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Differentiate or Die

It was the largest ever meeting of the PMCQ, with over 250 participants, despite an overnight dumping of 20 cm of snow. The draw? Jack Trout, avid proponent of brand “Positioning” and father of the concept of differentiation.

Trout proposes that in a battleground of brands, the consumer is faced with a “tyranny of choice”. For instance, there are 180 different brands of dog food, 50 brands of bottled water and 134 brands of cough & cold medication! Consumers need help to sort through the maze of options - differentiation is the key.

So, how do you differentiate?

First, find and promote an overriding attribute. Even though every person or product comprises a mix of characteristics, being known for one is what makes you memorable. For example, Einstein is associated with intelligence, Volvo is known for safety and Mercedes for engineering. Once you discover this attribute, you should “drive it everywhere”, from magazine/journal ads, to packaging, to corporate communications. (Papa John’s Pizza chain even went as far as to include their “better ingredients” message in their Christmas cards!)

You can also differentiate through the way your product is made. According to Trout, customers want to believe you have a magic ingredient (they don’t need to understand it!). For instance, Crest toothpaste has “fluoristan” and Sony TVs have “trinitron” technology. (Even my spell checker doesn’t recognize these magical substances!)

Customers also tend to look for the “latest” (no doctor wants to prescribe an obsolete drug). Advil gained an advantage in the highly competitive NSAID market by launching a campaign offering “Advanced Medicine for Pain”.

Trout argues that many companies don’t understand the need for product differentiation. Of those that understand the need, many don’t know how to do it. Unfortunately, lessons are often learned the hard way, and as Trout points out, “If you make a mistake, your competitors get your business and you never get it back”.

There are a few simple lessons for maintaining your position. First, never ignore your competition, and never give them an edge. That means being diligently aware of competitor’s promotion and positioning.

Focus is also critical, and sometimes calls for sacrifice. With Wall Street pushing for growth, there’s pressure to promote multiple attributes to appeal to new customers. Trout argues that you must ignore this tendency, and continue to focus on one benefit per brand. Companies should also focus on only one or two brands. Trout cites the example of Marlboro, which tried to launch too many product lines, and began to lose their rugged, masculine image. As he points out: “Real cowboys don’t smoke menthols”.

Finally, while you may have to evolve your position to move with the marketplace, you should evolve slowly. And never lose your corporate memory.

By Wendy Marston,
Manager in the Marketing Communications Department at Merck Frosst.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Supporting Care Partners

Virtual Meeting
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Online only!

Tel: (514) 486-3458
Fax: (514) 486-4794

Creative by GLG Communications
Printing courtesy of Data-Ad
AV courtesy of Pro-Staging
Digital courtesy of
Engage Presentations Inc.

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