Difference and sameness: The two sides of the marketing coin


This video by Simon Sinek only indirectly correlates to the observations below. But it reminds us of the power of listening, learning, and experiencing before we draw conclusions.

It is an interesting place to be: The Air France business class lounge at Montreal airport, as we prepare for a flight to Paris and then to Mauritius. (If you don’t know the latter country’s location, you won’t be alone — it is an Indian Ocean island not too far from where the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared a few years ago.)

Vivian and I are embarking on a cruise from there to South Africa, and then will (at Christmas) meet up with our 20-year-old son, who will fly (like us) business class; in our case, on a $999 “special offer” by the cruise line; for Eric, on points. After we visit Cape Town and see a bit of Johannesburg, we’ll head north to Zimbabwe for about a week, visiting a game park and concluding our vacation in Victoria Falls.

It’s a pretty long trip (about a month) and is costly, though we managed to avoid paying anywhere near the full fares for high-end accommodations and experiences.

The Zimbabwe visit will bring back memories of youthful adventures there, where I dared to be different enough to find myself as a journalist living through the end of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war in 1978-80. It was my coming-of-age experience and lives deeply in my soul and mind almost four decades later. I dreamed for many years of sharing the African environment with my family and now the dream is coming true.

Blog posts may be sporadic in the next few weeks. This is a vacation, after all. But there may be some surprising entries from some really distant places.

And I’ll mull over the challenging questions about difference and sameness that define many of the questions about marketing and business development.

Simply put, if you are too “different” you won’t build connection or rapport or confidence in the people who would do business with you. If you aren’t different, though, you won’t attract attention and marketing leadership. Somehow, you need to combine your uniqueness with enough connectivity to make people comfortable to do business with you and that is a challenging art, indeed.

Among many insights during the wild and wonderful time as I experienced the conclusion of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war, was this: The journalist adventurer life may seem exciting, but most of the people who make their full-time jobs doing this sort of work are really screwed up — they lack the quality, connections, and stability of a healthy family and community. In other words, they are too different to really live well.

Yet, equally, if I hadn’t been “different” enough to place myself extremely far from home, I don’t think I would have achieved that magic moment when I realized my potential and achieved enough distinction that my personal marketing could create the career and family visions that were so important to me at the time.

The conclusion: It is good to dare to be different — and you’ll make you’ll make your mark (marketing wise) by doing that. But if differentiation becomes all-powerful you may lose the humility and human connection to belong, especially to love and enjoy family and life to the fullest. And since most people like doing business with people where they feel comfort in community, you need to balance the two forces. (Which is why this vacation is so meaningful to me, because my family will join me in the connection to places far away from home.)

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