Thoughts on Youngme Moon

I’m reminded of the challenge of differentiating our message from scores of others at about this time of year when my colleagues and I meet to develop the  next annual report.

One issue is always in the forefront of my mind: Ensuring that the theme and subject matter are interesting enough to engage the active interest of state legislators.  Yes, it’s important that other clients and stakeholders see it, but legislators are at the top of the list.  They hold the principal purse strings.

Even so, I know how colossally difficult this is. I’ve spent a few days during legislative sessions walking through Statehouse corridors  watching legislators being buttonholed by one lobbyist or constituent after another, often plied with glossy publications of every shape and description.

As hard as we try, I know that more often than not, the fruits of our creative efforts run the serious risk of being consigned to “File 13” along with all those other glossy publications.

My perennial concern: presenting this report in a way that distinguishes it from every other similar product.

Small wonder why I’m captivated by Harvard marketing guru Youngme Moon’s new book, “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, Succeeding in a World Where Conformity Reigns but Exceptions Rule.” I try and limit book purchases to a couple a month and happen to be seriously backlogged this month, but, alas, I couldn’t resist a book with that captivating a title.

Here’s the big problem as she sees it: Corporate marketing is operating on the basis of a highly antiquated strategic model.  It prompts businesses to conform to their competitors’ branding rather than explore ways to separate their product from the hundreds, if not thousands, of similar products.  The end result is a gradual homogenization of products.

One of the more notorious examples: college ranking systems, which work to dissuade universities from experimenting with new models of pedagogy that will not likely reflect well in the metrics.

Moon’s purpose for writing the book is to start a dialogue rather than to offer hard and fast solutions.  Needless to say, there are major implications for Cooperative Extension — otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken the time to post this.

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