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?