Brand differentiation: a key plank in the branding platform

A differentiated brand stands outIn building a brand platform from which your branding strategies, decisions, elements and activities will arise; the most significant plank is probably the way you plan to differentiate your brand.

This is how you will determine your positioning strategy. It is the thing that will set you apart from competitors in the minds of your customers and prospects.

So I will devote several blogs to this subject.

In this post I’ll generally speak to the importance of differentiation and delineate some guidelines in formulating a differentiation strategy. Then in subsequent posts I’ll describe several approaches and differentiating concepts.

Why is differentiation important?

To begin with, differentiation will determine your success to a great extent. Differentiation will help make people aware of your business and know what makes it desirable. It will make you stand apart from run-of-the-mill competition. It will enable you to “be somebody” instead of just another “me, too”, clone.

Every business can differentiate itself in some way that’s significant to the marketplace. No matter the business size, industry and/or regulatory restraints, commonality of services or offerings, budget size, length of time in business, there’s something significant to prospects and customers that your competitors don’t offer.

Quite often the thing that really sets one company off from another is a combination of factors. By combining, lets say price and design as Target has, you can define your difference and make it your own. Once you’ve claimed your “territory”, it’s yours; unless, of course, you don’t promote it and defend it.

People will help you differentiate your business through their perceptions of your business and through the grapevine of referrals and opinion-sharing. If you are able to communicate your difference effectively, and then fulfill your promise, you can shape people’s views of you within your marketplace (product category).

How to begin differentiating your company

The first step I would take is to review your mission statement, your vision statement, your core values, your corporate culture, your strengths. Looking within as a start will provide you with a creditable base. That’s important because
It’s important to know who your competitors are and how they differentiate (position) themselves within the categories in which you compete. Those categories might be a product group like toothpaste. Or it may be broader – dental hygiene. Or it might be smaller – whitening tooth gel. Or it might be a retail category like hair salons within a five-mile radius of Downing and Hampden in Englewood, Colorado. In other words, categories are where you and your competitors reside in the minds of your mutual customer group.

A third factor to get you started is a little research. First, try to determine how competitors are attempting to differentiate themselves (if at all), and second, how consumers perceive the difference between competitors. For a retail outlet, it usually means just asking customers who come in, supplemented by discussions with competitor customers by phone or, perhaps mall intercepts.

But you need to know this information. If a competitor has a position in the mind of the collective market, attempting to dislodge it will usually meet with failure. They were there first.

So you are looking for all the “filled” positions first. Then you can begin to discover important (to your constituency) factors you can assume and promote with credibility. Look for fruitful, untilled soil.

In the next several posts, I’ll explore some approaches to differentiation, and expose several that are probably not very effective.

In the meantime, ask yourself, “How can I be different in a way my market will appreciate.”

Martin Jelsema

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