What do 99 percent of corporate executives that Youngme Moon meets have in common?
They all think what they’re doing is different, according to Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.
Moon visited Viacom’s New York headquarters today to talk to a group of marketing, communications and on-air promotions employees about marketing innovation, brand differentiation and the ideas explored in her first book, Different.
She begged to differ with the bulk of her exec friends and clients.
“Real difference has become rare in business,” she said.
According to Moon, most executives are so deeply immersed in the nuances of their own industries, that their ideas about what set their companies apart from their competitors is far different than what the everyday consumer actually thinks.
“Every single one of you is a connoisseur of the market in which you compete,” she told the crowd.
Turns out being a connoisseur can be bad for your perspective.
Brands that achieve true differentiation need to say no where their competitors say yes, yes where their competitors say no, and, sometimes, even exacerbate a consumer’s concerns about a product, rather than mitigate them. She cites companies like Ikea, which did the unthinkable in asking customers to assemble their own products, but has built market share with its low prices, wide selection of houseware products and unusual offerings, like in-store daycare and cafes.
She also praises Mini for its marketing, which embraces the Mini Cooper’s size, rather than trying to compensate for it.
“Traction sometimes requires friction,” Moon said. “What the Mini Cooper does right is it gives us chafe.”
Youngme believes successful companies need to dismantle the processes that inhibit differentiation and resist deeply ingrained (even if well-intentioned) business reflexes, including “over-listening” to customers.
“Loyalty doesn’t come from placating your customers,” she said. “It comes from delighting them in a way that’s irreplaceable.”
When she looks at Viacom and its brands, Moon sees two interesting points of differentiation: 1) the programming itself, which she believes is highly differentiated and 2) our target demographics, which are significantly more narrow than other media brands.
She sees the challenge for Viacom brands as adapting to new audiences and evolving as the business grows.
“You can’t expect to unleash creativity the same way you did 10 to 15 years ago,” she said. “Using terms like ‘ROI’ and ‘what’s the business case?’ are not a bad thing (when it comes to making creative decisions).”
She also said that most brands love customer acquisition and retention, but at Viacom, which thrives on constant reinvention, “you care about (customer retention) for awhile, until you want to get rid of your customers. It gives you an excuse to evolve – to attract and offend at the same time.”