Distinction vs. Differentiation

I had an interesting discussion last week with an audience member who felt that differentiation was not what customers wanted to buy. We were discussing one of my favorite subjects, which is Marketing’s core responsibility for identifying what we call a What. That is What can customers buy from your firm they cannot buy (or at least don’t feel they can buy) from anyone else.

His position was that you had to have a distinction to get customer’s attention. He argued that being different was not what was needed, but rather being distinctive was. While I agree that being distinctive is important to getting attention, a distinction without a difference will not result in sustainable customer purchase.

You might suggest that a distinction implies a difference. Intellectually you may be correct, but we have all seen people make major distinctions that did not constitute much of an actual difference.

I like the word distinction, and language can be important, especially when communicating. I looked up the word distinction and found that for all practical purposes, the word distinction is a direct synonym for the word different. However, in looking further into the definition, I found that the word distinction can also be defined as “marked superiority.”

Where does that leave me? A perceived, valuable difference is what is important in keeping your product or service from becoming a commodity. Does that make it distinctive? Indeed. Is being distinctive sufficient? Does it imply a valuable difference? Good question. The dictionary definition is not sufficient to tell us. What do you think?

My co-author of our book and on this blog, Ralph Mroz, loves the expression “that is a distinction without a difference.” Which might be the whole point of my “discussion” with this audience member. But, then I leave that for you to decide.

Mitch

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2 Responses to Distinction vs. Differentiation

  1. Dave J. says:

    Or is it sizzle without the steak…something us marketers are often accused of!

  2. Mitch says:

    One would hope not, but unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t much steak, so marketers get into the sizzle. That works until the customre figures out that, as they say in Texas, Big Hat, No Cattle. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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