Stand Out or Stand Apart?
Ideally, a brand should do both. True differentiation allows a brand to stand out for being different. Owning a unique and relevant place in the hearts and minds of customers is the heart of traditional positioning and has been the goal of branding for decades.
Yet, true differentiation is difficult to achieve. In the arms race for advantage, many so-called “differentiators” are irrelevant to customers. Very few companies have been able to break through to create meaningful separation in their categories and genuine emotional resonance. Differentiation can be even harder to sustain. Most innovations can be copied or undermined by a lower priced offer.
The Case for Distinctiveness
Perhaps it’s time to challenge the notion of ‘Differentiate or Die!’ as an unrealistically high hurdle. In many categories, leading brands enjoy top of mind salience, despite minimal product-based differences relative to their competitors. Instead, these brand leaders leverage other kinds of distinctive assets to command greater mindshare. And mindshare is well-known to be related to market share.
Coca-Cola has lead highly competitive soft drink category for decades, despite parity (or some would say disadvantage) in price and taste. Coke’s carefully nurtured set of distinctive assets - colors, logos, taglines, symbols, ad styles, sponsorships and celebrity partnerships – distinguish it from Pepsi and every other contender, making it dominant in awareness. Little wonder Coca-Cola labors mightily to protect its trademarks.
Most brands lack the margins, budgets and culture to pursue a Coca-Cola size brand presence. For those where true differentiation is unrealistic, distinctiveness offers a reasonable alternative.
There are many paths to achieving salience. In an era where every touchpoint can be an opportunity to stand out, salience no longer requires the marketing muscle of Coca-Cola. Once the Brand Vision is in place, ideas for activating the brand in distinctive ways can flow freely from any of its six dimensions – Strengths, Personality and Style, Noble Purpose, Community, Self-Reflection or Values.
Today’s brands are multi-dimensional, not tied to a singular positioning message or strategy. Brands move in the world, and interact with customers in multiple channels. That’s why it’s helpful when developing activation strategies to think of your brand as a human being, with special strengths, values, goals, and a personality. It also makes friends and functions as part of a community. When these qualities are expressed in distinctive ways, customers can see interacting with your brand as more like having access to a close friend, one that they will want to introduce to others.
Here are thought starters for building salience:
- Join the Party: Where do your customers hang out, online and in the real world. The first part of getting noticed is to show up. Identify that communities of ideas and activities that matter to your customers and make sure you show up with passion and something to contribute.
- Show Some Personality
How you express your brand matters. If you don’t have anything unique to say, at least you can say it in a unique way. Aesthetics, design, and voice all matter. Make sure your style is clear align your company culture to ensure it is consistently expressed. For more, see “What’s Your Style?”
- Make Your Purpose Clear: Purpose need not be different to be effective. Aligning your brand with your customers’ values is a proven way to get attention and build engagement. What stand is genuine to your brand?
- Show Interest: Nothing is more boring than someone who talks only about themselves. What are the ways you can create a dialog with customers?
- Be a Story Teller: Stories are more engaging than messages. What anecdotes from your past, present or future will bring the brand to life? How can you make those stories easy for customers to share with others?
- Invite Participation: Customers not only want to co-create tailored offerings, they demand it. How can you invite feedback and put those ideas to work?