A Marketing Lesson from the Tower of Pisa

A modern marketer visits this centuries old tower

pisatowerandcathedralI recently returned from a trip to Italy (I highly recommend visiting Tuscany if you haven’t already!) that included the “required” visit to the Tower of Pisa. We were flying out from Pisa so it made sense to visit the tower, though to be honest, I wasn’t very excited about it since I prefer seeing and experiencing less touristy and off-the-beaten-path places when I vacation. In spite of my lackluster expectations, I came away a fan of Pisa and its leaning tower. As I analyzed why this was it struck me that this centuries old tower illustrates an important lesson for the modern marketer.

Differentiate your product or service

Every marketing student will recall one of Michael Porter’s generic strategies is a differentiation strategy in which a firm seeks competitive advantage by offering something unique that customers value and see as different from or better than the competition. Using this strategy a firm can command higher prices that drive revenue growth and profits.

OK, so you may be thinking the Tower of Pisa is unique because it leans, that’s why they call it the Leaning Tower of Pisa after all. But it’s not the only tower that leans. In fact, when I search for “leaning tower”, Google returns 2,680,000 results! And they aren’t all for Pisa’s leaning tower. According to Wikipedia several towers lean even more than Pisa’s. One 15th century tower in Germany leans due to a similarly bad foundation and two towers were designed on purpose to lean in Abu Dhabi and New Zealand.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa differentiates itself via its stunning beauty, engaging history, and perception as a tourist icon.

The tower is part of a beautiful white marble cathedral complex called the Field of Miracles
that includes an impressive cathedral, baptistery, pisatowerand cemetery. The leaning tower was built as the campanile, or bell tower, for the cathedral with intricate carvings in the white marble that gleams in the sun. Even though the tower was being used by the Germans as an observation post during World War II, it was saved from destruction by the Allies because the U.S. soldier sent to confirm the Germans presence was so impressed with the beauty of the cathedral and its bell tower.

An engaging history

The history of the tower is especially engaging because it began leaning almost immediately and several attempts were made to correct the lean during further construction and in more recent times. During construction of the second floor in 1178 there was a noticeable tilt, so word of its leaning stance certainly spread from the outset. Then it sat for a hundred years before a few more floors were added with extra height on one side to try to compensate for the lean. The top floor and bell-chamber were finally added in the mid 1300’s, again at slight angles to counter the lean. Today if you succeeded in straightening the base of the tower, it would still lean!

A tourist icon

While several attempts have been made to reduce the lean or keep it from falling over, the Italian government realized that some lean needed to be retained because of the tower’s vital role in Pisa’s tourist industry. The tower is listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World, putting it in a very exclusive class. And in 1987 the entire Field of Miracles was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site further solidifying the tower’s cultural and physical significance to tourists worldwide. Even though I’d seen a million pictures, seeing it firsthand made me realize how unique and special it really is – and how much it leans. Over two days I walked past it many times and each time I was amazed it hadn’t fallen over yet!

Learn more about Porter’s generic strategy concept for competitive advantage.  Is your company using a differentiated strategy for competitive advantage? Do you think this concept is still valid given today’s pace of change?

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