Ways to Differentiate in an Increasingly Commoditizing Market Place


By Guest Blogger Imogen Reed

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Ways to Stand Out in a Commoditizing Market Place


[Image from Channel Champion]

All products and services broadly speaking follow a life cycle, where the early adopters take on a product or service as soon as it is launched and then there are those who take up a product or service towards the end of its cycle or the end of that version, waiting until almost everyone else has already given it a go. Thinking of any product or service can nearly always be linked to a life span of some sort. For example, in terms of products, the mobile phone in the beginning was only really a tool of the affluent or business types. Similarly, in terms of services such as restaurants or balance transfer offers it is only a select few that try something out first, with the rest of the population following suit if it is successful and appeals to them.

It is only when the products or services become more uniform, more available and more affordable that they become the commonplace items or services that we know today. There is no defined time limit on a product life cycle and something may not always reach the end of a life cycle — it could evolve and develop to always maintain the peak of its success by constantly reinventing itself.

Something becomes commoditized when one offering is nearly indistinguishable from another. As a result of advances in technology, broader education and more aggressive marketing methods many goods and services, like mobile phones, bank accounts and even holiday destinations have become commoditized and, therefore, widely accessible.

(1) Working smarter

Companies now need to work smarter and harder to win over their customers to differentiate and set themselves apart in the marketplace. The best ones do this just one way — through branding their products and services. Coca Cola, Pandora and Apple are all well known brands with commoditized products — however, something drives their customers to their products and that is the power of their brand.

Whilst there are numerous ways to differentiate your business, through segmentation, product development, market research and so on, at the heart of them all is a company’s brand. Branding is all about getting to heart of your customers and understanding them better than they do themselves. The extent that a company can position itself as providing a superior value to its competitors will enable it to gain competitive advantage.

(2) Evoking emotional response

The best brands evoke strong emotional responses from their customers, thus creating a special relationship. This is often based on intangible qualities that the brand conveys through its logo, general look and feel, or the way the company interacts with its customers and how it conducts itself in the market place. Being the best brand isn’t always about price it is about the whole package and delivering that package well.

(3) Shrinking world

With the advent of social media the world has never been so small, certainly on a communications level at least. People can share something in an instant so whilst goods and services are infinitely more accessible, word of mouth has never been more widespread and companies/businesses should be mindful of this and leverage as appropriate when developing their brand. It is important to meet and some would argue exceed your customer’s expectations as far as possible. If a company fails not only will the world find out quicker there will also be a rival product waiting in the wings only too happy to pick up the pieces.  Repairing a brand’s reputation is hard so the trick is not to damage it beyond ruin in the first place.

(4) Brand archetypes

Those interested in branding may like to consider the concept of ‘brand archetypes’ popularized by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in the book The Hero and The Outlaw.


The basic premise behind brand archetypes is that brands are a basic human social concept. They’re a way for us to understand ourselves and associate with others, and through common themes and characters, we can better understand how consumers connect with brands. For example; what is it that makes Nelson Mandela so inspiring or Oprah Winfrey so motivating? Why is the Harley-Davidson brand so compelling and exciting or Apple as a company so innovative and aspirational? Such iconic individuals, brands, and organizations command our attention because they carry the mythic power of an archetype. By aligning your company strategy and direction to brand archetypes you too can create an engaging and differentiated brand.

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Author Bio:

Imogen Reed has been working full-time as a professional writer and researcher for five years; in that time there isn’t a lot she hasn’t already covered (including a nice article on Mary Louise Brooks, who defines: “I don’t give a damn”). Imogen enjoys writing with a site’s readership in mind. She can be reached at imogenATlinegrayDOTcom

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Thanks, Imogen — I agree with the importance of branding ;)! Here are a couple of links readers might like to check out:

(1) Differentiating the Brand is a PDF by Six Degrees (a sensory branding agency).

(2) Why We Don’t Commoditize, by Anthony Iannarino, author of The Sales Blog.

— Jess C Scott / jessINK


Branding Yourself


From my strategic marketing textbook:

“A good brand name can evoke feelings of trust, confidence, security, strength, and many other desirable characteristics.”
— Pg 86, Marketing Management (ISBN-10: 0-07-313763-4)

I’ve been doing the independent publishing thing for about a year (I can’t remember when I started exactly — May or June 2009). Throughout that time, I’ve observed many people, experimented with pricing, and have constantly kept a sharp eye on my work and “public image.”

