Another Tale of ‘Differentiate or Die’

My favorite marketing mantra is the title of the Jack Trout book Differentiate or Die. It is at the same time straightforward, provocative, and applicable in many situations. In a world in which we have a great deal of choice for most of the products and services we buy, standing out from competition is a must. To be clear, it is not about standing out in a dye-your-hair-pink way; it is defining what you or your business does better or uniquely that distinguishes your brand from similar offerings. Without differentiation, it is very difficult to make a persuasive case that your brand offers sufficient value to justify product purchase. In the extreme case, failure to differentiate can result in business death.

Today’s installment of Differentiate or Die is brought to you by the Atlanta Thrashers. The NHL franchise is being sold to an ownership group that will relocate the team to Winnipeg. The Thrashers were the second coming of the NHL in Atlanta, which lost its first team in 1980 to Calgary. The second life of the NHL in Atlanta lasted 12 seasons but met the same fate as the Atlanta Flames 21 years earlier. Why?

There are many reasons, too many to discuss here. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the stiff competition for the sports entertainment dollar in the market. The Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Georgia Tech, and University of Georgia are formidable obstacles. And, that is only sports entertainment competitors. When other entertainment, leisure, and cultural opportunities are considered, the Thrashers faced immense competition in a nontraditional hockey market.

Competition was a significant issue for the Atlanta Thrashers, but in the end it would be too easy to blame the team’s troubles on the other sports properties in the area. The demise of the Atlanta Thrashers is due in part to what it did not do: differentiate itself from other sports entertainment brands in Atlanta. It was part of the sports landscape, but being a big league team is not a sufficiently compelling reason to become a fan, sponsor, or ticket buyer. It does not matter if you sell hockey or hot dogs, or whether you are a major league sports property or a local mom and pop business, differentiation is essential. Can you answer the question “How am I better, unique, or different?” I hope so.

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