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Monday, July 22, 2013




Time was, when there were only two respectable ways for marketers to win in the marketplace:  with (1) a better-performing product coupled with (2) a superior marketing strategy—built around, usually, a superior performance benefit.  This combination virtually defined the concept of (meaningful) differentiation.  On those rare occasions when delivering a superior performance benefit wasn’t an option, then the next-best thing was to build the marketing strategy around a differentiated reason why product feature…which, if cleverly communicated, would create the impression—if not the reality—of a superior-performing benefit.


This was the marketing era we grew up in, and these were the principles we expected our brands to win by.  Of course, as marketers our natural bent was always toward finding and developing ideas—advertising ideas, promotion ideas, packaging ideas, sponsorship ideas, merchandising ideas, and so on.  We eagerly tested and executed new and different ideas, mainly to engage and excite our target consumers.  But, looking back on those days now, we rarely expected those different ideas to sustain impressive volume or share gains—without the underpinning of a better-performing product and corresponding superior performance benefit.


As we have noted a good many times in these weekly Dispatches, with the changing of times has come the coalescence of high-performing products in so many consumer goods categories as well as in drug and medical device classes.  Winning in today’s marketplace is more and more a function of having a better idea rather than having a better-performing product attached to a superior performance claim, or even a differentiated product feature.  You could well argue that it is more important than ever for today’s brand-builders to have a different idea than their competitors…or, better yet, a differentiated idea.


But wait.  Is there really any difference between a “different” idea and a “differentiated” idea?  It may be a matter of degree, but we think it’s always preferable to have a differentiated idea.  A different idea may be nothing more than one we haven’t seen or heard before; but a differentiated idea implies a quality that goes beyond newness of sight or sound:  it implies an inherent competitiveness.  To make this distinction more concrete, here are some traits of differentiated ideas.  With traits like these, a brand can actually sustain volume and share “wins”—yes, with an idea!


1.  A differentiated idea is one that, truly, key competitors cannot easily (or comfortably) imitate.  When Pepsi US and its longtime advertising agency partner, BBDO, came up with the storied “New Generation” campaign (and its many iterations), they consciously aimed for an idea that Coca-Cola could not easily or comfortably imitate.  Pepsi’s dynamic capture of America’s burgeoning youth culture—via hot young celebrities and the latest pop-rock music—was just not something that Coke’s “red, white & blue drink for all ages” could readily come to grips with.  And it was during the heart of those “Choice of a New Generation” ad and concert-event-sponsorship ideas that, for the first time ever, Pepsi actually took over supermarket share leadership in the US.


Fast forward to more recent times, and it’s clear that MasterCard, in the late nineties with its “Priceless” idea, took a page out of the same book.  They aimed to stand for broad-based and ever-growing values that people just about everywhere felt—namely, that all the “getting and spending” we were doing was not bringing us happiness.  More importantly, however, these values were the virtual opposite to those that Visa and its nemesis, American Express, had invested millions against:  assuming that using a “prestige” credit card would make you feel more important…and ultimately happier.   And the immense business gains that MasterCard has achieved in the fifteen years of “Priceless” amply demonstrate the value of their differentiated marketing idea.


2.  A differentiated idea is usually based upon a legitimate consumer or customer insight that other brands have either overlooked or under-appreciated.  Did other leading beauty-care brands, such as Nivea, L’Oreal, or Olay, simply “miss” the pent-up attitude among so many women around the world about the “phoniness” of most beauty-care advertising that Unilever’s Dove finally exploited?  Or, could it have been that many actually knew of this insight but hadn’t the courage to make something of it?  Whichever is the case, it’s highly likely that those other beauty brands failed to appreciate the “striking the nerve” value that Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” idea had. 


And continues to have.  Oh sure, the big share gains that were realized in some countries and temporary ones in others have abated; but have you been following some of the latest evolutions of the original, differentiated idea?  The recent “Sketches” digital work once again has people (and marketers!) buzzing about the brand and the “legs” of both the “Real Beauty” messages and the Dove Self-Esteem Fund.  Presumably, many of the beauty-care products within the broader Dove portfolio perform well…but not appreciably better than those of the other leading brands.  All things being equal on the product front, then, which would you rather have for your brand:  a trendy, celebrity-beauty “talking head,” (not even an idea, let alone a different idea) or a Dove differentiated idea?


3.  A differentiated idea “changes the category conversation” and gets consumers or customers to think differently about your brand.   One brand that has, most likely, forever changed a very tired, old conversation within a very tired, old-feeling category is U by Kotex, Kimberly-Clark’s san-pro entry aimed squarely at millennial teens and young women.  Clearly much more than a mere advertising idea—with bright-colored, individual product wrappers, black packaging, and heavy social media usage—in much the same way that Dove called “BS” on beauty-care, U by Kotex has called it on decades of san-pro marketing…decades in which nearly every brand followed the same formula touting added product-feature “whistles & bells,” and hours upon end of blue-dye demos.  If you read through any of the product information the U by Kotex Brand provides (there isn’t typically a lot of it in their ads), it’s pretty clear that the product itself performs well—but not demonstrably better than other leading brands.  And yet, the brand has achieved a respectable share of market in a relatively short time.  Looks a lot like another differentiated idea at work.



So, going back to where we started, while it’s almost always preferable to have a better-performing product, we think it’s always preferable to have a differentiated idea.  No.  Make that differentiated ideas.


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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