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Brand Differentiation

Creating A Meaningfully Different Brand

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In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, Benjamin Franklin commented on the likely permanence of the U.S. Constitution, saying “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

This is an adage that marketers would do well to remember. Just as there are no certainties in life, there are no certainties in marketing. When marketing a brand, the best we can hope for is to maximize the potential of a positive outcome and minimize the risk of a negative one. We cannot ensure that someone sees our ad, follows our brand on Twitter, or ends up buying it; we can only create the conditions that maximize the probability that they will do so. We cannot guarantee success, if for no other reason than the fact that our actions do not take place in a vacuum. Not only must we identify a compelling strategy and execute it well, but we must also do so better than the competition, who will be working just as hard to undermine our efforts.

To maximize the probability that people will buy our brand, we need to start by identifying what makes the brand meaningful and different. Meaningful differentiation is most powerful when it is tangible and functionally based. The Toyota Prius, the Nintendo Wii, and Red Bull are all brands that created new categories, outside the established norms of their product category. By stepping outside the bounds of their categories, these brands created a space that they can call their own. Their advantage may not last, but the Nissan Leaf, Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360, and Hansen’s Monster Energy not only have to deliver a compelling product experience, but they must also overcome mental barriers to competition. Being salient – first to mind when a need arises – has always been a powerful driver of sales, and being known as the category creator is a powerful way to gain that position.

Of course, for many brands there is little opportunity for significant, tangible differentiation. The marketer then needs to create that differentiation, either by highlighting an aspect of the band experience to best advantage or by creating an emotional halo around the brand – or both, ideally. There are few brands that are so well known that they can assume people have an intimate understanding of the experience they offer. Even when the brand is well known, its emotional appeal needs to reflect the brand’s purpose and history. Coca-Cola has successfully enlisted the universal emotion of happiness to power its marketing. While the emotion is generic, there is a good fit with Coca-Cola’s product experience and heritage. Whatever the basis of their personal understanding of the brand – whether it is based on personal memories of sipping cold Coke on a hot summer’s day or on the recollection of the brand’s Christmas advertising – many people will find the brand’s association with shared happiness just feels right. And that is a valuable thing. In 2012, Coca-Cola ranked sixth in the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brand Ranking, its brand valued at $74,286 million, up 79 percent since it was first measured in 2006.

Excerpted from my new book The Meaningful Brand with permission from Palgrave Macmillan publishing.

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