Tuesday 2¢: Yep, they will copy you

This Tuesday, a thought on the holy grail of differentiation that’s probably not that different, but that’s not the point. It’s here.

The holy grail when positioning a company and product is that our message needs to be entirely different from our competitors yet similar enough that customers recognise we are in the same market. Our difference needs to be defendable by a unique set of features or functions so no one can copy it, and the sales team are locked and loaded with silver bullets fashioned by marketing.

Oh yes! Right?

The problem, of course, is that, like the Holy Grail, it’s not something one comes across very often. Most of us marketing mortals have never even touched or seen an “Arthurian cup, dish, or stone with miraculous healing powers” (which is the Holy Grail, according to Wikipedia) let alone written the homepage web copy for such a thing.

The buyers think our “cup, dish, or stone” looks pretty similar to the others, and to be honest, when it comes to the “miraculous healing powers,” well….. the whole market claims its product does that.

Yet, over the years, I have been in many messaging conversations that are like an Indiana Jones-esque journey to discover such a thing, creating corporate procrastination, months of refining, reviewing, and editing, and out of fear, trying to discover something uniquely uncopyable.

There are two challenges with that, aside from the unobtainable nature of this quest for most of us in crowded categories.

The first is that all this reviewing, refining, and committee introspection could weaken the original idea, making it pretty much B2Boring, me-too beige that blurs into the buyer’s barely consciousness when the idea finally makes it to the homepage. It offends no one, but now not only is the product hard to distinguish in the market, but so is the marketing.

The truth is that the sought-after differentiation is in how the message makes the buyer feel and aligns with their values, perception of the problem, and feelings of risk and trust—not the details of the features and functions. So, the second challenge, if it survives the smoothing of the corporate beige-o-nator, is the delay.

We are grabbing a fleeting moment of attention in the zeitgeist of that moment. And grabbing it now—not after six months of committee meetings – beats everything.

I do not mean to belittle product quality or the importance of the features, but the purpose of this message is to provide a hook baited with sufficient trust to earn the opportunity for a conversation to explain that potentially subtle difference between us and the competition.

And yes, this differentiated message can probably be copied, and it may even become the lingua franca of the category in a few months as everyone picks it up. But today, you’ve created something fresh.

And just get it out there because, yep, they will copy you.

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