Customer Reviews: Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon May 16, 2010
I have an MBA from Harvard Business School, and to be perfectly honest, I think it was one of the biggest wastes of my time and money. I regularly discourage people from going to business school, telling them that they'll make more "connections" in 2 good years of work in a reputable company, and that anything they NEED to know will be a fraction of what is taught, and is available in categorical business books.

There's one exception to my education at HBS - the part I don't think was a waste. It was the Consumer Marketing class I took with Youngme in my second year.

I am not a marketing person. I have tended to work for technology/internet companies and have a technical/math background. First year Marketing at HBS opened my eyes to the fact that marketing was more than just advertising fluff, but it was Youngme (second year) who really taught me things that I regularly use today to both see the world and shape the products I manage.

I remember when she was able to tell us - *4 YEARS BEFORE THE IPHONE CAME OUT* that the ipod was obviously a stealth way for Apple to get back into the smartphone business after their brand disaster with the Newton. That if they came out with anything that seemed like they were entering the smartphone business, there would be too much baggage. I went back and told my friends (outside of school) "The ipod is Apple's entry into the phone business!!!" and they all thought I was nuts. Apple was too pure for that. Well of course, she was right and in hindsight it seems obvious (but go back and ask people in 2003/2004 what they thought and it wasn't so obvious then ...). The reason I bring this particular example up is because from then on I was able to look at how a company introduced a product and understand what the fundamental strategy might really be, and also how I could understand market dynamics to position a product.

Anyway, by far, Youngme Moon's CoMa class was my favorite class at HBS and the ones where I learned the most. So what does that say about this book? Well, I'll say for one thing, I found a lot of what was in this book to be redundant to what I had learned in her class. I'll consider that a plus for everyone who didn't waste $200k and 2 years on an HBS degree. Read this book and you'll learn pretty much everything (and in some areas a little more and in some a little less) that I learned from my HBS education.

fwiw - I'm not a hater of HBS. If you need it to get ahead in consulting or private equity or investment banking or to switch careers, go ahead. But as far as what I found to be valuable learnings, I'm really not kidding when I say that it's all in this book.

It will change the way you see the world.
It will change the way you see markets.
It will change the way you see companies.
And ...
By Example:
It will teach you how the market is likely to see you.
It will teach you how to position yourself in the market.
It will teach you how to play to your strengths.

It's also an easy read - the chapters are well organized and insights are quick and intuitive once you're led to them. I think this is an important point - business books are often a pain to read because they tend to be dense and say in 10 paragraphs what could have been conveyed in 2. This is a fun and easy read that will leave you thinking about the world ... well ... differently.
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on April 7, 2010
Youngme Moon is not only one of the most popular professors at Harvard Business School and the recipient of the student association award for teaching excellence, she has insights into business and life that are unlike anything I've ever experienced. She is the author of Different, the new book called that will blow you away.

Differentmay well break into the business vernacular as powerfully as Jim Collins' Good to Great and Built to Last and Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Outliers. Her insights are just as powerful and counter-intuitive and her storytelling and language are breathtaking. What I love about Different is that it's like two books interwoven into one coherent narrative. One is a brisk marketing strategy volume that any CEO and marketing officer should read if they want to understand, perhaps for the first time, why despite their best efforts and 24x7 pace they often feel that are running so hard just to stay in place. The second book, though, is interlaced throughout, and is for me personally, even more impactful. Youngme offers the clearest explanation I've seen of the world we live in and why we often feel numb by all the dazzling technology, abundance, and utter convenience with which we find ourselves. Or why, as parents it's hard to understand how it is that our kids don't appreciate "how lucky they are." Youngme says aptly that Different is "a book for people who don't read business books."

Here are just a few of the gems offered up in Different:

* There will always be a place for brands, or people, or things that are hard to come by. "Restraint," she writes, "can be the new desire." Value is created by being mindful of what we have in abundance and then offering something that is scarce. She implores businesses to offer a break from that which is profuse.

* Apple, Harley Davidson, and other iconic brands lack internal consistency, which is what gives them such resonance. "They defy reductionist logic," she explains, "the same way as we do, the way our own internal lives are marked by multiple and contradictory truths that clash and combine, creating asymmetries in every direction."

* Human behavior is complicated and studying or writing about it doesn't make it any less so. The "truth" can be elusive. "People are hungry for familiarity. No, sometimes they're starved for change. Yes, people are impatient for progress; no wait, sometimes they yearn for the simplicity of the past. Yes, people are desirous of more, no wait a minute, what they actually want is less."

* Monotony can be just as sapping as over-exertion. "The secret to cheating old age," she quotes one of the subjects in her book, "is to stay a moving target." Stillness seems to have the effect of easing the senses until it dulls them. We need some stability and motion. "We need activity to help us feel our synapses firing again."

