Differentiating in a Sea of Sameness

Junior, the Pug!

Maturation in social media marketing has created a sea of sameness, where conversations revolve around listening, responding, strategy, ROI, influence, etc. Consider the common complaint that all of the social media books, A-List blogs, and retweeting fans say the same things. The current “state of the conversation” serves as a great reminder that mature markets require differentiation to stand out and capture stakeholders’ attention.

It’s only by differentiation can one cut through the cluttered idea market to gain a stakeholder group’s interest. Differentiation distinguishes ideas, services and products.

Differentiation gets back to basic product marketing. That means creating an element(s) of uniqueness to an offering that appeals to the marketplace, whether that’s information for marketers, social change theories to attract charitable donors, new social middleware solutions to help organizations achieve their missions, or products for consumers. Without uniqueness, new blogs, causes, services and products are doomed to live in the second tier, offering a slightly less or more brilliant version of the market leader’s products. Yet regardless of the offerings’ merits, without differentiation it cannot rise above.

Sometimes the answer is as simple as positioning. Other times differentiation takes the form of carving out a niche from the larger mix. The organization focuses on one piece of the puzzle only, for example Flip camera’s sole focus on low-end handheld video cameras. This form of product marketing and branding was the basis for Al and Laura Ries’ Origin of Brands.

Differentiation always takes a deep understanding of market dynamics. This comes from listening, but also a perception of what stakeholders want and their unresolved needs. As much as algorithms and mathematical data helps marketing, part of it remains this deep perception that causes an organization to take a risk and launch new products that have yet to be proven. Consider the iPad’s incredible success in spite of the empty slate of apps that had yet to be developed for the tablet at launch. Within six months, 10,000 apps had been developed.

There’s a great desire for new ideas in social media marketing. The current voices haven’t broken out of meme box with substantive new approaches. Discontent amongst the marketplace continues to rise, and has spread to the corporate side where customers are starting to cry bubble. The idea marketplace is ripe for voices to differentiate with new exciting approaches that work. Consider how Danny Brown’s voice continues to evolve with his new partnerships, thoughts and approaches.

How will a cancer org separate itself from LIVESTRONG, the American Cancer Society and Komen to stand out and really make a difference for those interested in resolving cancer? Donors won’t be easily shaken to try something new unless they feel it has a serious chance to do a better job. Or maybe the cancer approach focuses on a niche, like Jennifer Windrum Strauss’s WTF Lung Cancer effort.

It’s a New Year. How will you differentiate your efforts so they don’t fall into the mediocre trap of sameness?

  • I’m not sure mediocrity or even sameness is always the opposite of differentiation. I think it might be collaboration. And I think, in some cases, differentiation might be another word for (often unnecessary) competition.

    Yes, we each have unique superpowers to contribute. But what if we used them together?

    Is competition or redundancy of effort a bigger waste of human potential?

    • Stacey: Glad to see you here. Collaboration certainly helps and extended enterprises and causes have a better time of things when they put in processes to work with more stakeholders. At the same time, without competition innovation often occurs at a lesser pace. In addition, collaboration has its own issues as based on increasingly documented difficulties with crowdsourcing. Like all things, I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between. Thanks for coming by, Stacey!

      • I guess I’m not certain that the pace of innovation should necessarily be rapid, either. We’re often so busy building/seeking the shiny, sexy, new that we disregard the truly meaningful, important, beautiful things too soon.

        Collaboration & competition certainly each have their own rewards and disadvantages – but I’d suggest differentiation (or competition) for its own sake, or even for the sake of innovation (which isn’t necessarily a good in its own right), isn’t the best reason.

        If we truly believe something new or different is necessary – to achieve truth, justice, beauty, goodness, love, whatever – our goal shouldn’t be differentiation but inspiration of a new sameness. Differentiation should be a temporary state and not one sought as a good in itself. imho.

        I’m also a profound believer that much in our world is (or was once) naturally good and beautiful, and believe too often our propensity for constantly seeking better in the end makes us miserable & unsatisfied, but no better. (As a changemaker, I’m probably more of a “return to our roots” not “be on the cutting edge”, though many might mistake me for the latter.)

        glad to be here ;) often am. unless i have a thoughtful comment that hasn’t been offered, though, i usually stay out of the fray.

  • Geoff, Good Morning, and Happy New Year
    No longer will just a blog, or a facebook fan page or even a large twitter following or any other of the tools of the day work as stand alone for social media marketing. Great, solid marketing has always captured customers, and so we shall see which social media gurus also have true marketing in their blood as those that do may well run away with the show in 2011.

    • Indeed, the rubber will hit the road sooner or later. Good points.

    • That’s a great point Eric, far too long have communications professionals been lax in really incorporating social media tools into their overall communications plan – I guess it’s just easier for some firms to charge a flat fee for setting up a blog and a Facebook page, or corporate communicators have run into the wall of the legal department time and again on what they’d be allowed to write (and that’s a whole other story).

      I hope that 2011 sees those who know how to merge SM as part of your overall PR plan get the credit they really deserve.

  • Hi Geoff, Happy new year! Thanks for a great business
    focused post with VC and compete-on-innovation perspectives. The
    focus factor is going to standout in 2011; not every platform is
    useful or strategically smart (Ferriss alludes to this). From my
    perspective, this goes for every aspect of social media marketing,
    from marketers themselves to their clients. Looking forward to see
    what rolls out in 2011! Thanks, much, Kristen

    • Yup, it’s going to be a strange year. I expect to see a fair amount of disruption in the marketplace.

  • I have a post coming up later this week that addresses something akin to this post’s point.

    While it’s true that a lot of people feel like the same information is appearing everywhere, the fact is that everyone out there has what I call a “secret sauce” element to what they’re doing, and that is where the differentiation comes from. While the content may look the same, the way it is presented, the purpose for it being presented, and how the community uses it-that all can differentiate you from the crowd, and it can point to differences between the different noisy signals you receive out there.

    It is true, though, that I think some people will be tempted in the coming months to say, “Oh, well, so and so did this and got this, so I will too.” And there lies the source of danger.

    Happy New Year, Geoff!

  • Geoff,

    You inspired me to write this post: http://www.johnhaydon.com/2011/01/if-dont-know-do-do-opposite/

    John

    • Good points, John. Doing the opposite always helps me when I get stuck. These are some good tips for NPOs that may be looking to shake it up a bit!

      • Thanks. Especially helpful if you’re at a loss. ;-)

  • I have to go with Stacey on this one, Geoff. Differentiation just to get out should not be a goal unto itself. If something new is truly better and will truly have greater impact on social good, then by all means do something new. But otherwise, look to see who’s out there that you might work with, whose mission could be leveraged by your innovation. It’s a very crowded world out there, particularly social media. Let’s start pulling together and cutting out the redundancy that waters down our efforts.

    • While I appreciate the desire to see more teaming, I think the reality of the sector is that you have different organizations competing to achieve things. Does that mean we need all of these players? No, but it is the field, and that’s not going to change.

      And I disagree that teaming via an innovation mission will create the results we’re looking for. As I have said to Stacey in the past socialist and over regulated structures have not succeeded historically to achieve this Utopian vision. I need a more compelling argument to move towards this direction than poo-pooing competitive innovation.

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