Which is more important – to be better or different?


Which is more important – to be better or different?

The answer, of course, is that it’s important – better – to be both.

What, however, if you had to choose one or the other?

I liked the answer of the marketing VP of a Californian software business, who has recently become a new client after reading an interview that I’d forgotten I’d given – about how Calm, the sleep and meditation app, managed to generate so much more buzz, coverage and attention than its rivals … by setting out to be different.

The interview was in this post titled: Getting creative with PR: Calm.com shows the way.

This VP answered the question like this:

“I’m a firm believer that products should be better than the competition, but more importantly different. Nobody pays attention to better. People always pay attention to different.”

The problem for his business wasn’t being better, since he already felt confident that it WAS better than its rivals. The problem was that not enough folks knew this.

“We recognize the importance of being different”, he explained “… in order to be recognized.”

And that, he said, was why he’d reached out to Think Inc.

Seth Godin answers the same question – in different words but a similar vein – in his book, Purple Cow:

“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is that same as being invisible.”

In the affluent West, at least, the fortunate among us live in a world of over-abundance, where there is too much of everything, and a brimming mass of endless me-too products, with little or no meaningful difference between them.

In our modern age of over-supply and information overload, when attention is the scarcest resource, there has never been more truth in the mantra, “Get noticed or die”.

Sometimes, of course, the best or even only way to be better is by being meaningfully different. Better IS different.

This is the gist of the book, Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, by Youngme Moon, a professor at the Harvard Business School.

Setting out to be meaningfully different, she argues, is not just the only marketing strategy worth considering but also the only business strategy.

If you’re not different, you’re nothing.

Bernadine Evaristo is the first black woman to win the renowned Booker Prize for fiction.

In her new memoir, Manifesto, Evaristo recalls how she started working life as an actor, only making the “transition to print” when she was well into her thirties.

Breaking into writing, however, proved a struggle. “No one in mainstream writing cared about a black female poet”, she recalls.

It was only when she set out to be daring and different that she finally got noticed and made progress. So it was that her “first big break in publishing” came when she wroteThe Emperor’s Babe (2001), a historical novel that stood out from the literary herd by the fact that it was written in verse form.

Evaristo, of course, is not a brand or product, at least in the conventional sense. By setting out to be different, however, she has gone on to become one of Britain’s most high-profile and respected writers.

In the long run, of course, there’s the argument that being better is also the best marketing there is.

Or, as Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm, has put it, “The best marketing is a world-class product”. This recalls the saying that marketing is the tax you pay for having an unremarkable product.

In the short and medium-run, however, and if you want to survive long enough to REACH the long-run, being different may be not just equally but even MORE important than merely being better.