Youngme Moon's Different will show you how differentiation is much more than a marketing tactic, it is a way of thinking. It is a fundamental mind-set and a way of living that derives from respecting, observing, and absorbing people and the world around you.
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on March 23, 2011
In essence, this book lacks real - no pun intended - differentiation. If this was an attempt to distill established MBA marketing curricula into an easier every-person's newsstand book, then it succeeds. But as real, substantive addition to marketing thought, it doesn't add anything earth-shattering. I was disappointed when the example brands came up one by one, they are part of the de rigueur case studies passed out in course packets to practically any MBA today: Apple, Harley-Davidson, Swatch, Cirque du Soleil, Dove Real Beauty Campaign, and Benetton. Moon's explanation of differentiation strategies has largely been covered by Kim and Mauborgne in their Blue Ocean Theory (i.e. finding uncontested markets). The strategy around the Mini launch is also decades old (look up the Bernbach ad campaign for the Beetle in the 60 and 70s: "Think Small"). Moon also doesn't address the main reason companies continue their never-ending competitive death-spiral into boring similarity: it is profitable. Sure, it's cool to be able to build a company like Apple, but there are hundreds of other less glamorous firms minting millionaires every day, and that's who the thousands of MBAs graduating every year will settle down working for. If they all tried to make something refreshingly different, they wouldn't become wealthy.
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VINE VOICEon June 7, 2010
The core concept of Different, that unfocused and short-sighted competition breeds sameness that ultimately hurts all parties involved, is so elegantly simple that it's easy to take Youngme Moon's work for granted. Different is very approachable and written in a colloquial manner instead of what might be expected in a traditional business text, and thus appeals to a broad audience. It assumes very little about the reader's business knowledge and instead relies on familiar brands such as Harley Davidson, IKEA, Red Bull, etc. to drive the point. Even if some of the brands are unfamiliar, Youngme is very good at identifying particular traits and extracting a brand's essence. For me, one of the most compelling comparisons was the parallel between companies deadlocked in competition and the autonomous self-organizing and directional behavior of migrating birds.

From the beginning, the author says that Different is the start of a conversation and not a how-to. It is successful from that perspective, but at the same time, since it never really gets in-depth, I found myself unsatisfied and wanting more. Each of the discussed brands justifies its own in-depth analysis, and Different only really scratches the surface. While the Harvard Business School case study numbers are provided for further reading and these reports do go in depth, they are not free.

I decided to buy this book after reading about it and watching the animated trailer. I honestly learned a lot and thought the fresh take on brands I was already familiar with was intriguing. I also appreciated the advice about how to nurture the creative process. When I finished though, I couldn't help feeling a bit frustrated because the book principally revolved around marketing to consumers and generally forgoes traditional analysis and avoids discussion of branding failures. I think the scope is too narrow and that the book is of only limited value to those already combating hyper-maturity. As it stands, I enjoyed the book and learned something, but wish Different was more substantial.
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Youngmee Moon's "Different" was an easy and educational read.

PROS: Not too robotic (flows as in conversation) yet structured enough, a lot of examples to bring her points to life
CONS: In all honesty, there isn't that much content in the book other than what the cover says - "Escaping the competitive herd".

She talks about "heterogeneous homogeneity" where proliferation of category "differentiation" has resulted in sameness and gives Laundry detergent as an example. (Tide regular, Tide with bleach, Tide this, Tide that… product expansion by addition/multiplication) That's really about it. Other chapters sort of beat this dead horse over and over in slightly different ways, but doesn't add additional insight. To be honest, the discipline of marketing is case-by-case business and cannot be taught in a classroom or a book in my opinion… so I do give kudos to Prof. Moon for trying to make this book as entertaining and not so generic as much as possible.

People new to marketing/branding might find this still a great read, but ppl with marketing experience/business education may find this shallow.
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on December 11, 2013
After reading all the reviews on amazon, I couldn't wait for the book to arrive. The next available weekend I read through it in two sittings.

I never got to the good part.

I guess I was expecting something spectacular (based on reviews), about new marketing ideas for a new business venture I have in mind. Instead all I got was a bunch of observations and descriptions of how some unique products or ideas were marketed. For example Apple... yes, the marketing was unique, but it wouldn't matter if the product wasn't the best available at the time. One could easily argue that Apple would be successful with a different type of marketing than the one they are currently using/have used.

I agree that the book is well written, and is easy to understand how she categorizes the different types of marketing in her observations.

To use a metaphor of investing, I was hoping for a book on how to make investment decisions, and instead I got a book detailing the history of the stock market.

It made it fairly obvious why I should "escape the competitive herd" but nothing actionable on "how".
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on November 12, 2010
The book is an amazingly insightful, entertaining, and thought provoking read. BUT, the title and the description are beyond horrible and terribly innacurate. It really should be more academically promoted, perhaps have been called "Moon's Discussion of the Homogeneity through Differentiation Paradox."

Unfortunately because of the publisher's attempt at tricking the non-academic public into buying books, they've titled and described this book wrong - which will just end up disappointing a few readers. HOWEVER, in reality Moon's discussion is SO good that I'm upset she's publicly divulged her thoughts. Thoughts that could have been used as competitive advantage, but unfortunately now it's something that every CEO and marketing executive can read and think about - likely to cause another cascade of business beliefs across all companies resulting in the same marketplace nonesense she complains about.

