02/29/2016 01:18 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2017

The Gravitational Pull of Sameness

By John Blackburn, Director of Strategy, mono

At the start of the year, as I read all the top 10 lists and pieces of advice for marketers in 2016, I noticed that something was missing.

There's no shortage of discussion around the importance of emerging tech, programmatic buying, content marketing, chat apps, analytics and Netflix. Of course, these forces of change matter quite a bit, but in the quest to sift through the data, or keep up with the next disruption coming down the pipeline, we've forgotten how to address our industry's enduring challenge: sameness.

Brands are now more alike than ever and marketers aren't doing enough to combat this challenge with differentiation, the one thing proven to drive results, turn a profit and build brand loyalty.

Today, brand loyalty is at a low, with a recent study by Deloitte showing that 3 in 4 CPG brands are experiencing a decline in "must have" status, meaning that consumers choose products whether they were on sale or not. But there's more to competition than just warring over price. Findings by market research giant Millward Brown have shown that when people believe a brand is meaningfully different, they are willing to pay up to 22% more for it on average.

So why aren't marketers doing more to set themselves apart? I have a theory. I call it the Gravitational Pull of Sameness.

Most brands want to cluster in a space of sameness, and once there, it is extremely difficult to extract them. There are several, nearly irresistible forces of sameness:

Tunnel vision. I frequently see clients with their eyes laser-focused on trying to figure out how to do what their competitors are doing, rather than finding ideas that will set the brand apart. This temptation of imitation is strong but don't look so closely at your competitors that you miss the big picture. Look outside your category, or better yet, inside your own company for ideas and inspiration.

Insular thinking. Most incoming proposal requests ask for prior category experience. While hiring an experienced firm should seem like a no-brainer on the surface, this is often a mistake when it comes to choosing an agency. This approach results in proposals full of conventions and the status quo; the exact same thinking your competitors have access to. Instead, hire people and firms with a track record of smart thinking and success outside your category and industry. They're the ones who will bring in fresh ideas and perspectives.

Risk aversion. The pressure to deliver short-term results often leads to risk aversion and sticking with the tried and true. Strategy is not about eliminating risk; it's about creating advantage. The Silicon Valley strategy of moving fast and disrupting things is not without merit. You have to try things and try them quickly. The faster you act, the faster you learn. Don't plan to eliminate risk. Plan to act, learn and field new ideas.

More isn't always better. Adding more features to compete with the competition doesn't always add value to your product. Oftentimes, all it adds is complexity and confusion. Keep your focus on what you do uniquely well in your field and double down on it.

Something for everyone. Nobody wants to lose a sale, but when every brand in a category markets to the so-called average buyer, sameness sets in and the focus is lost. Instead of trying to make your offering relevant to everyone, create a unique POV that will convince people that your brand can best serve their needs.

The world's most successful brands resist these ever-present forces and create difference. They aren't lead by fear or the desire to play catch-up. Rather, they forge their own path. As we all dig into the start of 2016, let's remember that it's the job of a marketer to resist the gravitational pull of sameness.