Differentiate or die, Jack Trout & Steve Rivkin - Book Summary

Have you ever looked at an advertisement and wondered if the product is sold out? You are not the only one with such concerns. Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin think the same thing and conclude, after 30 years in the marketing and advertising business, that the creative trend in advertising has gone too far. They believe that modern companies should follow the advice of legendary advertising man Rosser Reeves, and focus on their "positioning for distinct advantage". The authors warn that your company can survive in today's hyper-competitive environment simply by emphasizing its distinct advantage. Businesses that fail to drive differentiation risk being left out in a suffocating world of choice. But proceed with caution; because focusing on the wrong difference costs the business its very existence. This book should be a bedside book for managers at any company because the ability to differentiate can be crucial to the survival of today's market.

Who should read this book:

  • Anyone interested and developing in the field of marketing
  • Managers and marketers in areas where products and services compete in the market

About the author

Jack Trout is the President of Trout & Partners Ltd, an American marketing company with offices in 13 countries and a client list that includes AT&T, IBM, Merrill Lynch, Sears and many other Fortune 500 companies. A recognized branding guru in the industry, Trout was the first to popularize the idea of ​​"positioning" products and services in the minds of consumers.

Steve Rivkin is the founder of Rivkin & Associate LLC, a media consulting firm with regular clients including Kraft Foods, Olin Corporation and Horizon Health System. He is also a famous speaker, marketing consultant and best-selling author.

Customers today have too many choices and product lines are gradually homogenizing

In the olden days, choice was not a matter of man. Today, when we do something or buy something, we also have to consider and choose.

If you want to buy a car, Americans have to choose one of more than 300 car brands available on the market. Choosing the right healthcare facility is extremely difficult because there are so many hospitals where almost everything is comparable. Everything that serves the needs of life happens like that.

Currently, the product lines are constantly expanding; A product line is divided into many different product categories. That "division" is an ongoing process.

So the birth of a new industry makes it easier for us to choose: You can find advice everywhere in handbooks, on the internet, in consumer magazines. … Consumer psychology experts say that having too many categories to choose from will drive people crazy.

With fierce competition, today's market is dominated by choice. If you ignore your own uniqueness then you will quickly be ruined and will pay dearly for that mistake.

Under the influence of the law of division, more and more product lines are becoming homogenized, and fewer and fewer brands can make a clear distinction.

What makes your product different from other similar products? Differentiation forms and exists on the basis of the values ​​​​that a product or service really possesses, rational or emotional, that is real or perceived value, must have a place in the market. consumer mind. Under pressure from sales departments, retailers, manufacturers to carry out advertising programs such as buying winning products or selling goods at discount prices; The more people you entice to buy in this way, the less trust they have in your brand. And what you can do to attract consumers, your competitors can too.

Therefore, marketers must find ways to locate the differentiating points of the product or service. What brands are missing is a unique product advantage.

Unique product advantage and how to renew it

Through advertising, you must present a clear and distinct advantage of the product; you must convey to customers the message: "When they buy this product, they will receive the following special benefits..." That is a feature of the product that competitors cannot have. That advantage must be strong enough to influence and attract customers to the product. To win, you must focus on the level of customer dissatisfaction with similar products currently on the market.

Customers are always trying to make a decision to buy this or that product, so you have to make your product or service different by personalizing, personalizing, categorizing. change the name or reposition the product line, and with determination, you can make a difference.

Today, the emergence of a series of new products has stirred the minds of consumers with contradictory claims and insignificant differences. The leading product often encounters “me too” competition. Competing products are becoming more and more similar. Most new products are just copies, they are not the result of true creation.

Every few years, Gillette brings a new razor to the market. Since the introduction of the dual-blade razor (Trac II), the company has launched a range of innovative knives such as two self-adjusting blades (Atra), two waterproof blades (Sensor), three blades ( Mach 3) and later five-blade (Fusion). If you're thinking of a product differentiation roadmap, you're better off emulating Gillette's model: innovating, upgrading, and innovating.

Looking around, we will see that everything can be differentiated. The true difference based on your inventions and inventions is not an easy job, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

The 4 elements are rarely differentiated ideas

Product quality, service and customer orientation

In business, quality is evident not the difference. Understanding and loving customers is also inevitable, not the difference.

