12 Aug The Five Elements Of Unique Brands
Differentiate or die. Blah, blah, blah.
The narrative around the need to differentiate is growing tiresome. The more we talk about it, the more brands and products seem to drown in a sea of sameness.
The more crowded the market, the harder it is to create uniqueness. Companies often operate as if a spell has been cast over them. They build almost identical trade-show booths staffed with salespeople who wear the same clothes and use the same language and selling tactics. What we often see in brands is not differentiation, but imitation.
As Scott McKain offers in his book Iconic, great brands move beyond differentiation strategies to creating products and brands that are distinct. These five elements are required for growing companies to remain relevant:
A killer for companies is bad targeting. In my consulting practice, we regularly work with sales and marketing teams with ill-defined targets. They tend to overpromise to the wrong customers, setting their companies up for failure.
It may seem counterintuitive that by limiting your market, you create more opportunities, but consider the value proposition of an immigration attorney. If that attorney were to focus solely on immigration law, they would receive more referrals from other attorneys who recognize their expertise and do not feel threatened.
Narrowing focus gives your brand credibility. By keeping your target tight, you can direct resources to the right conferences, marketing messages and search engine optimization (SEO). Specialization is a self-fulfilling prophecy. With this level of specificity also comes clarity on which markets and customers not to pursue.
We say we want our brands to stand out, but then we take actions to make them look the same.
Today, disruption is created by companies that not only develop new products, but are rethinking every part of a business model. Peloton has bundled a subscription service with its exercise equipment for classes with world-class instructors. Bumble has re-engineered the dating app experience, allowing only women to make initial contact.
Look for ways to wrap services, perks and unique experiences around your core product to make it stand out.
3. Brand Promise
Every company must make a promise they can fulfill consistently. When your team is clear on the promise, they can create systems to ensure execution of it.
A brand promise often gets diluted as companies grow into new segments or offerings. For example, if a company were to launch a new low-end, self-serve offer, it would be critical for the operations team to know what to provide, or they would likely overserve such customers.
Conversely, once you provide a service, a customer will expect it every time. A brand promise can also become a signature, such as the cookie you receive upon checking in to a DoubleTree hotel.
Every business needs a script that articulates its uniqueness. The accompanying language and set of norms must be supported by a set of values. The better such values are institutionalized, the more comfortable people are with the narrative.
Storytelling is an art form. I have a client whose product was to be delisted by a retailer because they thought a child could choke on fragments of the product. So, he swallowed the fragments on purpose and put his experience on YouTube to overcome the objection. He then built a product testing capability but used the story with prospects to add color and insight. Stories are more powerful than claims.
5. Customer Journey
How will you create customer experiences so awesome that your customers will tell their friends? I have often stayed at the Oxford, a boutique hotel in Bend, Oregon. The hotel is highly rated online and known for its amenities such as a top-floor spa with panoramic views. But as someone who stays at a lot of hotels, I find what makes it distinct is that the bellman remembers me, and knows my name before I even check in.
Many businesses seem intent on thinking about the customer journey after they have designed their product or service. Instead, think of the customer journey first, and build your experience to suit.
To be truly unique, your management team has to fight the status quo by constantly reinventing the business. Make sure you are not practicing imitation but true differentiation.