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Stop trying to be different

Everyone is already doing everything, forget filling white space and focus on talkability says Jon Silk, director of Bite

For so long, the secret of success in marketing has been differentiation. If you can’t differentiate on features, differentiate on services. If you can’t differentiate on services, differentiate on price. If you can’t differentiate on price, you’re stuffed.

As a result, every product or service we could possibly think of buying is now packed full of buttons and clouds and fingerprint scanners and gorilla glass and has a beautiful cross-platform app and a virtual office on the moon with 24/7 customer service staffed solely by hyper-intelligent supermodels who want to video chat with you. Oh, and it’s free thanks to being ad supported.

How can you differentiate against that?

I’m happy to tell you that you can’t. We’ve reached the event horizon of differentiation – there is no further you can go. Give up. Relax. Have a lie down. Your offering is now the best it can possibly be.

So, if the basic tenets of marketing are now redundant in a world where we’ve moved beyond the natural laws of marketing physics, what do we do next?

Luckily we’re already doing it.

Have you heard about the consumerisation of B2B marketing? If not, you will soon. (Also, you’re not reading this magazine closely enough as the excellent journalists here have been writing about it for nigh-on three years.)

To summarise the concept for you, B2B companies are now using consumer marketing tactics in their campaigns – think stunts and celebs over research and whitepapers. It’s a trend that started with small businesses and worked upwards. At the root of it all, marketing is all about people, and businesses are made of people. So it makes sense.

The great news about consumer marketing is that it’s not about differentiation. It went through that change a long time ago. The Pepsi Challenge was probably the last consumer campaign that hung its hat on differentiation, and even that fizzed out in the 80s (probably when the campaign failed to actually work and Coca-Cola remained in the top spot). Nowadays it’s all about the talkability of your brand.

White space
What do you do if you’re a B2B marketer wondering how to switch gears and adopt a more consumer-y approach to marketing? First of all, I’d recommend you listen out in your next meeting for these phrases: ‘Issues-based’, ‘market trends’, ‘research piece’ or ‘buying lifecycle’. If you hear them, you know your meeting is on the wrong track.

All that boring stuff is going to distract you from the job at hand. Stop relentlessly engineering your product or strategy to find the white space in the market that’s just begging for you to fill it up with stuff that nobody else is doing. Here’s a newsflash: There isn’t any white space. Everyone is already doing everything.

Instead, when you hear those words, stop the meeting, and throw out what I like to call an ‘idea grenade’. Here’s one: “To be honest, our product’s no different from our competitors. So let’s just give it away for free to Sun readers”. Or how about: “I’m not sure our CEO is the right person to front this campaign. How much do you think Kylie Minogue would cost?”

Those things might be out of sync with your message, but at least it’ll send you off in a more successful direction