Subconsciously, I’m always asking myself:

  1. Is this a book/piece of writing/project/product I can stand by, once I put it out on the market?
  2. (a) How is my branding image? (b) Is it what I want it to be? (c) Is it associated with quality?

I’ve observed (and/or hung out with) many people online — professionals in the traditional publishing industry (it is quite interesting to note that several of the top agents/agencies have extremely sparse websites/profiles — if they even have an online presence in the first place…), traditionally-published authors, both traditionally-and-independently-published authors, independently published authors, and paying customers.

I think many people have a tendency to go slightly haywire, when money is involved.

For example, the optimum selling price (thus far) for J. A. Konrath’s books is $1.99-$2.99 (he has determined this from past price tweaks, etc). Therefore, many indie authors think it is impossible for them to go higher than $2.99 (not all indie authors, but quite a few).

* Side Note #1: I like reading Konrath’s blog posts. Not so much the comments section — things can get quite ugly a little down the road (page on the computer screen, in this case), lol.

The thing is, I’m not too entirely sure that this would be the optimum selling price for every single ebook out there.

I’ve found that too much focus on price, leads to less focus on value.

I’ve found that too much focus on quantity, leads to less focus on quality. There’s an overemphasis on a novel’s wordcount, instead of the storyline — on the number of pages in a book, versus the substance/content of the pages — on the number of books one can get through (in the shortest amount of time, in some cases), versus the number of books that get through to you (the ultimate experience of reading a good book — “good book” being something that’s perennially subjective).

There’s a lot of noise, and constant chatter…which eats into production time. In my case, I may not be selling thousands of copies of my books yet (I’ll almost hit 200 this month — whether this remains consistent is something I’ll “wait and see”)…but they move every month, even if I don’t pimp/advertise/mention them anywhere.

I initially spent obscene amounts of time on: (1) product description/s, and (2) my blog designs/websites (even those that are not as fully customizable as those on www.wordpress.org). Why? Because these are the FIRST IMPRESSIONS a potential customer/reader has of me/my work — people I don’t personally know — that I may never have any personal, direct contact with — but who may check out my other work, if they happen to like one of my works.

I know having an online presence is paramount these days. If one desires to “be a brand,” one needs to have a Facebook and Twitter account, and blog/website, etc. Still, I think it’s quite interesting how the line between socializing (purely for leisure), and networking/marketing can be blurred. Not that it’s wrong. But the really, really great business people [who can (literally “adjust themselves to your personality” so that they can) sell you any-thing (these things are way more interesting than the actual theories one would have to learn as a “psychology student”)] know that at the end of the day — there’s still a product to be sold.

A Lexus doesn’t come cheap — that is part of the company’s branding, and they justify this branding with their “pursuit of perfection” (official slogan) and the luxury/prestige associated with owning one of their cars. Linking this to pricing (for ebooks, specifically):

  1. There are people who’ll snap up any $0.99 ebook, because “it’s cheap.”
  2. There are also people who’ll not look at any $0.99 ebooks, because “they’re cheap.”
  3. The reasons classics last (not just books but art, film, music, etc) is because of their timelessness and excellence.
  4. “Instead of stubbornly attempting to use surrealism for purposes of subversion, it is necessary to try to make of surrealism something as solid, complete and classic as the works of museums. ” — Salvador Dali

* Side Note #2: I know my thoughts can appear disjointed, but I come close to what I’m trying to find, via “seeking order by disorder.” My journal entries also tend to be more “disjointed,” than what I write fictitiously (just saying).

As a writer, I have always concentrated on the storyline, and the characters. Also, I never do the same thing twice. Of course, there will be certain recurrent themes and elements which appear throughout the poems/short stories/novels I produce — but I suppose I’m inspired by some form of change and challenge. Churning out the same thing over and over again is stale for me. It might work very well for other writers (and their paying customers / target audience), but if it doesn’t work for me, I’m just going to be making my own life very difficult if I try to be something I’m not. The whole experience wouldn’t be very pleasurable as well (I know; I’ve done so in other departments in my life).

I am what I am. I’m true to myself. I write because it’s what I love to do.

And I’ve found that what I value — what I tear my hair and eyeballs out for, what I rack my brains for, and what I bleed myself dry (at times) for —  is what my target audience appreciates, too.

