One of my favorite books I’ve read in the last 10 years is Different: Escaping the Competitive Heard. It’s author, Youngme Moon, is a popular professor at Harvard Business School, but this book’s premise is far from what you might expect from the b-school set. In fact, it’s called “a book for people who don’t read business books” in it’s description on Amazon.

Youngme discusses why many brands that have broken all of the traditional rules of marketing have been wildly successful over the last couple of decades. The short summary is that people glaze over the b.s., instantly-nostalgic, feel-good, manipulative marketing that used to work 50 years ago when it was new, but now is either easily ignored or even causes harm for the brands that use it.

I’ll let these quotes do the rest of the work for me, but suffice it to say that I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’ve read it twice and reference it often…

“I contend that if one were to identify the most compelling business stories of the past two decades, a disproportionate number of these stories … could best be described as exceptions to the rule.” (She discusses brands such as Red Bull, Harley Davidson, Google, IKEA, and others in depth, and shares how they ignored the “rules” of marketing to differentiate themselves, which led to enormous success.)

“In field after field, past experience has taught us that the ones to pay attention to are the ones who understand the rules so well that they also understand the urgency to break them.”

“The problem with asking consumers what they want is that not only will they ask for things they’re not getting, but their requests will usually be driven by what they see being offered by the competition. This is one of the (many) problems with market research. And so it is that we wind up with a Volvo that runs like an Audi, and an Audi that runs like a Volvo.” (Youngme then tells the unique story of the Mini)

“In business,it is easy to fall into the habit of thinking that the way to be better is to simply do more. However, if the story of augmentation has a parable, it is that it’s possible to improve yourself all the way to mediocrity.”

“In a marketing environment saturated with overblown promises and cloudless false reality, nothing dents. Meanwhile, the brands I find myself paying attention to are the ones who aren’t afraid to evoke a more complex set of reactions. The brands that aren’t afraid to put a stake in the ground and force us to line up on either side of it.”

“Our competitive myopia has created a dynamic in which our tendency to mirror (or better yet, one-up) the movements of our competitors has become reflexive.”

“When consumers look at the brands within a particular segment, more often than not, all they see is a competitive blur. The objective is not to blend into the blur; the objective is to stand out from it.”

“Great ideas, novel ideas, original ideas … are tenuous at birth. And the reason for that is that, early on, they are often indistinguishable from crazy, impractical ideas.”

And, finally….

“Differentiation is not a tactic. It’s not a flashy advertising campaign. It’s not a sparkling new feature set … Differentiation is a way of thinking. It’s a mindset. It’s a commitment. A commitment to engage with people- not in a manner to which they are merely unaccustomed, but in a manner that they will value, respect, and perhaps even celebrate.”

These quotes are of course a mere teaser to the extremely though-provoking, enjoyable, meaningful content in Youngme’s book. If you’re looking for a good read – even if you don’t normally read business books – check it out.