Customers' needs are constantly increasing with the improvement of the economy, they are more and more demanding. Therefore, each company has to accelerate to satisfy their needs.

Zane's Cycles has differentiated itself by offering a "lifetime warranty". Every bike purchased from Zane's Cycles comes with a free repair or maintenance warranty at any time. You will think Zane is wrong, Zane is crazy! But Zane's madness makes money. His engineering team always assembles the car with the utmost precision because they understand they must maintain the vehicle throughout its life. Lifetime warranty provides the best customer retention and Zane's store has many opportunities to introduce new spare parts on display.

If you don't keep up with the needs of your customers, your company is just normal, instead, the company needs to position itself in a way that is different from the competition. That means the company needs to find a unique point of difference.

Product price

Price is often the enemy of differentiation. As price becomes the focus of your selling message, your chances of making your product or service special begin to diminish. This is not an efficient way to do business, as every competitor can adjust their prices at any time they want.

However, do not completely deny the strategy of price competition, because if you know how, you can use low price strategy to differentiate and build your brand.  

One dairy company, others compete to lower prices, others compete to lower prices, but outdated technology makes them lose money.

And discount promotions often leave no impression, it does not affect the purchase force afterward. Customers rarely buy a product or service from a novelty brand just because of a discount.

In addition, the strategy of differentiation by high price when the product is of higher quality, that quality is more or less visible, it shows style, luxury or class.


Creativity is not differentiation. These days, there are so many ads that are packed with so many creative or entertaining elements that it's hard for them to convey what the companies really want to advertise.

We thrive because consumers always make unreasonable demands and they are influenced by ambiguous emotional values ​​that go beyond the boundaries of rationality. Therefore, sales ideas must be powerful and present them in a common language so that the product does not become unfamiliar, simply put more reality into the advertisement. In other words, you need to give customers a reason to buy your product.

Advertising aims to exchange the distinctive utility of a brand. Marketing is “a science that helps position your product relative to your competitors”.

Pointless advertising slogans are like the viruses that are ravaging the world of marketing. If this continues, we will see more product lines becoming more homogeneous. The trick is to recognize the difference between an advertising slogan and a product differentiator.

The product range is too diverse

In some businesses, the diversification of product categories is a differentiating factor. But if you use this differentiation strategy, your competitors can also apply the same strategy.

However, when diversifying products, the management of product categories, although there is a computer to provide data, but finding out the location of that item or not is another matter. The time constraints of customers also make convenience stores or mini markets the preferred choice.

The internet is also rapidly becoming a source of unlimited variety of products and services, a new realm of options. And when online business is no longer the point of difference, all competitors are the same, then only price is the only factor you can use to set yourself apart. Because, especially, customers can quickly compare prices with just a few clicks.

Make a difference in the mind of the customer

The differentiation process consists of four simple steps:  

Step 1: The message must be meaningful

Your message must have a clear meaning that is true to the status quo of the product line. Your message should be rooted in what the market and your competitors and target customers know about you, look at what's happening in the market, and determine if your idea is right.

Step 2: Look for different ideas

You have to find something that sets you apart from your competitors, and understand that the difference doesn't have to be product related.

Step 3: Have authentic evidence

If there is a difference in your product, you should explain the difference. That will become an authentic proof of your product or service. Remember that you cannot differentiate yourself just by talking.

Step 4: Communicate your difference

Having a good differentiation idea is not enough, you must have the necessary resources to execute the advertising program to introduce your difference to the market.

Your differentiation needs to happen in the mind of the customer. You "position" your product. That is, creating a unique position for your product among countless competing products, this is extremely important because it is directly related to the thoughts and judgments of customers. People feel miserable because the amount of information is too great, they do not have the mind to notice, unless it is a very impressive difference. So the best way to really get into the minds of your customers is to simplify your message as much as possible, by focusing on just one powerful differentiating idea.

You can focus on just one product, one utility, and one message, giving the emphasis in the message to quickly get in the mind of the consumer. A specialized brand is the ability to be recognized as such. a professional brand or the best brand. A specialized brand has the ability to become a distinctive symbol for a product line. The featured logo is the ultimate weapon in any marketing battle.

9 ways to differentiate your product

Be number 1

Brands that belonged to the first generation of the product line became different from the latecomers.

