The Logic of Differentiation

I’ve covered differentiation in detail before. There is one thing about it that I didn’t cover. I talk to design candidates about this all of the time.

Premise: 100 people are looking at your product or site or portfolio.

Case 1: It’s the same

If everything you have is the same as the competition, then your likelihood of being chosen as the winner is somewhat random. The user has little go on, so they pick out some little thing that doesn’t matter. Or they choose the cheapest.

So of our 100 people, let’s guess that 10% choose you. The 10 are random amongst the group. Their opinions aren’t strong because there isn’t much to decide on. Still, you got 10, congrats.

Case 2: It’s different

Ok, now the user has something go on. You have something clearly differentiated. Unfortunately, some people are going to hate your differentiation. When you are different, people will have stronger opinions.

Now, let’s imagine your differentiation is very “you”. In other words, people who appreciate the difference, will definitely appreciate you. What % of the 100 is going to like it? Let’s suppose that most do NOT like it. Let’s even go so far to say 90% of people don’t like it and 10% love it. This is somewhat worst-case scenario.

This might sound bad, but it isn’t. If you can find 10% of a population who loves you, you can build something great. A small tribe of superfans beats a large tribe of casual fans every time.

Assuming the 10 people who love the differentiation choose you, then you have the same 10 out of 100. However, the key difference is the quality of the group. In Case 2, the 10 people LOVE you and in Case 1, the 10 people are random.

Assuming you want to sell your product or get hired, Case 2 is going to have a higher success rate.


If you want to succeed, differentiate strongly in a way that is very “you” and nail 10% of the audience.

This logic is fairly straight forward. I am not even using fancy math or a spreadsheet. Yet still, most design portfolios are identical and most products try and copy the competition in features and marketing. Why is this?

We are hard wired to avoid looking bad to anyone rather than wired to look great to a smaller group. It’s in our DNA. We worry about the one complaint rather than the one compliment. It takes effort and conviction to stand out. Yet, when people do stand out, they are successful.

I wonder how many people I have convinced to be different. Is it 10 out of 100? Maybe 1 out of 100? I wonder.


2 responses to “The Logic of Differentiation”

  1. 100% agree. As Maya Angelou said, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

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