Differentiate and Die
We can learn something from the rules of the wild.
Biologists studying zebras in the wild discovered something that flipped all their assumptions.
They watch the zebras, but they look down at their notes and then look up they get confused about which zebra they were looking at because the striped camouflage is actually protection for the herd. The scientists solved this by dabbing red paint on the horns of the zebra or tag it with an ear tag.
Then they discovered an amazing thing. The predatory lions would kill these painted zebras in disproportionate numbers. As soon as it became identifiable, the predators could organize their hunt to target the specifically tagged animal.
The the old idea that lions and predators take down the weak animals, but they don't; they take down the identifiable animals.
Most marketing gurus will tell you that the secret to success is to differentiate. There is no dearth of literature on ‘point-of-difference’ and how crucial it is to survival and success.
But POD as an idea is misunderstood to the extent that it should die. Just like the assumption that lions target the weak animals had to die because the reality is that they would go after an animal they could identify.
Companies that develop an innovative point of difference have a first-mover advantage. But that advantage does not last long in today's world of instant connectivity. Worse, it literally and figuratively paints a target on your back.
For instance, is there a company that that is more analysed and ransacked for ideas than leaders like Apple and Amazon? Do you think they have a POD? Does Facebook’s business model hold any mysteries?
There are a million shoe stores selling the same thing. There are dozens of fashion stores in the same mall selling essentially the same thing. There are a gazillion places that make decent coffee, and scrambled eggs on toast. Being on a different street corner is not much of a POD.
The gurus will double down and seek out more granular, more esoteric points-of-difference. And if all else fails, they will ascribe the ‘difference’ as the company’s ‘brand’ - that hell-hole where all ideas that can’t be proven go to die.
Being different is of little practical use. You simply have to run faster than the other zebras. Execution is the secret sauce. Assuming of course you are relevant. All Zebras are relevant meat to a hungry lion - but after that, just execute and keep executing. And you will find, in the final analysis, that is exactly what Amazon and Alibaba and Apple are doing.
Unfortunately, that is not as ‘creative’ as painting targets on zebras, and it looks awfully like hard work.