People often feel that the first product that comes out is the original product, and the products that come out later are imitation products. Later brands tend to be non-confrontational, differentiating themselves with an attribute or idea that the pioneering brands lacked interest in.

The first brands to maintain their leadership position is because their names are often already popular. (In Vietnam, Honda means motorbike) So when you launch a new product you should choose a word that can become popular.

However, even if you stay at the vanguard for a long time, your success is not guaranteed. To stay at the forefront, you have to focus on great ideas and it takes a lot of effort and resources. In contrast, the first brands that failed were due to poor ideas.

Pioneering often can't cover all geographies of the world, so you can't stop someone from borrowing your idea and becoming a pioneer in a certain geographic area. Therefore, pioneers must also be observant.  

Possess an attribute

An attribute is a characteristic, a typical characteristic, a particular characteristic of a person or thing. An instance is the sum of many attributes. Marilyn Monroe was famous for her attractiveness. Crest toothpaste is famous for its ability to prevent tooth decay. Monroe's intelligence or beauty, the taste of Crest ice cream is just a highlight or quality ranked in secondary place.

Owning an attribute can be the best way to differentiate a product or a service. But you can't own the same property that a competitor already owns, you need to have one of your own.  

Better yet, look for an adversarial attribute that allows your product to go head-to-head with the dominant one. Your message must have not been used before. You must define a most effective attribute that is always simple and focused on the utility of the product.

Attributes have different levels of importance. You have to work hard to possess the most important attribute. Most successful companies (or brands) “own a word” in the minds of their target customers. You can't predict the market share of products with new attributes, so never laugh at new, unfamiliar attributes.

Market leader

Market leadership is the most powerful way to differentiate a brand, as it is the most direct way to establish brand credentials. At that time, the target customers will almost believe whatever you say about the brand.

The leading position is formed by the factors leading in sales, leading in technology, leading in science. These factors contribute to effective differentiation.

Leadership is a great launching pad from which you can tell people the story of how you got to the top. You should remember, it seems easier to stay at the top than to get there. If you have a chance to get to the top, close that door right in front of your competition.


Inheritance has a power to set your product apart and can be a powerful differentiator, as having a long history is a huge psychological advantage that makes customers loyal. care about your choices. Your customers perceive you as a leader in your industry; You are the one who has lasted the longest.

Where your company comes from is one of the important factors of inheritance, as each country may have some country-specific products, as an obvious endorsement of the product.

The inheritance of the family business tradition also brings special effects. A family-owned company is better positioned to serve its customers because they don't have to deal with many obstacles in terms of shareholders, profits and stock market volatility, all resources are focused on the product. Products.

However, tradition is not always everything. You must balance pride in your past heritage with a vision of the future. New marketing tactics must be devised to blend the tradition once loved by consumers with the developments and innovations needed to continue the success.

Market Specialization

People are often impressed with those who focus on a particular activity or product. People tend to see these people as experts and honor and admire their knowledge and experience.

The ultimate weapon of a specialized brand is to become the universal symbol of the product line it is selling. That's when your brand becomes a generic name for a product or represents an entire product line.

Scott was a leading American tissue, but as Scott developed other paper products, Charmin became the leader in the tissue market.

President George Muller of the Japanese company Subara decided to focus only on "four-wheel drive technology" as a specific technology to come up with AWD vehicles to differentiate himself from Toyota and Honda. He knew how to use a specific feature to differentiate his product. Subara has grown well.

Market favourites

Consumers sometimes don't know what they want. Their buying behavior comes from crowd psychology, they think that "what other people think is right".

There are many different ways to effectively execute your product preference strategy. Nike's business success is due to the fact that many famous athletes love their soft-soled shoes. The Brigg umbrella brand has been certified "Royal warrant" by supplying umbrellas for the Prince of Wales, demonstrating the customer's preference and satisfaction.

Companies often use survey data, synthesis, surveys of individuals, organizations, media or research projects as reference information about the popularity of the market.

If you're spending money to do your own product survey, it costs extra to invite celebrities to take part in the survey. If you don't have any research or survey about the business you're in, you'll have to find a way to convince a specialized publishing organization to do the survey.

The prominence

Focusing on a product to find unique technologies and present them as the magic ingredient that sets that product apart.

