It’s more important than ever for companies to differentiate themselves in the market, because all of your competitors are saying the same thing. So much of marketing messaging nowadays just runs together – it all starts to sound like “Blah, blah, blah…” and people tune it out.

I tend to pick on the insurance industry as an example of marketing that lacks differentiation. Many insurance companies sound the same – their taglines may be different, but the underlying message is identical:

  • Allstate: Are you in good hands?
  • Liberty Mutual: Responsibility – what’s your policy?
  • State Farm: Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
  • Nationwide: On your side.

The problem is that insurance has become a commodity – every brand sounds the same. Even worse, some insurance companies have fallen into the trap of competing solely based on price:

  • GEICO: 15 Minutes can save you 15%
  • Progressive: Helping you save money

And in fairness to the insurance companies (and their ad agencies), insurance is a tough product to advertise. You can’t “see” insurance. It’s not like a car or a washing machine or a bottle of Coca-Cola that you can touch and describe; insurance is a contractual agreement between two parties, where one party agrees to pay the other in the event of a loss. (How do you put that in a TV ad?)

This is why you see insurance companies trying to differentiate themselves – State Farm features the individual stories of their network of local insurance agents, and Liberty Mutual runs TV ads with a visual representation of “responsible” behavior (helping old ladies cross the street, or opening doors for others) to create a positive association with their brand.

Allstate Trying To Break Out and Differentiate: Adding Value

As a way of breaking out of the commoditized price wars and repetitive messaging of the insurance industry, Allstate recently introduced a provocative new TV campaign featuring a character called “Mayhem,” who carelessly wreaks havoc while texting behind the wheel, drops tree branches onto parked cars, and generally embodies the fears of car insurance policyholders everywhere.

This is an interesting message to see from an insurance company, because instead of focusing on price or the old standby of “responsibility,” Allstate is reminding customers of the uncertainties in the world, and is offering them a message of protection and value –  “no one protects you from Mayhem like Allstate; you get what you pay for.”

Although GEICO focuses on price as the key message of its advertising, it also has a unique voice in the market. With its friendly talking gecko lizard as a spokesperson, GEICO has a highly recognizable brand mascot. With its urbane, sophisticated cavemen (who are annoyed and insulted by GEICO’s fictional “So easy that even a caveman can do it” slogan), GEICO has created a story-within-the-story to appeal to customers who are jaded by traditional advertising.

Even if you’re in a “commodity industry” like insurance, you don’t have to compete solely on price; there are still ways to use competitive positioning to put your brand and your company beyond the crowded conversation of your competitors. It’s so easy that even a caveman (I mean, “an insurance company”) can do it.

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