Strong Brands Alienate People


I had the opportunity to hear Youngme Moon speak at The art of Marketing Conference about her book, Different.  It was the perfect combination of great content and great communication.  (She was named the most popular professor at Harvard and I can see why.)  Her book, Different, makes this point:

To consumers most businesses look pretty much like their competition.  That’s because we are trying to be better than our competition. The results is that you still look like your competition-just more or less shiny.

But true differentiation is not a function of being better in every way.  “Different” companies focus like a laser beam, not like a flood light, which means that some things are brilliant and others are not.  True differentiation is a not a function of well-roundedness. It is a function of lopsidedness.

Think about choosing a doctor.  When you need a heart surgeon you don’t care about other qualities she has.  If your doctor can’t set a broken leg and is a lousy parent, it won’t deter you if she has performed the operation you need successfully 1,000 times.

Because you can’t be good at everything and you can rarely book great at something without letting a lot of other things go.

Lululemon sells yoga supplies and now has a market capitalization of over $10 billion.  Here is how the  Wall Street Journal  described their business model:

Unlike most retailers, Lululemon doesn’t use software to gather customer data, doesn’t build lots of new stores, doesn’t offer generous discounts and purposely stocks less inventory than it can keep on its shelves.

Instead, the Vancouver company stays in close contact with its customers and cultivates a sense of scarcity, and during a time when most retailers have used discounting to drive sales, it uses pricing power to its advantage to keep items flying off the shelves.

That’s different.

Ikea  stores are not conveniently located, they don’t offer furniture that is easy to set up.  Their furniture isn’t made to last a long time. They don’t offer much customer service in the store and it doesn’t offer a variety of styles “for everyone.”

That’s going to alienate a lot of people.

Yet these are incredibly strong brands.

This is one of the hardest marketing concepts for people to grasp.  It takes courage to say “No” to a lot of “potential” customers by refusing to compromise on a focused area of expertise and or by compromising what’s real about your business to please more people.

Social media makes it easier to show your difference. In social media you can have a voice. You can tell a story.   With social media you can present yourself warts and all.  And ironically, as companies like Lululemon and Ikea show us, the “warts” are an important reason why the rest works out.


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One Response to Strong Brands Alienate People
  1. The challenges of price transparency
    April 11, 2020 | 8:24 am

    [...] Strong Brands Alienate People [...]

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