Monday, August 17, 2009

In the quest for uniqueness
Mon, 2009-07-27 14:02 — Sat Duggal

I have discussed the concept of competitive separation – creating separation from your competition in the eyes of your customer. First, you must understand who your target customers are and then define the key attributes/features of their buying decision. Next is to build your total offering in that context. This is the only way to separate yourself from thre pack:

"I was recently in the market for a digital camera. While this is my 3rd camera in the last 5 years (don’t ask!), what surprised me the most in this latest shopping cycle is the sharp increase in bewildering choices available to buyers. From the arcane language of focal this and aperture that and zooms and shutter speeds, I was soon swimming in unknown seas. What bothered me the most was how much more difficult the choice set had become and how difficult it was to differentiate one choice from another.

Differentiation (competitive separation) is a key driver and a leading indicator of brand strength. Virtually every model and every management tome evangelizes the cause for meaningful distinction. But in today’s world, how can one achieve differentiation (competitive separation)? Most features are easily copied, everyone is getting more design-conscious and manufacturing strategies are replicable in most industries. Not only that, most manufacturer’s, in their quest for differentiation, have over-engineered their products to only watch low-priced, “good-enough” competitors run away with market share. How can one build meaningful differentiation that can serve the brand over a period of time?

Most manufacturers, like most of our camera makers, focus on the bottom part of the hierarchy of needs.

While it is important for a camera to deliver on the latest attributes (megapixels, zoom options), the land of differentiation is often found at the higher rungs of the hierarchy of needs. It is in functional benefits (picture quality, easy to use) or even better in emotional benefits (sense of achievement, trust, security) that brands can find lasting uniqueness. This does not mean that product attributes are not important. They are absolutely critical. But the right set of attributes, consistently delivered over a period of time help a brand build equity in a benefit area and therefore help it stand for something unique in the marketplace."

We use a similar model in our work of defining a Value Proposition for the target customer. A critical component of this model is that each level in the pyramid must meet the basic needs of the customer before going higher. So, the product attributes must be there before you can focus on the Functional Benefits and they must be acceptable before you have a chance of creating the emotional link, thetrue driver your brand. Of course you can create competitive separation all along the pyramid but the usual trap is you stop too soon.

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