Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition


Consumers today have an endless number of choices among productsthat are virtually identical. Short of slashing your prices andwrecking your margins, differentiating is the only way to gainmarket share and win.

Since its original publication, Differentiate or Die has becomethe bible for marketers who must find a way to separate theirproducts and brands from the competition. Meanwhile, competitionamong similar products and services has ...

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Consumers today have an endless number of choices among productsthat are virtually identical. Short of slashing your prices andwrecking your margins, differentiating is the only way to gainmarket share and win.

Since its original publication, Differentiate or Die has becomethe bible for marketers who must find a way to separate theirproducts and brands from the competition. Meanwhile, competitionamong similar products and services has onlyintensified—making differentiation even more important.

In this fully updated edition of Differentiate or Die, JackTrout and Steve Rivkin bring the book in line with all the newestideas and recent changes in marketing. Trout doesn't pull anypunches, taking marketers to task for going the easy route toooften—using high-tech razzle-dazzle or advertising sleight ofhand to woo customers. The only way to truly differentiate yourselfis by marketing the product's uniquely valuable qualities.

Full of practical case studies that show great differentiationin action, including new case studies from Russia and China,Differentiate or Die, Second Edition, shows you how to tap intocore differentiating ideas like heritage, market leadership, andbeing first to emotionally connect customers to your products. Inaddition, this revision includes new research on brandcommoditization, new insight on using buzz to your advantage, a newchapter on differentiating absolutely anything, and a detailed lookat the perils of line extension in today's marketplace. These areonly a few of the valuable, proven differentiation strategiesincluded in the book, giving you unparalleled insight into one ofmarketing's most intractable problems.

From the classic "unique selling proposition" approach to theins and outs of product positioning, this book contains all thebest, most effective strategies for differentiating your productfrom the competition in tight quarters.

Jack Trout is President of Trout & Partners Ltd.(www.troutandpartners.com), one of the nation's most prestigiousmarketing firms with offices in twenty-two countries. He isrecognized as a top marketing guru and is the creator of therevolutionary concept of positioning. He is also the coauthor ofthe bestselling classic Positioning, among many other titles.

Steve Rivkin is founder of Rivkin & Associates LLC(www.rivkin.net), a marketing and communication consultancy. He iscoauthor of five books on marketing and communication strategy andis a frequent speaker at seminars and conferences around theworld.

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Editorial Reviews

Dan Rather
Differentiate or Die differentiates itself on the groaning marketing bookshelf with its lucid prose, its clear vision of the future marketplace…and its sensible solutions for surviving the frenzied competition we're sure to find there.
Scott McNealy
What I like about Differentiate or Die is the book's emphasis on the power of logic, simplicity, and clarity–getting to the essence of a problem. In Silicon Valley, attributes like that can make the difference between having lunch and being lunch.
John Schnatter
Another great book by the king of positioning!International
Philip Kotler
Trout and Rivkin marvelously illustrate that differentiation is the cornerstone of successful marketing.
John T. Landry
The book explains key ideas without getting bogged down in abstract concepts.
Harvard Business Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470223390
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/7/2008
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 288,329
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Trout is President of Trout & Partners Ltd. (www.troutandpartners.com),one of the nation's most prestigious marketing firms with officesin twenty-two countries. He is recognized as a top marketing guruand is the creator of the revolutionary concept of positioning. Heis also the coauthor of the bestselling classic Positioning, amongmany other titles.

Steve Rivkin is founder of Rivkin & Associates LLC(www.rivkin.net), a marketingand communication consultancy. He is coauthor of five books onmarketing and communication strategy and is a frequent speaker atseminars and conferences around the world.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Tyranny Of Choice.

Chapter 2. The Creeping Commoditization Of Categories.

Chapter 3. Whatever Happened To The U.S.P.?

Chapter 4. Reinventing The U.S.P.

Chapter 5. Quality And Customer Orientation Are RarelyDifferentiating Ideas.

Chapter 6. Creativity Is Not A Differentiating Idea.

Chapter 7. Price Is Rarely A Differentiating Idea.

Chapter 8. Breadth Of Line Is A Difficult Way ToDifferentiate.

Chapter 9. The Steps To Differentiation.

Chapter 10. Differentiation Takes Place In The Mind.

Chapter 11. Being First Is A Differentiating Idea.

Chapter 12. Attribute Ownership Is A Way To Differentiate.

Chapter 13. Leadership Is A Way To Differentiate.

