Prioritizing Differentiation in Brand Strategy - Part 3

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Posted Apr 30, 2012
Susan Gunelius

In Part 3 of the Prioritizing Differentiation in Brand Strategy series, you'll learn the difference between brand differentiation and product differentiation. It can be confusing to define your primary brand differentiator and create a strategy that enables you to own that differentiator as you learned in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, because product differentiators can get in the way of the bigger picture. Let's clear up some of that confusion.

strategic brand differentation

First, be sure to read my article about the differences between a brand and a product. That's a great place to start before you begin considering brand vs. product differentiators. Once you've read that article, you'll be able to focus your brand strategy on brand differentiators, not product differentiators.

Product differentiators are often tangible features and benefits that consumers derive directly from using a specific product. For example, price, specific performance features and qualities of the product, ingredients, convenience, and so on are tangible differentiators that separate one product from another on a store shelf.

Brand differentiators are far more intangible and represent a promise that a specific, meaningful expectation will be met when a consumer uses a product with a certain brand name on it. For example, the reason a consumer chooses to buy all products under a brand umbrella is based on more than a single feature.

dove brand products

Brand differentiation drives consumer preferences long before they view an ad or see a product on a store shelf. The customer who purchases all Betty Crocker baking products or all Dove products chooses those products because of the brand promise and a differentiator that the brand delivers which those customers believe other brands can't deliver. It's very possible that a loyal Dove customer might hear that another soap brand is actually better for their skin, but they'll still buy the Dove brand.

Once a consumer believes in a brand and trusts it to meet their expectations in every interaction, it's hard for other brands to break that bond of trust. That's why it's easier for a brand to create a new sub-category and perceived strategic differentiator than it is to compete head-on with an established brand in a category. Offering something different is an easier path to stealing market share for new market entrants.

Brand differentiation is a key step in developing brand trust, preference, loyalty, and advocacy. However, the products under that brand name must deliver on the expectations that the brand differentiators set or the brand will fail.

Imagine that your favorite brand launched a new product that didn't live up to your expectations for the brand based on its unique promise to you. Now, imagine what differentiates that brand in your mind from competitive brands was missing from the new product. Not only would you be unlikely to repurchase the product after trying it, but that product would also damage your trust in the brand overall. Next time you're at the store, you just might take a minute to look at the other brand options and the products they offer. In short, once a branded product lets you down, your perception of the overall brand is damaged.

With that said, you need to always put branding first and ensure that your primary brand differentiator is consistent across all products under the brand umbrella. Customers trust that your branded products will deliver on their expectations. Don't disappoint them, because once you do, it's hard to win back their trust.

Next up in the Prioritizing Differentiation in Brand Strategy series, you'll learn about using market research to define and communicate your primary brand differentiator. In the meantime, if you missed earlier parts of the series, follow the links below to read them now:

Image: Barun Patro,

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