I dedicate a lot of time and attention to include some level of style/substance in my material, which is simultaneously not so far-out/high-brow as to alienate/confuse the reader. It’s a balance that takes skill and effort, which I continue to cultivate with each new project. My aim is to offer quality, without being completely elitist.

I do these things, because my books + writing are part of who I am.

And because all this, ladies and gentlemen = My Brand.

* Unrelated Note: Two of my favorite magazines = National Enquirer (one issue ~$3.50) + Psychology Today (~$2.66 per issue, with 1 year subscription / 6 issues per year).

Indie Versus Traditional Publishing


This is a condensed version of my quite-long (35-page) advertising plan which I submitted for BUS 345: Advertising, in the Spring 2010 semester. The paper was written with regards to “establishing my brand identity as an author.” I scored full marks for the paper (yay).

* This post was featured on Publetariat (which publishes the most valuable content from the web for indie authors and small imprints).

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Industry Analysis of Traditional Publishers


2.0 Historical Context

According to Doug Grad Literary Agency, whose founder spent twenty-two years as a senior editor at four major New York publishing houses:

Publishers, unfortunately, have a copycat mentality, so once a genre gets hot, they quickly overbuy and over-publish until the marketplace is saturated and the public gets sick of the rotten imitations on the shelves. Look at what happened to the Chick Lit genre, and is happening to the Young Adult Vampire genre right now. (Grad, 2010)

2.1 Industry Analysis

2.1.1 Current Industry Climate

George Bernard Shaw, a famous and controversial 20th century English dramatist (whose first book was published fifty years overdue—when publishers would publish anything that had his name on it), had this to say about publishers:

I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them. They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettishness, without being either good business men or fine judges of literature. All that is necessary in the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without the intermediate parasite. (Bernard, 1990)

Independent publishing in the digital era offers what George Bernard Shaw dreamed of. Anyone can write a book, and get it in the hands of potential readers, without having to wade through a sea of literary agents and editors. The entire traditional publishing industry is made up of a series of costs, overheads, and ways of using up incredible amounts of time which might be used doing something productive. Big publishers will not look at unsolicited manuscripts from un-agented writers, and taking 6-12 months to respond to the submission of a full manuscript is considered an industry standard for “working in a timely manner.” The endless series of procedures for simply getting a book considered by a literary agent, are obstructive. Literature is competing with powerful media for space in people’s lives, and inefficiency doesn’t help (Wallis, 2009).

Authors also often have no say and/or control in the traditional publishing process. According to established author, critically acclaimed novelist, and National Book Award finalist John Edgar Wideman:

I’ve been thinking about alternatives for a long time. I like the idea of being in charge. I have more control over what happens to my book. And I have more control over whom I reach. (Reid, 2010)

Wideman notes his “distaste” for what he calls mainstream publishing’s “blockbuster syndrome”—the tendency for large trade publishing houses to focus the bulk of their resources on only the books deemed to have bestseller potential (Reid, 2010).

2.1.2 Self-publishing is no longer a “last resort”

Independent authors have been quick to adopt e-books as a format for rapid publishing. Whereas traditionally published print books require months or years to sell to a publisher (if ever), and then 12-18 months more before the books appear in bookstores, e-books offer instant publishing. The tools to publish and distribute e-books are available to any writer at little to no cost. Free e-book self-publishing platforms, such as Amazon Digital Text Platform, Smashwords, and Sony’s recently announced Publisher Portal, allow writers to upload their manuscript as a Microsoft Word document, and start selling it online to a worldwide audience within minutes or days. Major e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon have opened up their stores to independently published e-books, allowing authors to bypass publishers altogether (Coker, 2009).

As an indie author, the author has full control over both the creative and business aspects of the publishing process. Publishing-on-demand (POD) is also an attractive feature of self-publishing, where hardcopies are only printed when a purchase is made. This saves resources such as trees and warehousing space. Through accelerated self-publishing techniques, it is now possible to go from concept and idea to finished product to retail distribution within 45 days, versus 12-18 months with most traditional publishers.