Chapter 14. Heritage Is A Differentiating Idea.

Chapter 15. Market Specialty Is A Differentiating Idea.

Chapter 16. Preference Is A Differentiating Idea.

Chapter 17. How A Product Is Made Can Be A DifferentiatingIdea.

Chapter 18. Being The Latest Can Be A Differentiating Idea.

Chapter 19. Hotness Is A Way To Differentiate.

Chapter 20. Growth Can Destroy Differentiation.

Chapter 21. Differentiation Often Requires Sacrifice.

Chapter 22. Being Different In Different Places.

Chapter 23. Maintaining Your Difference.

Chapter 24. Differentiation In The New World Of Buzz.

Chapter 25. You Can Differentiate Anything.

Chapter 26. Who Is In Charge Of Differentiation?




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First Chapter


The Tyranny of Choice

In the beginning, choice was not a problem. When our earliest ancestor wondered "What's for dinner?" the answer wasn't very complicated. It was whatever animal in the neighborhood he could run down, kill, and drag back to the cave.

Today you walk into a cavernous supermarket and gaze out over a sea of different types and cuts of meats that someone else has run down, killed, dressed, and packaged for you.

Your problem is no longer catching it. Your problem is to try to figure out what to buy of the hundreds of different packages staring back at you in the case. Red meat? White meat? The other white meat? Make-believe meat?

But that's only the beginning. Now you have to figure out what part of the animal you want. Loin? Chops? Ribs? Legs? Rump?

And what do you bring home for those family members who don't eat meat?

Fishing for Dinner

Catching a fish for that early ancestor was simply a matter of sharpening a stick and hoping to get lucky.

Today it can mean drifting into a Bass Pro Shop or an L. L. Bean or a Cabela's or an Orvis and being dazzled with a mind-boggling array of rods, reels, lures, clothing, boats, you name it.

At Bass Pro's 300,000-square-foot flagship store in Springfield, Missouri, they will give you a haircut and then make you a fishing lure out of the clippings.

Things have come a long way from that pointed stick.

Going to Dinner

Today many people figure it's better to have someone else figure out what's for dinner. But figuring out where to go is no easy decision in a place like New York City.

That's why, in 1979, Nina and Tim Zagat created the first restaurant survey in New York City to help us answer that difficult question of choice.

Today the pocket-size Zagat Surveys have become best-sellers, with 100,000 participants rating and reviewing restaurants in more than forty major U. S. and foreign cities.

An Explosion of Choice

What has changed in business over recent decades is the amazing proliferation of product choices in just about every category. It's been estimated that there are 1 million SKUs (standard stocking units) out there in America. An average supermarket has 40,000 SKUs. Now for the stunner. An average family gets 80 to 85 percent of its needs from 150 SKUs. That means there's a good chance we'll ignore 39,850 items in that store.

Buying a car in the 1950s meant a choice between a model from GM, Ford, Chrysler, or American Motors. Today you have your pick of cars, from GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, Fiat, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Renault, Suzuki, Daihatsu, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Daiwa, Mazda, Isuzu, Kia, and Volvo. There were 140 motor vehicle models available in the early 1970s. There are 260 today.

Even in as thin a market as $175,000 Ferrari-type sports cars there is growing competition. You have Lamborghini, a new Bentley sports car, Aston Martin, and a new Mercedes called the Vision SLR.

And the choice of tires for these cars is even worse. It used to be Goodyear, Firestone, General, and Sears. Today you have the likes of Goodyear, Bridgestone, Cordovan, Michelin, Cooper, Day-ton, Firestone, Kelly, Dunlop, Sears, Multi-Mile, Pirelli, General, Armstrong, Sentry, Uniroyal, and twenty-two other brands.

The big difference is that what used to be national markets with local companies competing for business has become a global market with everyone competing for everyone's business everywhere.

Choice in Healthcare

Consider something as basic as healthcare. In the old days you had your doctor, your hospital, Blue Cross and perhaps Aetna/ US Healthcare, Medicare, or Medicaid. Now you have to deal with new names like MedPartners, Cigna, Prucare, Columbia, Kaiser, Well-point, Quorum, Oxford, Americare, Multiplan, and concepts like Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), Peer Review Organizations (PRO), Physician Hospital Organizations (PHO), and Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO).

It's gotten so confusing that magazines like U. S. News & World Report have taken to rating hospitals and HMOs so as to make our choice easier.

In New York City, a book titled How to Find the Best Doctors fills 1,300 pages with the results of surveys sent to 28,000 doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators.

