Differentiation According to Jony Ive

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One of the foundations of effective marketing is the “differentiated value proposition” (DVP). The idea is that if you can come up with a unique way to position your product to your target market, customers will beat a path to your door.  Marketers struggle heroically to develop these DVPs, often for products that are distinctly undifferentiated (as a friend of mine recently lamented “feature parity is actually feature parody”).

I too have laboured during my career to develop differentiated value propositions that would magically make a salesperson’s job a cakewalk and generate a flood of inbound demand.  Rarely was I as successful as I would have liked.  So am I a failure at marketing?  Not according to Jony Ive.

Among more recent “i-accomplishments”, Ive led the team that designed the product that saved Apple in 1998 – the original iMac. The industrial design of the iMac was nothing short of radical at the time. It came in a colourful translucent case without the messy array of cables that traditional personal computers had sprouting from the back. The conservative technology press panned the design. None other than Bill Gates opined, “the one thing Apple’s providing now is leadership in colours. It won’t take long for us to catch up with that, I don’t think”.

Jony Ive countered that the iMac wasn’t designed to look different, rather the machine ended up being different as a natural outcome of the design process.  “… our goal wasn’t just to differentiate our product, but to create products that people would love in the future. Differentiation was a consequence of our goal” (from “Jony Ive:  The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products” by Leander Kahney).

And that’s the point. Whether it’s design or marketing, differentiation isn’t simply an objective. It’s a consequence of great product definition and development. Realistically, all that can be expected of great marketing is to communicate in a compelling way the differentiated aspects of a product or service. Marketers can’t create differentiation, they can only promote it to full effect.

The burden of true differentiation falls on the product managers and designers who must really understand the needs if their target market and deliver a novel solution and experience. If your product is simply a parody of others, don’t blame your marketing team for the market’s indifference!

[By the way, that’s why if pushed, most experienced marketers will admit that their goal isn’t really to be differentiated. It’s to be sufficiently distinguished from their competition. As I noted in a previous blog post, most of the time, that’s enough to drive sales success.]

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