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  • Writer's pictureBehind Her Brand

28 Ways You Can Create a Meaningful Difference for Your Brand

Updated: Jun 5





Everybody wants a brand that’s different. The irony of that statement is intentional. It belies the conservative way most brands approach competitive difference.


They say they want to be distinctive to consumers but often, in their heart of hearts, they want to align (read conform) with the rest of the industry. One of the key issues for that is an uncertainty on the part of brand makers and decision makers to find a starting point.

In some ways that’s less difficult and daunting than it first appears. Begin with a premise that is truly one degree away from your rivals. By logically progressing that premise over time, and with strong discipline, you will build a brand that is consistently and markedly different.


Here’s 28 ways you can create a meaningful difference for your brand:


  • Go slow in a world of speed. Each Rolex takes a year to manufacture. The perception that a longer process is needed to build the world’s best timepiece also reinforces the value.


  • Behave differently. Onl ine shoe retailer Zappos has built its advantage on an iron clad return policy and customer service that goes above and beyond, breaking down the perceived barriers of selling and buying shoes online. 


  • Look different. Apple always looks like Apple. Diesel always looks like Diesel. Absolut Vodka always looks like Absolut. They’re in a sector but they don’t look like part of the sector.


  • Be the underdog in a sector where everyone else wants to be a top dog. Nantucket Nectars started “with only a blender and a dream,” and Clif Bar proclaims that its founder once lived in a garage. Underdogs win the compassionate consumer. Look for the underdog story you can tell.


  • Expand your appeal. “Discover” an untapped audience in your sector and, by drawing them in, intensify the sense of community around your brand and the interaction that people have with the brand. Enterprise Rent-A-Car did just that by offering leasing at a time when competitors did not. By serving this unmet need with attention to customer experience, Enterprise became the world’s number 1 car rental company. Apple too saw what others did not. No one was asking for an iPhone, but an untapped audience emerged when new value in the form of a cell phone was introduced.


  • (Re)Invent a category – and own it. UFC became the fastest growing sports organization in the world by redefining the reach and the audience for mixed martial arts. Today, UFC produces more than 30 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world. Swatch differentiated from other watch brands by focusing on self-expression rather than precision. 


  • Create a new category. The Toyota Prius, the Nintendo Wii, and Red Bull are all brands that created new categories, outside the established norms of their product category. By stepping outside the bounds of their categories, these brands created a space that they can call their own. 


  • Tell a story that defines you and is unique to youThe story may be about your founder as in the case with Virgin and Richard Branson, your heritage like Hickory Farms or the value you bring to the world like Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness. It may also be based on imagination – like the thought that Keebler elves make Keebler cookies. Or perhaps it’s a story based on your highly guarded secret – only two people in the world know Coca-Cola’s formula. Your story may also be about the source of your product, service, or inspiration.


  • Change the possibilities. This is about more than just product innovation. It’s about the introduction of technologies that completely change how people can live. Boeing redefined travel forever with the 747. Google may well redefine how we can see with Google Glass. Dyson changed the possibilities by reinventing old technologies like the vacuum, hand dryer and fan. 


  • Redefine how people buy. With millions of products, 24/7 access, superior search and browse technology, user reviews and many other sources of in-depth product information, Amazon.com offers a superior purchase experience. 


  • Bring unprecedented optimism to a sector. Nike redefined what people believed they should be capable of.


  • Connect the previously unconnected. LinkedIn brought businesspeople together so that they could network and share ideas in a way that was effortless, credible, and global. In doing that, they resolved a problem that no-one realized they had until they saw the potential for what they would now be able to do. 


  • Link your brand to specific occasions. Habits are powerful, but occasions may be even more so. They engage us so effectively because they combine time and focus. And because of that, they provide permission – it’s OK to behave this way or that. It’s OK to do something you wouldn’t do on any ordinary day. De Beers, Hallmark, Mercedes, Hershey, Cadbury, MACY’s and others have tapped into occasions or created occasions and have made themselves synonymous with the celebration of those occasions. 


  • License to brand. Brand licensing can bring valuable new meaning to a brand, further differentiating it from its competitors. Pillsbury licenses the Cinnabon brand to do just that for its cinnamon rolls. Colgate licenses Disney characters to increase its brand appeal. 


  • Break away from conventional wisdom. Breakaway brands bring new meanings to the party and make the most of the stretch, holding on to enough of the old to avoid category defection. Breakaway brands stretch the boundaries and live as outliers. These brands are the opposite of the well-behaved brands in the category and consequently provide radical differentiation from the status quo. Cirque du Soleil is one such brand. It falls into the “circus” category, but this brand has skillfully crafted a highly valued and differentiated positioning as everything a circus is not. There are no tents, tigers, or elephants. No ringmasters. Instead, it borrows attributes from other entertainment categories like dance, music, opera, and theater. It becomes something altogether different–far outside the bounds of a conventional circus. 


