DIFFERENTIATE OR DIE

How many blades has your razor? Which i-phone model do you have? (Other phones are available). Do you use your car’s smart cruise control, or do you prefer the automatic lane departure warning?

The pejorative term for the marketing-encouraged desire for ‘new and improved everything’ used to be ‘planned obsolescence’, deliberately making products with a limited lifespan so that consumers will soon have to buy another. And another.

In a more positive frame of mind you might call it continuous improvement – never being content with the same old same old, but constantly striving to create new and better solutions to consumer needs. So we buy the new product. And the one after that…

The point is differentiation of course. Differentiation from the competition plus differentiation from last year’s model, as outlined in chapter 1 of every Marketing textbook and discussed in our video.

One interesting approach is to ‘think long’. To design and make products that either don’t need replacing anything like so often, or that can be updated simply by fitting a few new parts, rather than buying a whole new item.

Another allied thought is to stop buying things altogether and rent them instead, returning them occasionally to re-manufacturing centres, where they are refurbished and, if necessary, updated with new components.

Another variation on these ideas was first mooted in 1901 by, of all people, the inventors of the safety razor. Build a long-term business (and consumer relationship) by designing and making the major part of a product almost everlasting, while offering to update its performance and efficiency with low cost, low impact consumables.

All of which is important and thought-provoking of course. Happily, it’s also encouraging for those of us who sell things, because whichever new consumption-limiting business model wins out in the end, customers will still need to discern some difference between competing offers, in order to choose.

Differentiate or die, in fact.

Kevin Murphy

Kevin Murphy

Kevin Murphy has shelves of International and UK marketing accolades, including Design Agency of the Year, Client Agency of the Year and the Institute of Marketing Gold Award for Strategy.

Kevin himself won Communications Entrepreneur of the Year.