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By Dick Maggiore and Mark Vandegrift

Differentiate or Die: Mastering Differentiation in the Age of AI

Differentiate or Die by AI

One of Jack Trout’s most popular works – Differentiate or Die – was published in 2000, just after the Y2K “scare.” The technology bubble was about to burst, and changes to our way of living and thinking due to the 9/11 disaster were just around the corner. Those events didn’t get in the way of his work, as the book quickly rose to #1 on NY Time’s bestsellers list and made the NY Time’s all-time top 100 best marketing books list (updated as of 2021).

Today, we fear Jack is turning over in his grave, ready to jump out and publish an updated version with a slightly revised title, No, Really… I Mean It! Differentiate or Die by AI. The world has once again been rocked by another disrupting advancement, this time in the form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the fear that the computers are taking over the world. What are the ramifications of this hysteria, and why would we call up the spirit of THE positioning godfather to right the ship?

In an August 25 article, Mark Ritson reported that the word “AI” had been used over 300 times at the ADMA conference in Sydney, Australia, about once per minute. He cringed at the thought, “In most cases, the big global brands are experimenting with AI for the same reasons they experimented with the techno porn pinup of 2021 – NFTs. Aging CMOs don’t want to look out of touch. Twelve months later and no one … is still excited about it.”

He continued, “Meanwhile, marketers cannot do the basic job of marketing well enough. More than half the [creative] briefs that brands give their agencies this year will be devoid of any actual strategic objectives and more than 60% won’t be clear on who they are even targeting. Dwell on those very un-artificial numbers for a moment. It’s not just that we are distracted by toys. It’s that they distract us at the expense of getting the real job done.”

Ritson’s litany of how companies are messaging AI as part of their marketing is hilarious and the article is definitely worth the read.

Ignore the herd … and zag.

His takeaway?

Following AI means adopting a herd mentality. Forget that AI might take your job. Ignore that AI might make your company more productive. At the end of the day, a marketers’ job is to promote a company, product, or service’s difference. AI doesn’t have the ability to differentiate. Its sole purpose is to quickly process all the data it can find and return it into some semblance of human logic.

But differentiate your brand from your competition? No way. Maximize the relevance of your brand to your audience? Not possible. Not when it’s crunching – and preferring – the most regurgitated content it can find. Call it a computer regurgitation of previously human regurgitated content. Would that make it a double negative? Perhaps we’ll call it a “content gurgitation” then, with no differentiation.

Ritson’s quote on the solution is stark: “There is a word for the ability to ignore the herd, especially when it is baaing at its peak. It is called ‘differentiation.’ And as more and more brands adopt more and more replicatory AI approaches, its value will increase all the more. When they invent a machine for copying zigging, the value of a zag goes into the stratosphere.”

Brand Differentiation

Differentiate or Die made the business case for positioning and then it provided 14 ways in which to differentiate. Our very own “Ways to Differentiate” process was abstracted from this book and has helped hundreds of our clients differentiate in the marketplace. What it lacked wasn’t an oversight – how you die – it was simply understood that if you don’t differentiate your brand, it will eventually die. But consider how many marketers follow the herd. Our human urge to copy is insatiable, so it stands to reason that AI is so attractive. Not only does it copy, AI does it really, really fast!

The choice remains the same: 1) differentiate -OR- 2) die by copying, and AI will accelerate the path to looking more like your competition.

If you want to buck the herd mentality and discover the power of differentiation, give Innis Maggiore a call. Our Appreciative Discovery® process put all of Trout and Ries’ positioning principles into practice so we could help our clients differentiate their brands. And as Trout exclaimed, “these guys [Innis Maggiore] get positioning better than any other agency in the country.” We’re here to help. Contact us today.