Differentiation vs. Distinctiveness


If you want to learn more about the difference between differentiation vs. distinctiveness, you should have a look at Jenni Romaniuk’s writings, including her books and her latest post on LinkedIn.

Reporting some pieces of this new thread.

Jenni Romaniuk. A few people have recently asked me about Differentiation v Distinctiveness. Part of the reason for confusion is Differentiation has two parts: (a) Being different from other brands is vital and (b) Category buyers buy the brand because of the point of difference.

Distinctiveness says yes (a) being easily identifiable is vital – but only in an identity sense. Contrary to (b) a brand’s Distinctive Assets do not have to be a reason for purchase. I knew I was buying KFC because I saw the Colonel logo. I didn’t buy KFC because I have a thing for Colonels!

It’s Mental Availability that provides an alternative to (b).  A brand doesn’t need a point of difference to be bought.  It does need to be salient in buying situations, which depends on the breadth and freshness of the brand’s links to CEPs. I bought KFC because I wanted an easy meal on the way home from work. KFC is one of my salient options, so was Guzman Y Gomez, but then I saw the KFC logo and stopped there. Both had a chance of being bought, but KFC had better physical availability on the day.

Together Mental Availability and Distinctiveness contribute a theory of buying that explains the Laws of Growth.  Differentiation is not just unnecessary, it can’t explain the empirical outcomes we see. So why keep worrying about it?

Me. Do we have evidence that the same model work for a different domain, let’s say online B2B brands? Here physical availability is substituted by online presence. All companies in the space enjoy the same online presence (unless physical availability could also be identified with ‘ease to buy’ for online brands; at that point some brands could be more available than others simply because they simplify/remove barriers to purchase). Do distinctiveness and mental availability play the same role with brands like Salesforce vs. Hubspot as they do with consumer brands – KFC vs. Guzman Y Gomez?

Jenni. A good question, and I can say that there are many areas where there are similarities but more empirical testing is needed. B2B is a challenging area to get good longitudinal data for testing but in areas where testing has happened, there are remarkable parallels.  

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