brandsaredead

March 8, 2010

What bacon and voodoo can teach us about differentiation

This week I received a note from Youngme Moon, one of my former business school professors, that she’s about to launch a new book entitled “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.” The creative trailer for the book cleverly illustrates the challenge of differentiating in a crowded field of “me too!” yet reminded me of a business school case in lacking even the slightest glimpse into the solution. So, while I wait in anticipation of a good read on the April 6th release date, here are two inspiring companies who definitely chose to go left when others turned right:

The Eponymous Donut from Voodoo Donut in Portland, Oregon

The Voodoo Donut from Voo Doo Donuts in Portland, Oregon

Two businesses crossed my path this week that are valiantly unafraid to specialize. Incidentally both were started by pairs of friends, but that’s material for another article. The first, Voodoo Doughnuts of Portland, Oregon specializes in off-beat, dare I say eccentric varieties of the beloved pastry that would positively scandalize Dunkin’ Donuts. Case in point: their signature Voodoo variety is a person-shaped doughnut frosted with eyes and a smile and filled with raspberry jelly. Included with each purchase- a pretzel rod “pin” to stab the doughnut, which oozes red jelly filling. The business has been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company, and enjoys a passionate following at its two Portland locations.

JD's Bacon Salt. It comes in three varieties.

The second company, JD foods, specializes in bacon condiments. The past few years have given rise to an unprecedented passion for bacon. First, a sleeper blog of things wrapped in bacon became a runaway success, with the arterial-clogging “Bacon Explosion”. Soon bacon appeared on menus across the country as tempura, icecream, and even vodka. It was suddenly socially acceptable to profess one’s love of the fatty yet delicious meat amidst crowds that eschewed carbs and even meat. In the midst of the rising bacon tide (hmmm, perhaps not the best visual) friends Justin and Dave invented bacon salt and bacon-naise with the catchy tagline “everything should taste like bacon.” With product additions like “Baco-Pop” popcorn and bacon-flavored ranch dressing, even vegetarians are singing J&D’s praises.

Both of these examples support the premise that there’s no such thing as “a little different” for small companies that want to capture consumers attention. Would J&Ds have 4,212 Twitter followers if they were a spice company that happened to also sell bacon salt? Would VooDoo have gained the same volume of press attention if it offered an unusual doughnut once or twice a year? By embracing their specialties these companies have earned a place in the heart of consumers, and differentiated themselves from their much larger competitors. Tell me, which companies do you admire for “going left when others go right?” Hit comment below.

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