Friday, April 30, 2010

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd

I'm about halfway through Harvard marketing professor Youngme Moon's new book titled Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd. The book argues that far too many industries are characterized by herd behavior. In most instances, Moon argues that firms compete themselves to a point where the industry becomes incredibly homogenized, rather than differentiated. Yes, we have many more product choices than ever today. However, she points out that product categories have become a blur to many consumers, with a dizzying area of products that aren't all that different. Brand loyalty has dissipated as companies constantly augment their products to catch up to the competition. Imitation is everywhere.

I'm now to the point in the book where Moon offers examples of strategies for escaping the competitive herd. Her first example is what she calls "reverse-positioned brands." Here is how she explains this strategy: "What this means is that there is a commitment to withholding benefits that the rest of the industry considers necessary to compete. Reverse brands say no where others say yes. And they do so openly. Without apology." At this point, she is echoing Michael Porter's long-time argument the necessity of making tradeoffs, i.e. "the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." However, she goes one step further. She writes that reverse-positioned brands do "a second thing that is equally audacious. They take their stripped-down value proposition and infuse it with some unexpected form of extravagance." She offers examples such as Google, JetBlue, and IKEA. I think the idea of reversal is intriguing, and I've begun thinking about other examples that I know. I'm sure you may have some. Please comment on the blog and share those if you like.

I'll have more on Moon's book as I continue reading, but I definitely recommend this to business executives and students everywhere. Moon's writing style is terrific, and the insights jump off the page.

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