Crest has called his fluoridated tooth decay toothpaste "Flouristan".

General Motors promoted the "Northstar" system of Cadillac cars. How many people understand what "Flouristan", "Trinitron", "Northstar" is and how important it is. But it looks impressive. Magical elements need no explanation, because they are inherently magical.

The more complex the product, the more it takes a magic ingredient to differentiate your product from your competitors' products.

Royal Selangor produces handicraft products, workers like artisans are careful to create products. People have a feeling that products are works of art, it is better and more valuable. So if there's something about your product that's handcrafted, announce it proudly.  

When you make a "better" product, you have a basis for raising the price a little bit. The higher price also sends the message that your competitors are manufacturing in a cheaper process.

New generation products

Instead of innovating the product, you try to come up with new generation products, which is a surefire way to be different. No one wants to buy a product that is considered obsolete. So the way for you to get ahead of your competition is to position yourself as new and better.

Leading manufacturers attack their own products with new generation products. And perhaps no company does this better than Intel.

The addition of a technology application is also a way to create a new generation of products. Dell has added a new application of technology in addition to the "direct" attribute that has made Dell different.

But new generation products are not always effective. There are still dangers in the "next-generation product" game that you must avoid at all costs: Don't use next-generation products to solve problems that don't exist; do not use new generation products to interfere in matters of habits and customs; New generation products must be better. A common mistake is that we rely too much on the old or introduce the new into a company that only understands the old way.

If Kodak perceives digital cameras as a threat to traditional film cameras, they should not attempt to adopt this new technology under the Kodak name. They should start another company with a different brand name and allow this new technology to attack their outdated technology.

Create a market fever

When your product creates a market fever, the whole world knows that your product is selling very well.

Creating a market craze or a sales force that outstrips your competition can give you the launch pad you need to take your brand to the next level. Then you'll have to think of something else to maintain the heights achieved.

There are many ways to create a market fever: Create attraction with sales force, you do not need to compare with competitors but can compare your own sales force at a certain point in time. Create traction by peer-reviewing an organization or specialized journal. Create traction with industry experts, the media can create a fever for your product.

An indirect way to use the media is to get them to write about a difficult problem that your product or company will solve.

Factors that adversely affect differentiation


When a company is engrossed in the pursuit of growth, it can create distractions, miss opportunities to solidify a differentiating idea, and fall into the trap of “expanding product lines.”

Nabisco enjoyed rapid success with its Snack Well's pastry. They then rushed to expand the brand with many other pastries, but none of them tasted as good as Snack Well's. Nabisco went downhill quickly.

The more you try to expand, the more you lose focus and the harder it becomes to be different. When you launch a product that is completely different from the core product, you are gradually erasing your unique difference. Your brand identity starts to fade, as you force people to change their mind about you, and eventually, you will face the problem of “not being yourself”.

Development does not mean doing everything, but distinguishing between what you want to do and what you need to do.

Product Expansion, Product Versatility

If you study product lines over a long period of time, you'll find that expansion often undermines growth, rarely having the opposite effect.

The more you expand, the more you undermine your core idea of ​​difference. Versatility is the opposite of sacrifice, which is when products converge on multiple functions at the same time.

If you want a multifunctional product, you have to accept sacrifices. Because, your designers may have to abandon a single-function but brilliant product design to redesign a multi-functional product design.

Everyone wants the best in a product line, not a mix-and-match with too many functions. If your all-in-one doesn't outperform your specialized product, you're clearly not making a significant difference.

Three sacrifices are needed to differentiate your product: 1. Product sacrifice: focus on just one product, which is more effective than “everything for everyone”. 2. Attribute sacrifice: focus only on one attribute, not embracing other attributes. 3. Sacrifice target market: focus on only one target market in a product line, make a difference when your product is popular in that market segment.

In many cases, the real sacrifice lies in the advertising message to emphasize your difference, and when you attract a potential audience, you can trade whatever you have.

Adjust the differentiation to suit the location

Although the concept of a product can be global, it needs to be compatible with the differences of each local culture, legal system, and customer needs; regions of the world are not always the same.

Before deciding if a different idea will be enough to elevate your brand to the world, you should keep a few things in mind: the idea you're adopting may be wrong, attributes may vary from country to country. The market leader needs to be flexible to adapt to the market. Inheritance may not be respected as speciality may be overshadowed.

