Why Competitors Rush to be the Same

It’s a rather odd thing. Company B comes along and wants to eat Company A’s lunch as a competitor. Then comes along Company C and so on. But the odd thing is that they all try to look like one another despite the business logic that says that you need to differentiate yourself from your competitor. Similar tag lines, similar marketing messages and maybe a line here or there that fails miserably at why Company B is different from Company A. 

So we used some Big Data analysis and applied some behavioural economic theories to see why this might be happening.

Confirmation Bias in Differentiator Denial
As humans, we like to seek information that confirms our view, rather than contradicts it. A great example is social media and the recent US election; people used memes and messages that met with their political views.

When we looked at 400 brands in the financial sector and 100 in the real estate sector we found that 78% shared similar use of logo designs, website design, social media messaging and marketing slogans. What we might say about this is that brands tend to look towards their competitors for marketing and branding styles versus their markets needs. Could it be that marketers or perhaps CEO’s seek comfort in similarity rather than the risk of looking too different even though that may improve sales?

Backfire Bias
This where we tend to reject evidence that contradicts our own views. When we looked at the personal financial planning market for instance, we found this to be true in branding messages. It was similar in the insurance sector. Over 90% of the 900 brands we looked at in each sector used the same messaging as their competitors if with slightly different words. Even though in business schools differentiation is a core part of marketing teaching, these brands didn’t offer any significant differentiation points in their brand. Are brands subconsciously applying a bias to their brand design and messaging considerations?

Brand Category Relativity Bias
As consumers, we tend to judge things relative to something else rather than make difficult comparative choices. So I’ve some up with a term I call “Brand Relativity Bias” as bias plays a role in our decision making.  Combining the above two data points, one could consider that brands end up making a subconscious play to seem similar to others to fit in a category? A marketer or brand strategist may think this helps the consumer, but in many cases it may not.

Certain brand elements are necessary in a category or industry but looking too much like a competitor makes it harder for consumers to make a choice. So that choice relies more heavily on the personal relationship, especially in the financial sector.

We collected data on 10,000 brands across Canada and the United States (in English) and then using Big Data analytics broke them into industries based on those with tag lines and definable words in the brand name (i.e. insurance, wealth, financial, computer) and tagged brand names into categories where they were known. Then applied some regression analysis and sentiment analysis. This is the quick explanation of the model and approach.

So what do you think? Are brands seeking a “comfort zone” amongst each other rather than differentiating for the customer?