Differentiation is to compete against direct competitors. It is to show the significance to the direct consumer and protect the existing individual product. But in the recent years of having competition in a wider scale industry level, association and partnering has become the macro level theme for competing against indirect competition. That these outside competitors can potentially become the long term threat to the industry. In my humble opinion “Coopetnation (cooperation + competition)” is now the new way of business.
http://www.nsae.org/about.htm (not so much related)
In the era of mass production, differences come from qualities of products. However, these days the differences don’t come from the factor. People start to care more about design and other factors that appeal the motivation to own the products to buyers. In this case, people cannot simply rely on their own sense but would like to know how other people feel and think. Therefore, people seem to have more importance on word of mouth type of marketing. Also, there are so many choices now and people need to know what are good and bad.