Small Business Development Center

Different - "Escaping the Competitive Herd"

Different - "Escaping the Competitive Herd"


Authored by: Megan Jendro

I first came across the book Different by Youngme Moon in my MBA Marketing Strategy class, and I will admit, it was a required reading. However, it provides a new perspective on how to view competition in a business setting and provokes thinking about your own business differently.


Youngme’s message of modern business is extremely simple yet also very powerful: most companies have too narrow of a view in their respective market, and will blindly follow their direct competition. Companies will compete time and time again usually on one focus: price, margins, target market of consumers, etc. Consequently, the harder they compete, the less differentiated each business becomes amongst each other. Youngme Moon likes to call them “the herd”.


The most successful brands that Youngme writes about in Different are the brands that were willing to redefine the terms of their competition and embrace one-of-a-kind thinking. Youngme likes to call these brands, “Idea Brands”. They are not perfect brands, but in a way, have a perfect way of thinking about the industry they are in.


Youngme highlights three different types of idea brands: reversal, breakaway, and hostile. All three offer a whole-scale rethinking of the value proposition in their respective categories.


Youngme’s example for a Reversal brand is Google. At the beginning of time, long before “just Google it” was a phrase, there was in fact an alternate search engine. Anyone remember Yahoo? The Yahoo homepage, and other competitors at the time, was a plethora of stuff. Weather, stock quotes, email, entertainment news, games, etc. Yahoo was setting the consumption standard for how people accessed information on the internet. But then came along Google. When Google first launched, Google’s homepage was nearly empty. There were no pictures, weather, shopping, nothing. Google took away what ordinary users didn’t realize at the time was unnecessary. While Yahoo, AOL, and other competitors were getting ready to shift gears again, Google stepped in and threw the whole industry into reverse.


A Breakaway brand is defined by creating a new subcategory in an industry that is well beyond the next business cycle. What a breakaway positioning offers is an opportunity to achieve long-term differentiation from other competitors in the industry. Take Cirque du Soleil as an example. They entered the circus industry by being everything a circus is not. They took away the animals, had no ringmasters, but instead added in new forms of entertainment categories - dance, opera, etc. By combining the overall circus theme with modern entertainment, Cirque du Soleil was able to enter the market in a new category that they created, or broke away from the current industry standards.


Hostile brands are all about marketing in a non-classical sense. Some brands do this by marketing their product shortcomings, some do it by being evasive with their distribution process. One great example of this is the Mini Cooper. At the time, the Mini Cooper was about to be one of the smallest cars on the market, if not the smallest. Rather than market towards all of its individual product features of the car, the Mini Cooper marketed strictly towards how small it was. Rather than straying away from concerns that the car would be too small for consumers, the brand literally marketed with the message entailing something like this, “the car is small, deal with it.” The hostility of their campaign is what led to the success of the introduction of the Mini Cooper into the car industry.


It can be extremely scary to branch away from the herd and start something new, but the success stories given in this book are unmatched. There are many uncertainties, and a lot can go wrong, but with the business world rapidly growing and competition increasing, why not try to be different?


Here at the SBDC, we are always available to discuss marketing strategy. If you are struggling to articulate your value proposition, are looking to build your business, or have a one-of-a-kind idea but need help getting off the ground, one of our Certified Business Advisors would love to help.


So if you’re ever in the mood for a light read about marketing strategy, or want to learn more about how to become an “idea brand”, consider picking up Different by Youngme Moon.