Most undifferentiated markets contain a high level of competition. How does a company compete when all the product offerings are basically the same and many companies are in fierce competition? The answer is to engage in a strategy referred to as product differentiation. It is an attempt to tangibly or intangibly distinguish a product from that of all competitors in the eyes of customers. Examples of tangible differences might be product features, performance, endurance, location, or support services, to name but a few. Chrysler once differentiated their product by offering a 7-year/70,000-mile warranty on new models. Pepsi has convinced many consumers to try their product because they assert that it really does taste better than Coke. Offering products at a lower price or at several different prices can be an important distinguishing characteristic, as demonstrated by Timex watches.
Some products are in fact the same, and attempts to differentiate through tangible features would be either futile or easily copied. In such cases, an image of difference is created through intangible means that may have little to do with the product directly. Soft drink companies show you how much fun you can have by drinking their product. Beer companies suggest status, enjoyment, and masculinity. Snapple, an American beverage company owned by Dr. Pepper, may not taste the best or have the fewest calories, but may have the funniest, most memorable commercials. There tends to be a heavy emphasis on the use of mass appeal means of promotion, such as advertising, when differentiated through intangibles. Note the long-term use of Bill Cosby by Jell-O to create an image of fun. Microsoft has successfully differentiated itself through an image of innovation and exceptional customer service.
There are certain risks in using product differentiation. First, a marketer who uses product differentiation must be careful not to eliminate mention of core appeals or features that the consumer expects from the product. For example, differentiating a brand of bread through its unique vitamin and mineral content is valid long as you retain the core freshness feature in your ad. Second, highlighting features that are too different from the norm may prove ineffective. Finally, a product may be differentiated on a basis that is unimportant to the customer or difficult to understand. The automobile industry has learned to avoid technical copy in ads since most consumers do not understand it or do not care.
However, there is a flip-side to product differentiation, an approach toward the market called market segmentation.4