Relevant vs Different

David Jenkins

Being different used to be the big thing. Different can be good…relevant is far better

Back in the day, quality control was somewhat archaic and unpredictable depending on the location of manufacture and the product being produced. You truly had to worry whether the little red fire truck had lead paint in it, be concerned if the gas tank would explode with a rear end impact, or the hair product had a toxic chemical in it that would make your hair fall out or worse. At that time, differentiation was a key performance indicator for companies who wanted to become more competitive and gain more market share.

Whether products, services, even people, there was a time when every company on the planet had different built into their positioning statements and we as consumers took the bait over and over again. Some new product or service came along and we all took notice and thought there must be something valuable here because it was different. Intrigue alone was enough to create interest, convincing us the new and different thing was something we should have, even though we knew little of the elixir that cured all illness, the software that fixed everything or the fitness machine that gave us six-pack abs.

Today though, ‘different’ is all around us blending into a sea of beige. Different is becoming more homogenized as we live in a world of vast selection where marketing channels have made us so aware that different exists, that in some ways, being different just seems normal. The other factor that makes this reality so apparent is the fact that everything manufactured today whether locally or globally is at such a high level of quality, that it’s quite difficult to see and experience the differentiation in many products. You no longer have to worry about buying a new car and having a breakdown, hundred thousand mile warranties are commonplace, and as for free service, everyone’s doing that. So why do we strive to be different?

Differentiation is not measured in the how much it deviates, but how much it captivates.

There are many drivers of wanting to be unique: Could be the desire to want to be noticed. Could be not wanting to blend in or be the same. Could be an ‘anti’-position as a rebel. Could just be that we don’t like what we see in other brands. There’s a relatable difference that wears in overtime and has some merit, and there’s a completely unrelatable, irrelevant difference that wears out before it even gets started. It’s good to know the distinction here. The more relatable, success-focused approaches to different such as – wanting to be stand out from the norm, be the best in my category, do it like nobody else does – is better than the alternatives. But regardless of where the motivation comes from, different will always be risky and it’s wise to assess the potential payoff vs. potential put-off of being different if you ever decide to differentiate.

For example, consider a marketing firm in which one of their clients in the technology business builds a software platform and is convinced that the main features of their new program will be successful because nobody else on the market has them. They built the brand and all the messaging and campaigns around these differentiated features, launched the product… and hear nothing but crickets. The phone doesn’t ring, the sales team is frustrated and although the campaign shared the message succinctly, different lacked one key ingredient – relevance. Although the features were of some value, it becomes obvious that the client’s idea of valuable was different than what the market wanted.

Differentiation without relevance is dead. You’ll just end up standing out from the crowd, in fact so far out, that no one will see you.

Although software is a product example, every product, service or personal brand demands the same consideration. Providing our tenants with a useful relevant product is our commitment to our business and our direction. This starts with communication and understanding our tenant needs and doing our best to address these and fill the gaps without impeding their business and direction.

Relevance is the new normal in standing out, and it’s wise to do a check in every now and then as to our relevance with our employees, clients, tenants and vendors on a regular basis. Of course, if relevance requires being different, then so be it, be different in that light, but never sacrifice relevance for difference otherwise you’ll find yourself… well, having to do something different.

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David Jenkins is Vice President, Capital Project Manager Washington, DC.  Mr. Jenkins is responsible for providing all capital project implementation for all new acquisitions and existing assets, in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Ohio. His responsibilities include managing all aspects of building repositioning, development and large scale tenant build-outs.