Are You Meaningfully Different?
One of the most compelling business books I have read recently is Different: Escaping The Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon, the Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean, Chair of the MBA Program, at Harvard Business School. Her research focuses on marketing innovation and brand differentiation, two key elements of any successful business but especially applicable to the promotional products marketplace.
As shown in this Different video, Moon's book discusses how our culture has more than we could ever need or want and how the business landscape seems like companies are in a race to nowhere. Businesses are stuck on the competitive treadmill desperately trying to keep up with one another. But with everyone trying to be bigger, better and faster, she says they all end up just like everyone else.
Today there are more brands, more products and more choices. But, in reality, it's just more of the same. Moon says there is "a great big blur of similarity." Sounds like our industry, doesn't it? Not only are multiple suppliers buying from the same factories, but there are also even more distributors offering the exact same product lines to end-buyers. Where's the difference in that?
In the absence of any true differentiation, products will devolve into commodities—and commodity purchases are based on price. Perhaps the reason our industry spends so much time talking about price is because there's nothing else to talk about. As a result, our advertising medium loses value and ends up being known, as the media likes to refer to it, as "trinkets and trash"—a moniker that reflects poorly not only on our industry but also on those advertisers who use our products.
But there is a way to make the trash talk—and the price wars—stop: By creating true differentiation. In Different, Moon asks, "What does it mean for a business to be different? Meaningfully different? How do you set your company apart in a business environment that seems like a great big blur of similarity?" The future of our industry's prosperity lies in the answers to these questions.