Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon

Daring to Be Different

One of the biggest challenges many economic development professionals face is finding a way to make their community stand out and look different from its many global competitors. High quality of life? We all say we have that. Competitive business environment? Ditto. Great support structures and an “open for business” attitude? Check. But if we’re all claiming the same great assets and strengths, how can anyone tell us apart?

Enter Dr. Youngme Moon, a professor at Harvard Business School, armed with her latest book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd. Moon’s research focuses on “hyper-mature markets” where large numbers of sophisticated brands and companies compete against each other.

Picture the bottled water aisle of your local supermarket – row after row of pretty bottles, each claiming to contain the “purest,” “cleanest” and “best tasting” water in the world. Caught in such a competitive trap, waters become indistinguishable, and brand loyalty dies. Companies resort to gimmicks to increase market share (“Now with lemon flavour!”), but any successful tactic is immediately copied by all competitors. Companies spend more and more time and money chasing smaller and smaller slices of a market, while consumers see all brands as essentially interchangeable. The parallels with economic development marketing are clear: if everyone claims the optimal environment for investment and development, how can investors know which community really does make sense for their new venture? Every claim we make is matched by someone else, and every breakthrough marketing gimmick we can come up with is copied by a dozen other communities as soon as we know it works. This is where Moon’s book really shines. Not content to merely describe the problem, Moon actively explores case studies of companies that have broken out of the hyper-mature market trap. From Google searches to JetBlue travel, and from IKEA furniture to the MINI motorcar, Moon identifies and dissects companies that have successfully made themselves different. Better still, she breaks their actions down into a small number of key tactics for differentiation, turning a few examples into a conceptual model that can be used to bring fresh thinking to all brand differentiation exercises.

Moon’s book is a light, readable effort in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell – but the end result is a compelling, specific set of tools and tactics (like the “reversal” approach, or the “breakaway” strategy) that can be applied as soon as you’ve set the book down. If marketing and branding are a part of your economic development toolkit, this is essential reading. Highly recommended, and available at a significant discount here.