California is even getting into a healthcare public "report card" arena. It started with several physician groups and health plans publishing "report cards" evaluating the performance of network providers. Then the 2.1-million-member PacifiCare of California published its new "Quality Index" report on its Web site, rating more than 100 physician-based organizations according to clinical outcome measures, as well as member satisfaction, administrative data, and professional/ organizational data.

It's gotten so confusing that people aren't worrying about getting sick. They worry more about where you go to get better.

Choice Is Spreading

What we just described is what has happened to the U. S. market, which, of the world's markets, has by far the most choice (because our citizens have the most money and the most marketing people trying to get it from them).

Consider an emerging nation like China. After decades of buying generic food products manufactured by state-owned enterprises, China's consumers now can choose from a growing array of domestic and foreign brand-name products each time they go shopping. According to a recent survey, a national market for brand-name food products has already begun to emerge. Already China has 135 "national" food brands from which to pick. They've got a long way to go but they are on their way to some serious tyranny.

Some markets are far from emerging. Countries like Liberia, Somalia, North Korea, and Tanzania are so poor and chaotic that choice is but a gleam in people's eyes.

The Law of Division

What drives choice is the law of division, which was published in The Twenty-two Immutable Laws of Marketing.

Like an amoeba dividing in a petri dish, the marketing arena can be viewed as an ever-expanding sea of categories.

A category starts off as a single entity. Computers, for example. But over time, the category breaks up into other segments. Main-frames, minicomputers, workstations, personal computers, laptops, notebooks, pen computers.

Like the computer, the automobile started off as a single category. Three brands (Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth) dominated the market. Then the category divided. Today we have luxury cars, moderately priced cars, and inexpensive cars. Full-size, intermediate, and compacts. Sports cars, four-wheel-drive vehicles, RVs, minivans, and suburbans, which are station wagons on steroids.

In the television industry, ABC, CBS, and NBC once accounted for 90 percent of the viewing audience. Now we have network, independent, cable, satellite, and public television. Today a wired household has over 150 channels from which to choose. And they are threatening us with "streaming video" that promises to make the cable industry's dream of a 500-channel universe look pathetically unambitious. With all that, if you flip through the channels and try to find something to watch, by the time you find it the show will be over.

"Division" is a process that is unstoppable. If you have any doubts, consider the table on the explosion of choice.

The Explosion of Choice
Item Early 1970s Late 1990s
Vehicle models 140 260
KFC menu items 7 14
Vehicle styles 654 1,212
Frito-Lay chip varieties 10 78
SUV styles 8 38
Breakfast cereals 160 340
PC models 0 400
Pop-Tarts 3 29
Software titles 0 250,000
Soft drink brands 20 87
Web sites 0 4,757,894
Bottled water brands 16 50
Movie releases 267 458
Milk types 4 19
Airports 11,261 18,202
Colgate toothpastes 2 17
Magazine titles 339 790
Mouthwashes 15 66
New book titles 40,530 77,446
Dental flosses 12 64
Community colleges 886 1,742
Prescription drugs 6,131 7,563
Amusement parks 362 1,174
OTC pain relievers 17 141
TV screen sizes 5 15
Levi's jean styles 41 70
Houston TV channels 5 185
Running shoe styles 5 285
Radio stations 7,038 12,458
Women's hosiery styles 5 90
McDonald's items 13 43
Contact lens types 1 36

The "Choice Industry"

All this has led to an entire industry dedicated to helping people with their choices. We've already talked about Zagat's restaurant guides and healthcare report cards.

Everywhere you turn, someone is offering advice on things like which of the 8,000 mutual funds to buy. Or how to find the right dentist in St. Louis. Or the right M. B. A. program from among hundreds of business schools. (Will that help me get a Wall Street job?)

The Internet is fast filling up with dot coms that can help you find and select anything you can imagine, all promised at rock-bottom prices.

Magazines like Consumer Reports and Consumers Digest deal with the onslaught of products and choices by rotating the categories on which they report. The only problem is that they go into so much detail that you're more confused than when you started.

Consumer psychologists say this sea of choices is driving us bonkers. Consider what Carol Moog, Ph. D., has to say on the subject: "Too many choices, all of which can be fulfilled instantly, indulged immediately, keeps children-- and adults-- infantile. From a marketing perspective, people stop caring, get as fat and fatigued as foie gras geese, and lose their decision-making capabilities. They withdraw and protect against the overstimulation; they get 'bored.'"

