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Brand Differentiation

Either A Brand Is Different Or It Is Dead

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Either A Brand Is Different Or It Is Dead

And after that gentle title, Simon Silvester launches into:

“Tom is a brand manager. His approach is thoroughly professional. He’s searching the world for best practice, and is bringing it to his brand. He’s also benchmarking his brand against competitors, making it look as good as they do. And he’s optimizing his communication plans, ensuring they’re best-in-class. What’s the problem? ‘Seeking best practice’, ‘benchmarking’ and ‘best-in-class’ sound important. But they all mean Tom is copying his competitors. And because his competitors are professionals too, they are copying Tom back. In today’s world, everyone is searching for the same best practice. Everyone benchmarks against each other. And everyone optimizes their communications plans. Everyone is copying each other. And so their brands are becoming clones.”

He points out that in a world of perfect information where everyone has access to the same quality research and online information, there’s a tendency for Tom and everyone else in an industry to come up with the same insights at the same time, launching the same products with the same key messages.

Which is a problem because it’s differentiation that drives brand strength and it’s differentiation that’s threatened by analysis that puts everyone on the same road instead of the road less traveled.

Getting the balance right between points of parity (things that you must do to be perceived by consumers as credible in your category) and points of difference that can help you stand out from the rest has always been a tough marketing challenge. I think that Simon’s report is a useful reminder that we should not get so infatuated by the power of sophisticated tools that focus on points of parity (like benchmarking) that we forget about the trickier challenge of finding ways to be different.

What do you think?

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3 Comments

Franklin Grippe
Twitter: Grippe_LLC
on March 11th, 2016 said

I know you guys are going to cringe at this, but the statement “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more relevant. Make the picture move and add sound and multiply by a factor of x. In an ever growing tsunami of content, common claims, similar positioning, etc, visual language may be the most undervalued factor toward differentiation. Because it is “meaning-packed”, And lets just be real here – the shear volume and scale of positioning activities in particular categories often leaves little room for differentiation on those axis), This kind of design-thinking around what is a pattern language has never been more important to brands. Form-makers have known this all along. But discomfort with quantifying the “black box” and other factors, pedagogy, management consultants (lol), etc, have shifted emphasis among many. If you need a brand for an example just look at GE. They have been visually transformed. If what was once a visually challenged behemoth brand like GE can do it, there are simply no excuses anymore. Its the “spice” (sci-fi reference – google it). Just sayin.

Justin Kwong
Twitter: getwiya
on March 14th, 2016 said

Great post Martin. This is why the best brands and companies don’t care about the competition, but focus on themselves and what they believe in. Keeping up with competitors and what they’re doing can lead you into the trap of copying/cloning each other as you’ve discussed. Companies/brands that are market leaders are able to forge ahead because they listen to their customers and they listen to themselves — striving for individuality instead of conformity.

Florent
Twitter: florentgeerts
on March 14th, 2016 said

Absolutely agree. And I think you put it perfectly: He’s searching the world for best practice, and is bringing it to his brand. He’s also benchmarking his brand against competitors, making it look as good as they do. And he’s optimizing his communication plans, ensuring they’re best-in-class. What’s the problem? ‘Seeking best practice’, ‘benchmarking’ and ‘best-in-class’ sound important. But they all mean Tom is copying his competitors.”

Like Seth Godin says: in our fast-moving world, there’s nothing as risky as being safe

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