Brand Positioning for a Competitive Edge - Part 2: Creating Differentiators

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Posted Jan 25, 2012
Susan Gunelius

In Part 1 of the Brand Positioning for a Competitive Edge series, you learned about brand positioning strategy and the first steps you should take to begin developing your brand position. Now, it's time to learn about how to create the hard and soft differentiators I mentioned in Part 1, so you can make sure your brand stands out from your competitors' brands.

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Hard Differentiators

brand positioning competitive edge

Your brand's position relative to competitive brands operating in the same market can partially be defined by the hard differentiators that make it distinctive from other consumer options. These are the tangible differences that people can see, touch, hear, taste, and smell.

For example, if you sit in a Cadillac and then sit in a Kia, you can see, hear, and touch the difference in quality from performance enhancements to finishing touches on the interior design. These two brands are positioned very differently in terms of tangible differentiators that are hard to dispute.

In order to position your brand against competitor brands, you need to identify the specific, tangible differentiators that separate your brand from the pack, and then make sure customers understand those differentiators, too.

Soft Differentiators

cadillac Kia interiors

Soft differentiators are the intangible differences between your brand and competitor brands. They are created through messaging, experiences, and emotions. For example, price is an effective differentiator only when it's aligned accurately with consumer perceptions of what the brand offers relative to other choices. The Cadillac brand can be priced as a luxury brand because the messaging, experience, and product match that price. Since consumer experiences with the brand live up to the brand promise of luxury, the luxury price tag is not only accepted, but it's also expected.

You can create soft differentiators through your marketing messages. For example, most people can't tell a Tiffany diamond ring from other brands' diamond rings. However, the perception of the Tiffany brand is that it's high quality. Consumers are emotionally invested in that perception of quality, and wearing Tiffany jewelry represents a status symbol. In some cases, people see Tiffany jewelry gifts as a symbol of just how much the gift giver cares about the gift recipient. Again, it's an emotional connection that intangibly differentiates the brand from competitors.

Creating Differentiators

Your goal is to do your research and determine how you can differentiate your brand from all the others on the market. Your tangible differentiators have to be real. In other words, don't stretch the truth. You'll need to be able to back up your claims. However, your intangible differentiators can develop through the strategic use of messaging, branded experiences, and ultimately, leveraging consumers' emotional involvement in the brand.

Think of it this way. Apple didn't start out as the "cool" tech and gadget brand, but it sure is the cool brand today! It took years for Apple to build that brand personality through consistent branding, thanks in part to the effective leveraging of hard and soft differentiators. Today, that "cool" soft differentiator is one of the key elements to Apple's ongoing success.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Brand Positioning for a Competitive Edge series where you'll learn about competitive positioning attacks. If you missed Part 1 of the series, follow the preceding link to read it now.

Image: stock.xchng, Flickr, Flickr

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