At our fancy and not fancy MBA schools, we’re taught about marketing fundamentals like positioning, the 4 Ps, value propositions, value chains, perceptual maps, differentiation ad nauseum. Don’t get me wrong, I believe most of these principles are essential for good business growth and success. The one principle I’d like to think about and discuss critically is ‘differentiation’.
I recently came across this white paper authored by Jenni Romaniuk, Byron Sharp and Andrew Ehrenberg titles, ‘Evidence concerning the importance of brand differentiation’. In the white paper, which, by the way, is a true white paper and not one of those self promoting pieces masquerading as a white paper, the authors challenge the importance of differentiation as a piece of the marketing strategy. They argue and present empirical data demonstrating that differentiation plays a very limited if not inconsequential role in competition between brands. They make a compelling case.
It is important to note the context of the paper is around product attributes and not brand perception. In fact, they argue that there are differences in the eyes of the consumers, but the perceived difference is in the brand itself, not the product features. Thus, if you do read the paper, keep in mind that differences are relevant, but differentiation with relation to the product is minimal.