McDonald's comes from American heritage and roots. When reaching out to the world, their business follows the specifics of each locality.

Tastes and preferences change, preferences change and people change too. That is the obstacle of the total globalization strategy.

Maintain the difference

Over time and through changes in management personnel, the difference can be affected more or less by the changed strategy, and by the fading of memories related to the past. You have to think of some way to keep the perception of the product or service different in the minds of future generations of managers. You cannot keep them separate from the established strategy.

To be different, you must know how to think "out of the way" and have the courage to dare to go against what is recognized as right. Once you have broken the way, always stick with it. One of the best ways to break the gap is to redefine your business and business strategy, embodying this difference in everything you do. Consistency comes in many forms, typically in your advertising message. Must connect everyone with a focus on the same message.

However, the market is changing every day and you need to always adjust to the difference you have built and work tirelessly to preserve and improve it. But don't get caught up in rolling out different versions of your products to boost sales, you'll only confuse buyers with your products.

Convey a differentiated message

Word of mouth marketing is not a new form. Striving to find “first users” people with social status, their endorsement is a great mantra that makes people trust more.

Today, there are many different ways to convey information, we have digital forms of communication. People can access the internet and chat with each other all over the world. This mass communication capacity has given rise to the power of word of mouth marketing.

The truth is there is no way to control the word of mouth. These rumour-mongers never consult you first about what they are going to say; You can't buy word of mouth the way you buy information from the media.

Therefore, you must have a product that matches the market needs, a suitable marketing strategy and a differentiating idea that can make you stand out from the competition. For most audiences, an unattractive idea won't appeal no matter how much buzz about it. Using the internet to reach target customers is a sound strategy, but needs to be done in tandem with other traditional media.

Everything is Differentiable – Extend the concept of differentiation to other things

You can differentiate everything. We would like to introduce our non-business project, that is: the anti-drug strategy. This campaign was the longest running, yet biggest failure in the marketing history of the United States. So, what you need to do is find some way to convey the horrible effects of drug use. That means we need a repositioning campaign.

Limit the use of drugs, you need to limit the need. Just restricting the supplier is not enough. The educational propaganda that "smoking is injurious to health" cannot be seen as an effective tactic, it is necessary to change the tide of the battle.

What you should do is just a simple word game. Differentiation Idea: "Drugs are only for losers". Once this awareness is successfully built, it is a powerful blow to drug-related subjects. America doesn't like losers. It is best to suggest that former drug users or their loved ones agree to retell sad and touching stories of themselves or their families. The medium chosen is television for the purpose of conveying human and emotional impacts.

Celebrities and famous athletes who have been involved in drugs should also be invited to participate. At the end of the broadcast, the main character will look straight into the camera and say: "Drugs are only for losers". The more Americans receive these messages, from celebrities to ordinary people, the more Americans will see drugs as something associated with failure. Then the demand for drugs will begin to decline and the drug business will no longer be so profitable.

Selecting the right people to implement the differentiation strategy

To implement a differentiation strategy, the role of the CEO is very important. When we look back at the failures of CEOs, we only see the cause from the wrong strategy, not from poor management.

A strategic idea _ A differentiating idea _ was part of winning a war. However, maybe because of the "professional ego" of the management or from other companies, my superiors will underestimate me." So, the higher the executive level your idea is presented, the more likely your idea is to be free from these types of narcissism and selfishness.

When you study successful strategies, you will find that the best CEOs often implement their own strategies.

No one can make a difference to magazines more effectively than Tina Brown. When she was in charge of Vanity Fair, she pushed the journalistic halo to the extreme. Most impressive are her 5 marketing lessons: 1. Trust your intuition. 2. There is a clear difference. 3. Join the community. 4. Flexibility in cost. 5. Exploit existing differences in various forms. That's the way a successful businessman thinks.


A business company needs to perform two basic functions: Marketing and innovation.

Marketing is a unique, specialized function of business operations. Marketing is so important that you cannot leave this function to your marketing team alone.

Only a few CEOs, such as Apple's Steve Jobs, are willing to take the time to understand this process and participate actively.

Because when there is new marketing, it makes a product, service or company different and so that customers can easily identify it.