A recent inspiring read came from a blog by Harvard professor Youngme Moon in her book: Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.
She concludes that corporations have become experts at replication, but aren’t adept at creating meaningful differences. It’s the brands that decipher a different game that are the big winners.
This reminded me how often you observe marketing executives talk about brand positioning in relation to their competitors. One cannot help but be sceptical about the notion of positioning your brand, simply because too often you find this leading to meaningless points of difference against the category leader(s).
How often do we see brands falling into the trap of “more sameness”? Brands with aspiration to challenge the market leader, yet adopting core promises with supporting evidence or brand character that have become almost generic to that particular category.
The result is that we play into the hands of the brand leader and therefore fail in that essential first step towards creating brand preference.
There is strong case for suggesting that brand differentiation is a more powerful strategic consideration than simply brand positioning. Firstly, it demands that you work desperately hard at setting your product apart from its competitors in terms of tangible features and benefits.
Then begins the process of communicating meaningful points of difference through inspiring and surprising messages that can be uniquely associated with your brand.
Here again, how often don’t we see advertising that simply uses tired old category features, with little or no attempt at creating a point of difference?
Contemplate the automotive category. Leather interiors, the “cockpit” feel in the driver’s position, sleek exterior lines, airbags and the inevitable driving sequence. Throw in a jingle or music track and you end up with any of a dozen automotive brands that rely on an aggressive, “drive-away” price to secure loyalty.
Yet, in this example of “more sameness”, there are brands that have done a wonderful job in creating meaningful differentiation and capturing the imagination of consumers around the world.
One of the best case studies is probably the Volkswagen phenomena, with the true meaning of “people’s car” captured in unique product features and a quirky brand personality. This is advertising admired over many decades, and the envy of marketers and agencies.
VW models are most often sold at a premium, yet the brand enjoys market leadership and an outstanding profit legacy for its shareholders.
To conclude is a provocative extract from Youngme Moon’s illuminating book:
“If aliens were to visit a grocery store or drugstore in this country, they would have to conclude that we are a people hooked on the pleasures of picking needles out of haystacks”.
Johan du Toit is a brand manager and advertising consultant. He has worked for brewing conglomerate SAB Miller in Australia, at Integria Healthcare, and was the chief executive officer of brand-building network Ogilvy & Mather in Cape Town, South Africa.
This article first appeared at Firebrand Ideas Ignition.