  • Change the name. Sometimes your original name doesn’t sound like it would be something you would want to put in your mouth. Like a Chinese gooseberry. When the name was changed to kiwi fruit, the world suddenly had a new favorite fruit that it wanted to put in its mouth. 


  • Identify, identify, identify. Ordinary bananas became better bananas when a small Chiquita label was added to the fruit. Dole did the same for pineapple with the Dole label, as did the lettuce people by putting each head into a clear Foxy lettuce package. Of course, you then have to communicate why people should look for these labels. 


  • Be the expert or specialist. The specialist can focus on one product, one benefit, and one message. This focus enables the marketer to put a sharp point on the message that quickly drives it into the mind. Domino’s can focus on home delivery. Pizza Hut has to talk about its different pizzas, home delivery, and sit-down service. 


  • Price with pride. Starbucks prices its coffee higher to raise perceptions of the quality of its coffee. Singapore Airlines, the most profitable airline in the world, does the same thing and always sells at a premium. In each case, the price is a signal of supremacy – differentiation via perceived quality. 


  • Highly targeted a market. Who you focus on can create a unique point of difference. Consider FOX News, an American news outlet designed to serve the Republican Party and its supporters. This laser focus has made it synonymous with conservative views and policies, creating by far the strongest commercial brand associated with those views. Wegmans Supermarkets believes that happy customers are generated by happy employees. They have built their powerful brand on the mantra that their employees are number one. 


  • Change the reach. How your product or service reaches a customer can set you apart. Redbox specializes in the rental of DVD’s and video games. Through an easy-to-use kiosk it differentiates itself from its competitor Netflix and helped seal the fate of Blockbuster. Amazon has a futuristic plan to deliver some orders via drone. 


  • Share values. When a brand is built on shared values it can differentiate on those values and enjoy perhaps the strongest bond in the marketing world. Think of any brand that really matters and you’ll discover the type of people buying the stuff are the same type of people who design, make and sell the stuff. This is the awesome sauce of brand values and brand identity alignment. Apparel brands like Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and The North Face understand the importance of shared values. The bond that binds is a deep inter-personal connection between the users and the makers. 


  • Give them something to unwrap. Package design offers one of the biggest opportunities for brand differentiation. Color, shape, size, functionality, texture, and materials can influence purchase decisions. There’s no mistaking a Tiffany & Co. box and its distinctive blue. Innovative packaging proves another signature differentiator for Apple as well as Tropicana which learned the value of this difference when it attempted to redesign its packaging. 


  • Engage the senses. Every marketer should explore the senses when ideating brand differentiation strategies. Each of the five senses offers a channel to connect with your target customer and flex a point of difference. The more each of these are engaged at any one-time during customer contact the more your brand and what it stands for will be remembered. Scent branding in the hotel world is one example. Sofitel, Le Meridién, The Ritz-Carlton, Westin, Sheraton, and Marriott are some of the hotel brands employing a signature scent strategy to further move away from their competitors. 


  • Put a famous face to your famous brand. The age-old strategy of pairing products and services with a well-known celebrity continues to be a viable option for brand differentiation. However, the rules have changed. There must be an authentic alignment between the brand and the celebrity. Case in point: Tiger Woods and Nike Golf: Yes. Tiger Woods and Buick: No. The association between brand and celebrity must be clear and obvious.


  • Redefine usage. How your product is used can serve as a key differentiator. Arm & Hammer Baking Soda became much more when customers discovered it also made for a powerful air freshener. This helped Arm & Hammer not only extend into new categories but also create a multi-use brand that is more meaningful to its target customers. 


  • Create an unusual theme or twist to your brand. Consider the following unusual restaurant brands – Opaque (dining in the dark), Ice Restaurant (in Dubai), Underwater restaurant in Maldives, Magic Restroom (toilet-themed) Café in CA or Dinner in the Sky (suspended 50 meters above the ground). For more creative restaurant themes, see here.


  • Treat people differently than your competitors do. We love Ritz-Carlton’s “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” mantra. This alludes to a level of gentility, civility and respect not often experienced in product purchase or usage experiences. If an opportunity to serve your customer better does not exist — create one.


To be different is to be not the same. To be unique is to be one of a kind. Be different and be unique with a meaningful difference for those most important to your future.

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