Be Distinct, But Not Pontiac Aztek Distinct

Welcome to The Beat by Rockstar CMO. I’m Ian Truscott, a 3xCMO, trusted advisor, strategy consultant and Chief Bottle Washer at Rockstar CMO. In this newsletter, I’d like to share a mix of what’s caught my eye from our community, our podcast and our street knowledge blog.


Lately, I’ve been talking a bit about being distinct and different.

In B2B, we strive for differentiation, usually through features and functions, which blurs the market a bit for the buyer, as everyone does the same. What we really want is to be distinct.

However, one risk of going too far with that is that you take yourself out of the market. You look too different for the buyer to associate your product or solution with the category, their problem, the market, and your competitors.

Looking too different could also create the perception of risk in the eye of the buyer, which ties to the idea that one of the main things we are fighting in B2B sales and marketing is FOFU - the Fear of Fucking Up. Our marketing is often about how we mitigate risk and build trust.

So, we need to be distinct but not that different.

This week, I was reminded of a great example of this - the Pontiac Aztek from the early 2000s. Yes, aside from being into music and marketing and not being a rockstar, I’m into cars.

You might recognise it as the weird thing Walt drove in Breaking Bad. My first experience was stumbling across this unfortunate-looking vehicle in a dim rental car lot, spending a lot of time in the US back then. It still sends shivers down my spine to this day and amongst my English chums, became the poster child of what was wrong with American cars at the time.

Anyway, I’ve dug into how this thing came into being, and I understand there was a determination to do something different and distinct to shake up the staid image of GM products at the time.

In marketing, we are often slightly cautious about focus groups and what customers say they want (compared to what they really want), and….. all together now…. Henry Ford said customers would want a faster horse.

However, on this occasion, the focus groups hated the Aztek, and maybe GM should have listened. Here’s a quote from an article in Car and Driver:

Bob Lutz, who took over the top product job at GM in the aftermath of the Aztek, has claimed that the design was presented to focus groups who felt about the thing the way we all felt about it when we first saw it: They hated it. Well, actually Lutz claimed that the market-research respondents said, “I wouldn’t take it as a gift.” So convinced were the powers that be of the essential rightness of the vehicle, though, that this didn’t kill the Aztek, either.

So, be distinct, but be cautious of ”essential rightness”.

“Ugly” is a harsh word to choose for the subject line of this email, but I don’t know a song called “Not a classically attractive B2B solution as defined by the market,” so this week's tune is some classic Hip-Hop from the era of the Aztek—Ugly by Bubba Sparxxxx.

Thanks again for opening and reading this far, I hope you like the links below and please hit reply if you have any ideas or feedback.

Enjoy your week!



Ian Truscott | Chief Bottle Washer Rockstar CMO

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