Is Your Product Trapped in “Commodity Hell?”

I shaved this morning thinking about “commodity hell.”

That’s when a market for a product is so crowded that every version of it is practically the same. Interchangeable with the competition. And the only way to give yourself an advantage is to slash prices until the pain of profit loss squeezes either you or your competitors out of the business.

This is not a position you want to be in. But it happens.

In an old New Yorker — June 15, 1998 — James Surowiecki wrote about how one company, Gillette, managed to dig itself out. First, Gillette focused heavily on advertising. And it worked. But only for so long. Other razor companies had new products in the pipeline.

So Gillette had to switch its focus to the staple of cutting-edge competition: product innovation.

An enormous amount of research and testing went into binding a substance called “DLC” (for “diamond-like carbon”) to steel. The result was a blade not only 3-4 times stronger than plain steel but also thinner and sharper.

While other razors had two blades, Gillette’s had three. Engineers watched Terminator 2 to visualize the chrome-coated design.

Marketing whittled over 100 name choices down to four. And then one — the Mach 3.

Gillette sold $2.9 billion worth of Mach 3s in a single year. It is far and away the industry leader. (I use one. There’s a chance you do too.)

When you’ve got a product that’s hard to differentiate, think of the Gillette story.

Is your product newer and better than all the rest? How well is that emphasized in your advertising?

And if the advertising is pulling its weight, is there a way you could innovate or update the product?

Simple thoughts. But if it’s good enough for a giant like Gillette… well, you get the picture.

[Ed. Note: To get more of copywriting expert John Forde’s wisdom and insights into marketing (and much more), sign up for his free e-letter, Copywriter’s Roundtable, at]