks. Phil Knight of Nike. Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Charles Schwab. Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google. Steve Jobs of Apple and Pixar. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Sam Walton of Wal-Mart. Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards. Ben and Jerry.
We need to go to school on these people.
These people were (and in many cases still are) eccentric, but they’re also leaders in the best sense of the word. Perhaps they weren’t always the best managers, but let’s not confuse management with leadership. And let’s not confuse planning with vision.
Each of their businesses have more than a clear position; they also have a strong and heartfelt point of view. A point of view considered downright eccentric by some. In addition, the people who work for these leaders have a real passion for what they are creating. They have a sense of mission for which they are willing to make enormous sacrifices.
As customers, we picked up on the missions. We joined the movements and we felt a sense of ownership- and we happily urged our friends to join us.
These leaders had an elemental need to build something different. They started something different, hired like-minded people to help them, and then stuck around to ensure that what they built remained different. We also know from their biographies that each one of these leaders were told in no uncertain terms by people supposedly more expert than they that the thing they wanted to build could not be built. They listened and then they did it anyway.
“Doing it anyway” is eccentric.
Most who follow this path actually fail, but the few who succeed become famous- and very rich. Let’s face it: most of us lack the nerve and sheer willpower to be one of these people. But we can learn from them- particularly when it comes to marketing.
In many ways, things are so much harder for entrepreneurs. Using their own money and their own sweat- their passion is on the line. They are all in.
In other ways, professional marketers have the more difficult job. They don’t have the luxury of starting with a group that is committed to their vision. They must convince an entire organization to do something that no on else is doing. They have a harder case to make because truly differentiated positions, while built on logic and analysis, almost always require an intuitive leap of some kind. Once the case is made, that case has to be successful.
True differentiation is a lonely road. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it.
Stay tuned for more on the advantages of difference from Austin McGhie