You read right, the new Congo coffee is served with a skewer of beef on top. Ewww or Marketing genius? The bigger question for a marketing strategist like me is this: is innovation a more sustainable competitive advantage than expertise? The answer is no, but when the said innovation is in service of the expertise that brand owns, then it’s marketing magic. Let me explain:
There’s Always Something New
The excitement of Unicorn Frappuccinos fade and give way to the beef Congo coffee to keep the Starbucks coffee relevant in the market. However, they both illustrate what an expert and niche player Starbucks is in the subject of coffee. On the other hand, an innovation that is not rooted in an established expertise can really fail you. As in the case of the Swiffer cleaner (one of my favourite stories in marketing) who lost tons of market share to knock-offs after its launch. Today, there are tons of competitors and literally hundreds of posts from bloggers about how to make your own Swiffer products! So the differentiation lesson here is that there’s always something new coming down the line and your differentiator is only as good as the short time that you own that space as long as it’s based in a new technology.
Expertise as Differentiator
The biggest problem for businesses both B2B and B2C is differentiation. Everybody is doing and saying the same things to the same people. The difference between becoming a thought leader and an expert on a specific topic is that it rarely goes out of style. In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell claimed that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly become an ‘expert’ at something. Well, based on this theory, every minute and month and decade that passes, your brand, if positioned as an expert in one thing, become a bigger expert in that something. This is a differentiator that time doesn’t take AWAY but builds you up.
How To Choose Your Difference
Why companies scramble to come up with new marketing ideas and techy innovations is simply because they don’t know how to become an expert in the one thing. Starbucks does. In fact, they wrote the book on niche marketing. I help my clients find their difference not by inventing a new technology but by creating it. Here’s how: we do market research to find the most salient and fevered pain point in a self-congregating target market (like an industry or an interest group) that my clients can help. Then we pick one single facet of the target’s problem to become an expert it. Lastly, we demonstrate that expertise in the client’s marketing: like in their website or keynotes or Roundtables or blogs and so on. The great part is that clients already have thousands of hours of experience in that one facet of the pain point but they’re walking around completely unaware of it until the process draws it out of them.
So before you ‘jump the shark‘ in your marketing, take a look at the fundamentals of what you’re not getting right in the first place. Then do the work to figure out your differentiator expertise and start building up hours to hone your skills in it.