Differentiation is still the name of the marketing game. Distinction in service, image, and promise allows a brand to occupy a piece of a customer's busy mind.

More importantly, differentiation gives the brand's raison d'être, its reason for being that causes customers to think of it when they are ready to shop. And when customers do shop, this is the brand that goes into real and virtual shopping carts.

Unfortunately, differentiation today is under siege.

Increasing customer and shareholder demands and the influx of new lower-cost competitors have CMOs and CEOs caught in a "do more and more" strategic paradigm. At a time when they should "do less, better," they are frantically adding more products, line extending brands, and adding endless features to products and services.

The result is complexity. And complexity stifles organizations and confuses consumers.

Differentiation Requires Sacrifice 

Several big brand marketers have fallen on their own swords in their effort to drive growth.

I have been a big fan of Kellogg's since I was an account executive at the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency. The name Kellogg's stood for healthy breakfasts, and for decades, marketers worked hard to fortify that stellar reputation. That good work established Kellogg's Special K as a healthy, nutritious breakfast for diet-conscious women.

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John R. Bell is the author of Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World.

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Twitter: @johnrichardbell