Choice Can Be Cruel

The dictionary defines tyranny as absolute power that often is harsh or cruel.

So it is with choice. With the enormous competition, markets today are driven by choice. The customer has so many good alter-natives that you pay dearly for your mistakes. Your competitors get your business and you don't get it back very easily. Companies that don't understand this will not survive. (Now that's cruel.)

Just look at some of the names on the headstones in the brand graveyard: American Motors, Burger Chef, Carte Blanche, Eastern Airlines, Gainesburgers, Gimbel's, Hathaway shirts, Horn & Hardart, Mr. Salty pretzels, Philco, Trump Shuttle, VisiCalc, Woolworth's.

And this is only a short list of names that are no longer with us.

You Have to Be Careful

If you ignore your uniqueness and try to be everything for every-body, you quickly undermine what makes you different. Consider Chevrolet. Once the dominant good-value family car, Chevrolet tried to add "expensive," "sporty," "small," and "truck" to their identity. Their "differentness" melted away as did their business. The brand is now behind Honda, Ford, and Toyota (Honda, 735,633 cars; Toyota, 679,626 cars; Ford, 591,010 cars; Chevrolet, 479,802 cars; total sales in 1998).

If you ignore changes in the market, your difference can become less important. Consider DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation). Once America's premier minicomputer manufacturer, they ignored changing technology that was making desktop computing the driving force in the office. Their "differentness" became less important. DEC is now deceased, having been absorbed by Compaq, one of the biggies in desktop computing.

If you stay in the shadow of your larger competitors and never establish your differentness, you will always be weak. Consider Westinghouse. They never emerged from the shadow of General Electric. Today Westinghouse is no longer with us. Or consider Goodrich. Over the years, Goodrich could reinvent the wheel and Goodyear would get all the credit. Because of the name confusion with their larger competitor, it was all but impossible to separate themselves in the minds of their prospects. Today Goodrich is on life-support systems.

It's an unforgiving world out there.

And It Will Only Get Worse

Don't bet that all this will calm down. We feel that it will get worse for the simple reason that choice appears to beget more choice.

In a book entitled Faster, author James Glieck outlines what can only be called a bewildering future which he describes as, "The acceleration of just about everything." Consider the following scenario that he describes:

This proliferation of choice represents yet another positive feedback loop-- a whole menagerie of such loops. The more information glut bears down on you, the more Internet "portals" and search engines and infobots arise to help by pouring information your way. The more telephone lines you have, the more you need. The more patents, the more patent lawyers and patent search services. The more cookbooks you buy or browse, the more you feel the need to serve your guests something new; the more cookbooks you need. The complications beget choice; the choices inspire technology; the technologies create complication. Without the distribution and manufacturing efficiencies of the modern age, without toll-free numbers and express delivery and bar codes and scanners and, above all, computers, the choices would not be multiplying like this.

Ladies and gentlemen, we haven't seen anything yet.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good one!

    The authors have done a good job by writing what are some of important differentiating ideas (Being First, Attribute Ownership, Leadership, Heritage, Preference, Market Specialty, How a product is Made, Being Latest etc) and what are NOT (Price, Breadth of Line, Quality and Customer Orientation etc) with some very good real life examples. They also offer some solid tips on how a product can be differentiated (how to focus on the unique feature of the product) and how an 'unplanned' growth can kill that 'magic' ingredient called the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) or the differentiating thing in a product (explained again with good examples). Overall this is a well written book and highly recommended for product manufacturers and sellers especially in today's world where a consumer is bombarded with similar looking products!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2000

    Great Ideas

    I've read all of Jack Trout's books and like his others, they have many ideas that you can put to quick use. Differentiate or Die is excellent. I liked the hard hitting edge concerning some major companies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2000

    The title says it all: Differentiate or Die

    In the net economy, differentiation is one of the key metrics for success. So if Trout is correct and the major culprit in how brands lose their uniqueness is growth, how can companies thrive in the fastpaced world of e-business? This book is refreshingly direct. Instead of espousing the organizational marketing doublespeak that seems to keep most corporations from realizing their potential, Trout pares it down to essential truths, identifies key challenges, and provides examples to illustrate some straightforward solutions. A must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2000

    Jack Does it Again

    Just got my copy two days ago and it's another great book from Jack Trout. I read Positioning years ago and find that Trout has a way of making key information clear and easy to read. Frankly, anyone with a brand or marketing job who doesn't read this book, will be left behind in the dust.Well worth $20!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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