Mayra Ruiz-McPherson | Marketing Differentiation Thoughts Inspired by Henri Matisse
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Just My Thoughts

Henri Matisse Self Portrait

Marketing Differentiation Thoughts Inspired by Henri Matisse

an art history-themed story about differentiation

Did you know famous French painter Henri Matisse was broke with several kids to feed before he dramatically began to alter his art style?


Matisse had been painting for close to 15 years, following all the traditional painting rules of details, perspective, lighting and such, before he said F it and began to DRAMATICALLY change his painting style, which BUCKED ALL THE ESTABLISHED RULES for color and composition.

And once his new painting and drawing style of brightly colored objects, dramatically simplified figures, and purposefully unrealistic forms hit the art scene, Matisse’s paintings were loathed and dubbed as deviant, uncultured, and unrefined.

Matisse himself was also ridiculed and told that no one would take him, as an artist, seriously.


Of course, now many of us know that Matisse is often regarded as a master painter with paintings worth millions. He’ also considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of modern design today as we know it.

EVEN IF YOU AREN’T INTO ART HISTORY STUFF, how often has the theme of this tale been told or played out in your personal life or business circles?

  • … Where something that is completely new and revolutionary different is shunned for being “way too different” or “not mainstream enough?”
  • … Where your deviation of a standard approach (in creative or writing work as well as many other aspects of business, advertising, and marketing) is seen as too risky and unwise?


I can’t begin to share with you how often some of my past clients became very nervous about new ideas.

Some past clients were quite steadfast in their rejections of any creative novelty I brought to their brand and marketing table, outright refusing (sometimes even angrily) to pursue anything that was too different OR that their competitors “weren’t also doing.”

Not pursuing any marketing or creative angle because “other clients aren’t also doing” mindset is COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE to the very vibe differentiation intends to bring.

Differentiation, after all, is one of the KEY aspects of marketing and branding. The very word (differentiation) means “the action or process of differentiating” … and “to differentiate” means “make or become different.”

In my experience, many business owners and brands SAY they want something different, and that they want (their marketing, their advertising, their content, their branding, etc.) to stand out from the pack or be seen as unique.

Yet when presented with novel ideas that are (a) outside what their competitors or market vertical are actively doing or (b) beyond their own comfort levels (for whatever reasons which seem to have more to do with personal preferences rather than not), some folks tend to:

  • … kind of just panic
  • … downplay their original requests for “being different” … and/or
  • … retract their original desire for “doing different” entirely.


It’s one thing to talk about having a strongly differentiated brand, but it’s a whole other thing to actually fully understand what “being different” really means to one’s brand or business.

And from there, to actually brave and embrace with welcoming branding arms (rather than detract from) what “different” will or can feel and look like is also a vital piece.

In the end, if you find yourself on either side of “different” …. if you’re the one asking for something different ** OR ** you’re the one attempting to pitch or create something that stretches the mind beyond the norm, it’s important to understand there are various levels of different.

“Being different” — no matter how fresh or cool it may initially seem — will always have its detractors and/or may cause some to reconsider and back-peddle once “being different” starts to become an aesthetic and tangible reality.


If you’re truly attempting to create a DISTINCT position for our brand, then the differentiation process requires you to have an open mind and a willingness to accept off-the-beaten-path ideas and creative works.

Ultimately, I believe, the goal is to strike a comfortable design and messaging balance between the old and the new.

How far should that gap be, or not be?

These are the kinds of important discussions that need to be had when the phrase “we want something different” lands on your marketing design and project lap.


Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

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Mayra Ruiz-McPherson