Striking a balance between similarity and difference is crucial for innovation, especially in marketing. No matter how advanced a new product is, its success or failure will depend on “consumer perception” of the product.
Meaning, if it’s too much like what already exists, people won’t feel the need to buy it. If it’s too unlike what’s already on the market, consumers will be reluctant to buy one.
For example . . .
Consider the automobile’s early days. Horses were afraid of noisy, smoky early cars, so driving a car on a road filled with horses and horse-drawn conveyances was dangerous. In 1899, an inventor created a car to address this problem. The “Horsey Horseless” had a fake, life-size horse’s head attached to its front panel. The head was both a gas tank and a way to avoid scaring horses. This is a clear case of walking the line between similarity and difference.
Another example . . .
The introduction of the TIVO digital DVR, a then-unprecedented machine. Because it was digital, manufacturers could have made the TIVO any shape. It didn’t contain any large mechanisms that required making it a certain size. But because marketers intended the TIVO to replace VCRs, its creators did something quite clever: They built the TIVO in the size and shape of a VCR. They chose a recognizable form to make a revolutionary product acceptable.
This is part of a long-standing trend in which “digital actions” mimic their analog predecessors. Steve Jobs did the reverse with the 1998 launch of the iMac. It had a strange new “gumdrop” shape and vivid new colors. While the technology inside was innovative, the shape and colors screamed differentiation. Consumers value technology, like everything else, in context. Function and design join to shape market acceptance.
Successful products hit just the right level of optimal distinctness. Like you, they want to be acceptably similar, but different enough to be unique.