Prioritizing Differentiation in Brand Strategy - Part 2

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Posted Apr 27, 2012
Susan Gunelius

In Part 1 of the Prioritizing Differentiation in Brand Strategy series, you learned what strategic brand differentiation is. Now, it's time to learn how to develop a brand strategy that effectively communicates and builds that differentiator. In simplest terms, you can't rely on consumers to understand your brand differentiators and how those differentiators add value to their lives. You need to help consumers relate those differentiators to their own lives and give them meaning.

strategic brand differentation

Identifying meaningful brand differentiators starts with brand research, which will be covered in Part 4 of the Prioritizing Differentiation in Brand Strategy series. At the same time, you need to consider all of the tangible and intangible benefits that your brand offers to consumers in order to develop your primary differentiator. That's the differentiator you're going to own within your market.

The importance of this step in the brand development process cannot be overstated. As Derrick Daye recently wrote for Branding Strategy Insider, "In the absence of a meaningful difference, the cheapest brand may be regarded as the best choice. Lack of differentiation turns brands into commodities and marketing messages into white noise. But a meaningful difference can spark consumer interest and fuel demand for a brand, even when that brand carries a significant price premium." Remember the Starbucks example introduced in Part 1 of this series? It's the perfect example of the point Derrick was making in his article.

starbucks coffee mug

When you identify the primary brand differentiator that you're going to use to set your brand apart from others in the marketplace, your brand and your company need to live that differentiator. It should become a core component of your brand promise to consumers and set expectations for your brand that you must meet in every experience consumers have with your brand.

Inconsistency leads to brand confusion, which is the number one brand killer. Starbucks is selling an experience, not just a cup of coffee, and consumers are willing to pay for that experience because it's unique and meaningful to them. It's better than the McDonald's coffee experience or the coffee experiences provided by other brands in their minds, and that perception has turned Starbucks into a highly successful brand and company.

A brand strategy that focuses on a clear and consistent differentiator can add deep value to a company in the form of brand equity. It's a competitive advantage that no amount of short-term marketing promotions can buy.

However, there's more to the process of creating a brand strategy around a primary differentiator than defining that differentiator. You also need create messaging, experiences, and an internal mindset that promotes that differentiator. Imagine if Zappos hyped its superior customer service but didn't deliver on that promise both internally and externally? The reason that Zappos is one of the few companies that could differentiate its brand from competitors based on service is because superior service is a way of life for employees. It's meaningful to them, and as a result, it's meaningful to consumers, too. The Zappos brand is trusted to deliver great customer service. It's not an empty promise.

No matter what your primary brand differentiator is, it needs to be integrated into your internal company culture just as much as it's promoted to external audiences. Branding from within is an easy step to miss in the brand building process, but it should be one of the most important steps. Your employees are your most powerful brand advocates! That's why brand building has to be a priority at every level of an organization. A company's leadership team must make it a strategic priority. Unfortunately, that's not usually the reality of business, but as Zappos demonstrates, it works.

Up next in the Prioritizing Differentiation in Brand Strategy series, you'll learn about the differences between brand and product differentiation, which can be confusing to novice and experienced business people. In the meantime, if you missed Part 1 of the series, follow the preceding link to catch up!

Image: Barun Patro, Justus Blumer

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