The Value Of Distinction Over Differentiation

October 19, 2016

The new Google phone was launched last week, and you would have a hard time picking it out of an iPhone lineup. The products are similar in size, the performance is similar, they have a metal body and they’re nearly identical in functionality. Not that long ago, cell phones were very different. You had the Nokia, the Razr, the Blackberry with the beloved keyboard, and the list goes on. In the past 10 years since the launch of the iPhone, tech products seem to be copying from the same patent book. It has gotten to the point where brands are actually having fun with the fact that they are doing similar things with product features. Take, for example, Google’s names for the phone colors — Quite Black, Really Blue, and Very Silver — which poke fun at the unique names Apple uses for their iPhones.


It got me thinking: Do real product differences really exist anymore? I took another step back and looked at other product categories. On the Today Show this morning, a segment aired in which the anchor encountered unexpected people on the street and challenged them to spot differences in makeup brands on two identical twins. One was wearing store-brand makeup, and the other designer makeup. Could anyone spot the difference… no. In fact, more people thought the person wearing the drugstore brand looked better. To be honest, the actual products may have very well been made on the exact same line in the exact same factory.


As marketers who are responsible for creating demand and separation between products such as smartphones and makeup, what are we to do? Enter stage left: brand distinction. As we develop communications, we need to be thinking about how we can get people to fall in love with an attitude, a voice, or a specific tone versus specific features. Because at the end of the day, features are not enough to stand out. John Stuart, the former Quaker Oats chairman, famously once said, “If this business were to be split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill and you could have all the bricks and mortar.” Fast-forward to today’s marketplace and you’ll conclude that this quote rings true now more than ever.

We continue to see an increased investment from brands in content. They’re developing communications that are less about selling a particular product feature or component and more about telling a story. This all makes sense when you take the above into consideration. We need consumers to fall for our brands, and now more than ever something as generic as battery life or easy-wash mascara isn’t going to cut it. In order to continue to create value for brands, we can focus on establishing distinction through storytelling, because as history has proven, storytelling continues to inspire.