2.2.3 Concentration: E-books over Print

Mark Coker, founder of the e-publishing platform Smashwords, made the following predictions for Book Publishing in the year 2020:

  1. 95% of all reading will be on screens.
  2. There will be fewer bookstores, though books will be more plentiful than ever before. We will all be authors, publishers and booksellers.
  3. The entire book supply chain from author to customer will become atomized into its component bits. Value-adders will continue to find great success in publishing. Dinosaurs, leeches and parasites will be flushed out of new publishing ecosystems faster than ever before.
  4. There will be more published authors than ever before, and collectively they will earn record revenues, yet individually the average “published” author 10 ears from now will earn less than the average “commercially published” author today. Advantage will go to those with best ability to reach their audience.
  5. Authors will write for a global market. (Rivera, 2010)

2.3 Competitor Analysis

2.3.1 Main Competitors

Figure 2.5: SWOT Analysis

(to analyze market position of commercially published authors + traditional publishing industry / presented in bullet form for online viewing)


  • Prestige
  • Presence in bookstores
  • Agents with good contacts, particularly in the film industry
  • Strong brand names; can charge higher prices


  • 12-18 month production time
  • Outdated business model; high cost structure; resistant to change such as increasing popularity of e-books
  • Bulk of royalties going to publisher (with 15% of author’s cut going to agent)
  • Unrealistic expectations (expecting a book to earn out the advance royalties in the span of two weeks; expecting customers to pay the same price for e-books as for print hardcopies)


  • Indie authors can take advantage of the speed and efficiency that indie publishing offers
  • Indie authors only share royalties with the respective publishing platform
  • Indie authors can set their own price, and create valuable material that is not pigeonholed and/or pre-determined by publishers to sink or swim


  • Perpetuating the notion that indie authors are of a lesser caliber than those “commercially published”
  • When major bookstores close, a big portion of the publishing industry’s model is removed. This is a threat to big publishers, not indie authors
  • Bestselling blockbuster books
  • Increasingly poor reputation among customers, for charging higher prices for and delaying the release of e-books. This is a threat to big publishers, not indie authors

2.3.3 Standing out as an indie author in the internet era

If indie authors want to stand out, they must invest the resources and effort necessary to produce and promote quality work that satisfies readers (Coker, 2010).

According to Nathan Bransford, a well-respected literary agent:

The traditional tools at publishers’ disposal aren’t as effective as they used to be: …bookstores are closing and taking with them the precious hit-making front-store real estate (which publishers pay dearly for), advertising is costly and sporadically effective…publishers have been slow to adapt to the potential of the Internet and especially social networking. (Bransford, 2009)


8.0 Conclusion

The indie author that will succeed in today’s marketplace has to be a boot-strapping solopreneur. The key recommendation for success lies in seizing the opportunities offered by indie publishing.

Maintaining a strong online presence, by exploiting the range of social media platforms online, is a key recommendation for success. The fact that an indie author does not have the overhead costs that the traditional publishing industry is saddled with allows one to work with speed and efficiency.

The following quote is a variation of the motto that indie author and MBA-holder, K.L. Brady, keeps to, for the best competitive edge over mainstream publishers who focus too much on money:

Keep it real…and keep it simple. (Brady, 2010)

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Brady, Karla L. (2010, April 11). What Is Your Marketing Plan? Retrieved April 11, 2010, from: http://cheapindieauthor.blogspot.com/

Bransford, Nathan (2009, November 11). Moving the Needle. Huffington Post. Retrieved April 11, from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-bransford/moving-the-needle_b_353935.html

Bernard, André. Rotten Rejections: a Literary Companion. Wainscott, N.Y.: Pushcart, 1990. Print.

Coker, Mark (2009, October 14). Why E-Books are Hot and Getting Hotter.Huffington Post. Retrieved April 11, 2010, from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/e-book-market-exploding-co_b_507107.html

Coker, Mark (2010, March 22). E-book Market Exploding, Confirms New IDPF Survey. Huffington Post. Retrieved April 11, 2010, from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/why-e-books-are-hot-and-g_b_320986.html

Grad, Doug (2010). FAQs – Doug Grad Literary Agency, Inc. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from: http://www.dgliterary.com/faqs.html

Reid, Calvin (2010, March 5). John Edgar Wideman to Self-Publish New Book via Lulu.com. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/451993-John_Edgar_Wideman_to_Self_Publish_New_Book_via_Lulu_com.php

Rivera, Jeff (2010, January 4). Smashwords: Book Publishing 10 Years in the Future. Media Bistro, WebMediaBrands Inc. Retrieved April 11, 2010, from: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/publishing/smashwords_book_publishing_10_years_in_the_future_147705.asp

Wallis, Paul (2009, April 16). Assessing self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from: http://www.helium.com/items/344694-assessing-self-publishing-vs-traditional-publishing