I've always thought that differentiation was overrated - there is some profit to be made from copycatting and conformity. Moon has provided an excellent discussion showing why differentiation has not proven to be useful. It's perhaps not that differentation itself is near useless, it's that we do it in conformist fashion. Again, I would have liked her to tell me that personally and not irresponsibly reveal useful thoughts to the world and break down competitive advantages. But she's not John Nash, she's Youngme Moon and we should cut her some slack ;).

The con: it's annoyingly repetitive. Lots of filler. The book can easily lose 150 pages and be the exact same book.

I also suggest this book that everyone seems to get use out of: Rock Star Recipes
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on April 11, 2016
Youngme explores what makes brand boring and what makes them inspirational in this book about breaking away from your competition. She highlights 3 brand types that achieve this called:

1. Reverse brands
- like when Google put out a homepage devoid of the million things AOL and Yahoo! had

2. Breakaway brands
- when Sony branded AIBO not as a robot but a pet and reframed how we thought of the product

3. Hostile brands
- Like the Mini Cooper which focused on how much smaller it was than you thought when it came to North America which was big car focused

She says that most brands are actually a bit of all of these and that these aren't the only categories brands could fit in to either.

The big takeaways are that you shouldn't get caught up in just expanding your services (the augmentation trap in her words) and that you need to stop and think about how you can run against the trends to stand out.

Is this worth your read? If you're looking for a bunch of practical advice and workshop material to break your brand away then no. If you're looking for a mostly interesting discussion on branding and a look at some interesting brands then yes it's worth a read.
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on December 14, 2013
The powerful herd instinct leads most competitors to chase the same set of product attributes and to share the same marketing messages. They do so using two strategies: (a) augmentation by addition of features; (b) augmentation by multiplication of thinly differentiated products. The end result is hyper-mature markets with little true differentiation and even less customer loyalty.

However, some companies escape the competitive herd by adopting the following strategies:

1. Reverse-positioned brand: These brands strive to understand the critical needs of a large, well-defined customer segment. Then, instead of offering a well-rounded product experience, they remove attributes and invest the savings in standing out in specific areas. (Ex: Google targeted a segment that wanted fast, free, accurate, and clutter-free search results in contrast to other search providers who were building browse-centric content portals. By not investing in content, Google was able to invest in better search infrastructure. Other examples are IKEA, JetBlue, In-N-Out Burger, and Nintendo)

2. Breakaway brands: These brands reframe customers’ expectations of products in new but FAMILIAR ways. Examples are marketing Pull-Ups as big-kid underwear instead of as diapers, the Sony AIBO as a pet instead of as a robot, and Cirque de Soleil as artistic theater instead of as children’s entertainment.

3. Hostile brands: These brands challenge the status quo and question the values that many consumers hold dear. Stated another way, they reframe customers’ expectations of products in new and UNFAMILIAR, often rebellious, ways. Examples include MINI Cooper as the anti-SUV, Birkenstocks as the anti-fashionable-shoe, and Red Bull as the anti-beverage. Many brands in this category, including Hollister and Benetton, actively alienate and offend consumers outside of their target segment.

The author notes that differentiated brands can use elements of all of these strategies (ex: Apple). Moreover, she adds that there are other strategies entirely that she may not have enumerated (though the examples she gave of Harley and Dove Real Beauty to me fit cleanly into hostile and breakaway.)

The book concludes with the author’s forecast for attributes brands will differentiate on in the future including: scarcity, big ideas, and humanity. It also urges readers to view differentiation as a mindset and an ongoing process.

BOTTOM LINE: The book struck me as a valuable, insightful, and important work of synthesis. For that, it easily deserves 5-stars. Two things would have made the book even better. First, I wish the author had used original examples rather than the overused ones of Apple, Harley, IKEA, etc. Second, I wish the author had not rushed her conclusion; it needed more logical exploration and the support emerging brand examples.
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on December 5, 2010
I think the first chapter was superb. Youngme utilized her academic strength to identify the 'competitive herd' in the clearest and most thought-provoking manner I've seen. Her articulation of the differences between augmentation by addition and augmentation by multiplication and how they reflect the competitive herd had my attention riveted. That's where most of the fun ended.

I think this book beyond the first chapter is a simple academic stream of consciousness. Good because she is an academic, poor because she lacks true experience to support her insights - which I think are brilliant by the way. I could have dealt with that until she broke down and used Harley Davidson and Apple as her conclusive examples... like you have to be a Harvard prof. to figure that one out.

I wish Ms. Moon would be brave enough to postulate what she actually believes instead of limping out on the excuse that humans are difficult to figure out... duh. I believe she understands the complexities of herding and competitiveness better than most, but is intellectually afraid to speak the truth or offer suggestions. There are answers Ms. Moon, they change with the season, but there are answers. I had hoped for more.

This read was like listening to a marketing professional with more teaching time than material. Sorry, but it seriously lacks valuable substance.

Brian Flook
Power Marketing
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