Similar but different enough. This simple principle resonates throughout marketing, business, and life. If you want to make progress in any aspect, it has to be similar enough for people to relate to, but different enough that is it desired. Let’s look how this principle can be applied to our lives and the world around us.
First we’ll look at our personal lives. I’m currently obsessed with habits and how they can have a massive impact on our lives. To break bad habits and create healthy ones, we have to apply this principle. We don’t build life changing habits overnight. We build them slowly over time. We change one aspect of our habits at a time. Keeping them similar enough that they stay a habit, but different enough that they transform into our desired results. That is if we want to build habits that last. If we try to transform our habits too quickly, then they are too different for us to maintain long-term.
Next let’s look at business. If you want to be an innovative company or produce an innovative product, the only way it will catch hold is by being similar but different enough to what consumers already know. The Segway was speculated to transform the world of modern transportation. It’s revolutionary design and technology was ground breaking. Or so we were told. But when it hit the market in masses, not many people went to buy one. What was it replacing? How would it fit into our daily lives? Would I use it to go to the store instead of taking my bike? Instead of going for a beach walk would I go for a Segway ride? It was just too different than what we were used to using on a daily basis. We couldn’t relate to it, and therefore it failed.
Finally let’s take a look at how this principle applies to marketing. One way I define marketing is by being able to tell a story with conviction that drives a desired result. To be able to tell a story that matters to your audience, you have to know how to relate to them. You have to know what makes them tick. Then, and only then, you can make a slight shift in a different direction. We must first relate before we can drive change.
This principle is why being first to market is not always the best position to be in. Having a new innovative product/service can draw mass attention. But attention does not equal success. The first company to a new market has a big problem to overcome if they want to be a success. They must convince their target audience that they need this new, different product/service in their life. If they don’t make it similar enough to the next closest relatable product/service in the people’s lives, it will fail.
The second company to market has a much easier time approaching their audience because the pot has already been stirred. They can point at the first company and say, “We’re like that but better.” Then the audience can make a comparison, weigh the similarities and differences, and make a decision. By that point the new market has been tested. The ice has been broken. The majority of the market can judge how the new product/service can fit into their lives. The early adopters are the test subjects that supply the rest of the population with reviews. You want those reviews to be good? Make the new product similar enough that they can compare and relate to it, but different enough that it excites them. Does this mean we’ll see a follow up to Segway? We just might. The ice has been broken.
How else could this principle be applied? Well if we’re using it in marketing to convince an audience to buy something, then we can transfer that same logic into our daily lives when conversing with others. When we try to convince others with different opinions to sway their beliefs, we often fail. People don’t want to change their beliefs because well, it’s what they believe in! For whatever reason, they hold that opinion close to them. The only way you’ll be able to pull it off to slip your own opinion in, is to make it relatable. Having an argument with polar opposite opinions is dead in the water. Its two rams butting heads. Don’t butt heads with people. The only result is the two parties walk away bruised. Walk with them and show them how the two paths intersect in some areas.
If it’s not clear yet, let me specify the important factors when balancing the two.
3. Can see how it fits into their lives
2. Share worthy
4. Solves a problem
That last point is important. If this new product/service is not solving a current problem, then there is probably not a home for it. Why do I need Google Glass when I have a smart phone? What problem did that try to solve? It was new, exciting, and comparable to glasses and smart phones. However, it didn’t naturally fit into anyone’s life because it was not solving a problem. I’m not getting rid of my smart phone anytime soon, so why would I wear a pair of smart glasses that have half the capabilities? It gained mass attention, but it did not succeed.
You may be concluding that you should not be too different. That being unique leads to failure. That is not the case. It is how you tell the story. The Segway, Google Glass, and any other company that failed to create a relatable product/service did not necessarily fail because their product/service was too different. The failure lies in how they presented the product/service to the market. Show me that Segways will be in shopping malls and will replace walking from store to store. Then maybe I can relate to my laziness, and therefore buy one.