Analysis is great, but creating true differentiation is essentially a leap of faith.
Differentiation is seldom achieved purely through analytical rigor. Analysis and incrementalism still have their place in business, just not in the actual creation of differentiation.
The answer is to know everything. Strive to be more analytically rigorous than your competitors but also assume they’re looking at the same data and probably arriving at very similar conclusions. As heard in the movie The Incredibles: “When everyone is super, no one is.”
So go ahead and build that mountain of information. After that, climb to the summit and look around. Then leap off. Use science to get Â you to the top, art to guide your leap.
That which is static and repetitive is boring. That which is dynamic and random is confusing. In between lies art.
Two well-known books by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink) and Michael LeGault (Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye) illustrate this point: you need to think before you blink. You are suicidal if you don’t use every ounce of analytical rigor you have to solve your strategic problem, but you’re delusional if you think that analytical exploration is sufficient for business success. Conversely, anyone who tries to build a business on a “golden gut,” without taking the time to explore actual market data, is a fool.
Information is critical but it’s also ubiquitous. Analysis is a given. True brand differentiation and sustainable advantage can only be found and created in one place: your imagination.
Another weakness of using analysis alone is that it tends to lead you toward so-called red oceans (red because of all the competitive blood being spilled). In other words, when you are led by things you can measure, you tend toward spaces that can be measured- and those spaces are inevitably already overbuilt. Such spaces are almost always red oceans. Blue oceans, on the other hand, are not well measured, and no amount of pure analysis will lead you to them. (Read Blue Ocean Strategy by W.Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne)
This all sounds good, maybe even a bit inspiring. But most marketers operate within large organizations and those organizations aren’t known for following the intuitive leaps of their marketers. Once you’ve made that leap you need to put your analytical hat back on and construct a bridge from the top of that information mountain to wherever you landed. Sorry, but that’s the way it works: to justify your recommended strategy, you will be asked to compare your intended path to paths taken by others- even though the only really successful path with be the one that takes a completely different route (and thus can’t be measured).
To reiterate: analyze the hell out of the situation, make your intuitive leap, and then find the analytical path that connects your landing spot back to wherever you jumped from.
Finally, if you can’t handle paradoxes you may want to stay out of marketing.
Check back in next week for more straight talk on positioning from Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy