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Seth's Blog: Can't top this = incentive to read: Collapse of Distinction

For weeks now I'm trying to find time to write another book review, but other - more pressing - business tasks keep coming up (good ones though, don't take me wrong).

But today Seth Godin made this task a little easier by posting this:

Can't top this

Getting someone to switch is really difficult.

Getting someone to switch because you offer more of what they were looking for when they choose the one they have now is essentially impossible. For starters, they're probably not looking for more. And beyond that, they'd need to admit that they were wrong for not choosing you in the first place.

So, you don't get someone to switch because you're cheaper than Walmart. You don't get someone to switch because you serve bigger portions than the big-portion steakhouse down the street. You don't get someone to switch because your hospital is more famous than the Mayo Clinic.

The chances that you can top a trusted provider on the very thing the provider is trusted for are slim indeed.

Instead, you gain converts by winning at something the existing provider didn't think was so important.


And that is exactly what "The Collapse of Distinction: Overcoming the Stifling Sameness of Today's Marketplace " is all about: don't try to add incremental differences between you and your competitor - it is a waste of money, effort and time.

Scott McKain starts his excellent book by remembering his childhood in a little town in the US where two local diners suddenly experienced the "fast-food" chains. One business didn't take long to fold, the other survived as if the fast-food giants weren't even there.

Collapse of Distinction contains many more examples and steps to take yourself to "Stand out from the crowd" - beginning with the three dangers every business faces when competing:

  1. incremental differences,
  2. new competition and
  3. familiarity does not bread contempt it breads complacency

Scott answers these dangers with 4 pieces of advice you should implement in that order:

  • Clarity,
  • Creativity,
  • Communication and
  • Customer Service

It is a great read - the only thing I did not like is Scott's dislike of the IMHO greatest book of all: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins and co, but then I'm biased on this subject. I can't see the difference between Scot's "Clarity" advice and Jim's "Hedge Hog Concept" advice. But I leave that for you to decide for yourselves.

Thanks again to my personal librarian Drew McLellan for recommending this book to me.



Nice post! The beauty of this book is that the 'four cornerstones of distinction' you mentioned cost companies zero dollars to implement. This book is brilliant and is a 'must have' for anyone who is serious about succeeding in a challenging economic time. It is the right book, at the right time, authored by the right person. I simply can't recommend this book enough!

Mason Carpenter

Agree that Scott McKain's book is a great read (also agree with your call on Good to Great -- Collin's "How the Mighty Fall" is a nice, unapologetic complement to the first title). McKain provides clear, vivid examples of how advantage is based on distinction (being different, not just serving up "more"). His discussion of Les Schwab Tires is a super case-in-point -- replacement tires are a commodity, but Les Schwab has staked out a unique position in this commodity-market (just check them out online at His examples span for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, which is refreshing. The other plus about McKain's book is that he has bundled an e-book and audiobook together with the print version. I hate being nickeled and dimed by Amazon...thanks Scott (and Seth)!

Karin H.

Hi Thomas and Mason, thanks for dropping by.

What I like best in Scott's book is the fact that it is not your specific product or specific service has to be distinct, you can easily (and like Thomas says for zero dollars/pounds/euros) become distinctive at every single point of contact your prospect/client has with your business.

Shwab Tires employees come running to your car = distinction (their tires are the same as anyone else)
Nordstrom: extreme customers service (well known to refund a product they don't even sell, to wrap a Christmas present bought at another shop)
Sorry, no real examples come to mind on large UK businesses (know plenty of small businesses who have made themselves distinct).

Haven't (yet) read "How the Mighty Fall" but what I thought when reading the examples Scott gave: those former great companies forgot their hedge hog concept and wandered all directions. (Don't really understand Scott's take on how a product he doesn't like makes it impossible for a company to become great?)

Karin H.

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