Everybody wants a brand that’s different. The irony of that statement is intentional. It belies the conservative manner in which most brands approach competitive difference. They say they want to be distinctive to consumers but often, in their heart of hearts; they actually want to align (read conform) with the rest of the industry. One of the key issues for that is an uncertainty on the part of brand makers and decision makers to find a starting point.
In some ways that’s actually less difficult and daunting than it first appears. Begin with a premise that is truly one degree away from your rivals. By logically progressing that premise over time, and with strong discipline, you will build a brand that is consistently and markedly different.
Here’s 50 ways you can create a meaningful difference for your brand:
- Go slow in a world of speed. Each Rolex takes a year to manufacture. The perception that a longer process is needed to build the world’s best timepiece also reinforces the value.
- Use country of origin to your advantage. Brands from Switzerland are highly associated with precision and fine craftsmanship. Seek to build brand associations with countries that support your reputation for service, manufacturing, innovation etc.
- Behave differently. Online shoe retailer Zappos has built its advantage on an iron clad return policy and customer service that goes above and beyond, breaking down the perceived barriers of selling and buying shoes online.
- Look different. Apple always looks like Apple. Diesel always looks like Diesel. Absolut Vodka always looks like Absolut. They’re in a sector but they don’t look like part of the sector.
- Be the underdog in a sector where everyone else wants to be top dog. Nantucket Nectars started “with only a blender and a dream,” and Clif Bar proclaims that its founder once lived in a garage. Underdogs win the compassionate consumer. Look for the underdog story you can tell.
- Be truly and unapologetically shocking. Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign ruffled feathers on almost every front. But – and this is critical – the outrage you generate must link to a solution and that solution should be your front. Otherwise, you simply risk shouting into the wind.
- Expand your appeal. “Discover” an untapped audience in your sector and, by drawing them in, intensify the sense of community around your brand and the interaction that people have with the brand. Enterprise Rent-A-Car did just that by offering leasing at a time when competitors did not. By serving this unmet need with attention to customer experience, Enterprise became the world’s number 1 car rental company. Apple too saw what others did not. No one was asking for an iPhone, but an untapped audience emerged when new value in the form of a cell phone was introduced.
- (Re)Invent a category – and own it. UFC became the fastest growing sports organization in the world by redefining the reach and the audience for mixed martial arts. Today, UFC produces more than 30 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world. Swatch differentiated from other watch brands by focusing on self-expression rather than precision.
- Create a new category. 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.
- Tell a story that defines you and is unique to you. The story may be about your founder as in the case with Virgin and Richard Branson, your heritage like Hickory Farms or the value you bring to the world like Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness. It may also be based in imagination – like the thought that Keebler elves make Keebler cookies. Or perhaps it’s a story based on your highly guarded secret – only two people in the world know Coca-Cola’s formula. Your story may also be about the source of your product, service or inspiration.
- Forge new ground in the spirit of your founder. Chanel continues to personify the philosophies, ideals and legend of Coco Chanel long after her death.
- Leverage your history to define tomorrow. National Geographic have redefined what it means to experience the world we never see by expanding their channels and offerings while still holding their history close.
- Own an eternal idea. Red Bull expresses in every action its belief in, and addiction to, excitement. Ingredients, spirit, sponsorships and the human desire to do things that make the heart race are inextricably linked. Dove owns and serves the idea of real beauty. lululemon finds its eternal idea in the mind state of yoga and has built a powerful athletic apparel brand on that concept.
- Change the possibilities. This is about more than just product innovation. It’s about the introduction of technologies that completely change how people can live. Boeing redefined travel forever with the 747. Google may well redefine how we can see with Google Glass. Dyson changed the possibilities by reinventing old technologies like the vacuum, hand dryer and fan.
- Make active plans to be where others aren’t (yet). This article looks at the fact that while Chinese consumers are now overwhelmed by Western brands and doing business in Greater China has become very expensive, other countries in Asia with booming economies like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines remain largely overlooked.
- Solve a global problem. “Big bang” solutions in areas like pharmaceuticals or biotechnology require huge investment and scary timeframes, but when they work, they deliver huge distinction, kudos and profits. A “Big Bang” solution can come from any brand — TOM’s (pictured) seeks to solve the problem of children without shoes. TOM’s matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need. One for One.
- Build groundswell. Do something startling to generate attention. Use attention to build a crowd. Use a crowd to gain credibility. Use credibility as the jumping off point for your next distinctive act. Red Bull, Virgin and Apple should come to mind.
- Redefine how people buy. With millions of products, 24/7 access, superior search and browse technology, user reviews and many other sources of in-depth product information, Amazon.com offers a superior purchase experience.
- Bring unprecedented optimism to a sector. Nike redefined what people believed they should be capable of.
- Connect the previously unconnected. LinkedIn brought business people together so that they could network and share ideas in a way that was effortless, credible and global. In doing that, they resolved a problem that no-one realized they had until they saw the potential for what they would now be able to do.
- Rewrite the experience. Southwest Airlines put the fun, the quirkiness and the savings back into the serious and process-packed world of travel. Starbucks differentiated not on coffee, but a ‘third place’ – a respite between home and work.
- Make what you sell feel even more personal. This great infographic hints at how much further retailers could take personalization.
- Link your brand to specific occasions. Habits are powerful, but occasions may be even more so. They engage us so effectively because they combine time and focus. And because of that, they provide permission – it’s OK to behave this way or that. It’s OK to do something you wouldn’t do on any ordinary day. De Beers, Hallmark, Mercedes, Hershey, Cadbury, MACY’s and others have tapped into occasions or created occasions and have made themselves synonymous with the celebration of those occasions.
- License to brand. Brand licensing can bring valuable new meaning to a brand, further differentiating it from its competitors. Pillsbury licenses the Cinnabon brand to do just that for its cinnamon rolls. Colgate licenses Disney characters to increase its brand appeal.
- Break away from conventional wisdom. Breakaway brands bring new meanings to the party and make the most of the stretch, holding on to enough of the old to avoid category defection. Breakaway brands stretch the boundaries and live as outliers. These brands are the opposite of the well-behaved brands in the category and consequently provide radical differentiation from the status quo. Cirque du Soleil is one such brand. It falls into the “circus” category, but this brand has skillfully crafted a highly valued and differentiated positioning as everything a circus is not. There are no tents, tigers and elephants. No ringmasters. Instead it borrows attributes from other entertainment categories like, dance, music, opera and theater. It becomes something all together different–far outside the bounds of a conventional circus.
Derrick has spent the past 20+ years helping organizations release the full potential of their brands. His experience is as deep as it is diverse encompassing the disciplines of advertising, branding, sales promotion and public relations. Most notably he has worked with the White House Press Corps, Coca-Cola and Nestle. Derrick serves as managing partner and senior brand strategist at The Blake Project.
The article was originally posted on his site Branding Strategy Insider which is designed to help marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands. We focus on sharing thought provoking expertise that promotes an elevated conversation on the discipline of branding and fosters community among marketers.