Building a strong brand is the undisputed key to success in today’s business world, and robust differentiation is an absolute must to build a powerful and compelling brand. Brand differentiation is the means by which your brand is set apart from the competition, by associating a superior performing aspect of your brand with multiple customer benefits.
In terms of branding, differentiation can relate to any combination of the following from the physical characteristics of your product or service, to the emotional response your brand triggers, aspects of its presentation, its price point such as very high or very low, your brand story, and even the customer experience of your brand as a whole.
There are many ways you can differentiate your brand. The skill lies is developing and applying the most effective brand differentiation strategy in a way that appropriately reflects your brand’s personality, values, promise, way of doing things and key characteristics.
If your brand fundamentally lacks sufficient personality or is very undeveloped then maybe its time to consider a brand audit or maybe your brand could benefit from some revitalisation or proper development of its character and brand profile using a process like our Personality Profile Performer™ system.
Your decisions must be made strategically so they are the most relevant to your particular products, services, or business goals – the ones that will strengthen your brand platform, and be most relevant and attractive to your customers – thereby increasing their loyalty and indeed referibility – so ultimately you can grow your bottom line successfully.
Here are 30 ways to differentiate your brand from your competition, many of which we employ, amongst others not listed here, when developing our clients brand strategies.
30 Ways to Differentiate Your Brand
1. Price Differently
Varying the price of your products or services from the competition can be an effective differentiation strategy. You can be either the economy bestseller with a low price, or a premium brand with a high price – such as Starbucks, which prices coffee higher to increase perceived quality. In fact, many brand differentiation strategies can help you charge and receive a premium price.
2. Mine a Niche
Niche products or services have built-in brand differentiation, and the marketing for them should reflect that niche. A good example is GoPro, which makes body-mounted video cameras and markets them to athletes.
3. Be the Expert
If your brand is the best at something in your industry, you can differentiate by focusing on your expertise. Domino’s Pizza provides differentiation through its expert home delivery and 30-minute guarantee.
4. Deliver a Unique Point-of-Purchase Experience
Give your customers a memorable buying experience, and your brand will stand out. Children love stuffed animals, but they love them even more when they can create their own stuffed animal right in front of their eyes. The Build-A-Bear Workshop has differentiated and flourished with this strategy. You can read more about what the founder Maxine Clark did to achieve this in a previous blog.
Image via www.buildabear.com
5. Distinctive Brand Collateral
Your brand collateral can be a key aspect of differentiation. A memorable, instantly recognizable brand identity that’s not typical of your industry segment or category can be very effective at adding differentiation. For example, Johnny Cupcakes, a unique apparel company in the US, sells its branded t-shirts with a baking theme, including both the way in which the clothing is merchandised and the packaging in which you purchase your clothing – ovens, bakers shelves and cake boxes! You can read more about Johnny Earle’s strategy, the founder, here.
Image via www.johnnycupcakes.com
6. Use a Mascot
Brand mascots can be powerful differentiators, especially if you want to bring a sense of humour to your brand perceptions. American Insurance company GEICO has created massive success with its mascot – a talking lizard that has nothing to do with insurance, but still makes millions of people believe there’s something different about the company.
Image via www.geico.com
7. Heritage and Provenance
Brands can differentiate through strong associations with their country of origin. Many UK brands are noted for a timeless, classic appeal, brands from Switzerland are often associated with craftsmanship and precision, and German brands are viewed as reliable and well-engineered.
Innovation can be a key brand differentiator. This type of distinctiveness is common for tech brands – Apple is synonymous with innovation, ease of use and enhanced life experiences, SalesForce captured a largest market share with an SaaS-based CRM. But innovation isn’t limited to technology: FMCG brands can also differentiate with innovative packaging and/or different product solutions such as O’Egg and their liquid egg products and white shell eggs.
9. Create a New Product (by Renaming it)
Offering your customer something entirely new is a great way to differentiate, and you may not have to change what you’re selling – just what it’s called. Tyson Foods – the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and port – began selling chickens that were much smaller than average. The product might not have caught on if they’d called it “miniature chickens,” so they marketed them as “Cornish Game Hens” instead.
Image via www.tyson.com
10. Be the Underdog
A lot of customers love a good underdog story and will connect with you through your ‘David and Goliath’ brand story. Emphasizing your brand’s humble beginnings can help you differentiate, especially if your competitors are focused on being the biggest and the best. Successful founder stories with an underdog aspect include Nantucket Nectars’ “only a blender and a dream,” and Amazon CEO’s Jeff Bezos launching his “everything store” from his garage. Sir Richard Branson has launched the Virgin brand into multiple sectors with a ‘David and Goliath’ strategy – challenging the perceived big guys and the status quo – as the ‘customers champion’.
Image via www.virgin.com
11. Make it Convenient
Convenience can be a big brand differentiator. Something that makes life easier for your customers will make you more desirable than the competition. Amazon is the obvious example, but other brands, such as Stamps.com, have banked on differentiation through convenience and won.
Image via www.amazon.com
12. Consistently Over-Deliver on Customer Service
With all other factors equal to your competitors, consistently superior customer service and exceeding expectations can differentiate your brand. Online shoe store Zappos commands a premium price tier because of their outstanding customer service, including free shipping and free returns.
Image via www.zappos.com
13. Stand Out on Shelves
Really strong brand packaging can be an obvious and effective differentiator, in fact it can make or break your brand. If, for example, you use black packaging for your butter like Rachel’s Organic Butter, your brand will be distinctive amongst all the yellow, red, and green packs.
Image via www.rachelsorganic.co.uk
14. Tell Your Unique Brand Story
Every successful brand has a compelling story behind it. Fully developing and emphasizing your brand story can help you differentiate, be core to your brand DNA, and reinforce the personality, promise and values of your brand. Creating irresistible brand stories is a key part of our brand profiling service when working with clients to help them create and build the personality of their brands, using our Brand Story Selling System™.
15. Solve a Universal Problem
If your brand addresses a problem everyone can envision or relate to, you’ll achieve brand differentiation. TOM’s shoe brand took on the issue of children in need, by donating a pair of new shoes to a child for every pair of shoes purchased. This not only massively differentiated the brand, but emotionally engaged its audience by making corporate social responsibility live within the heart of what the brand stands for and created immense customer goodwill and brand loyalty.
Image via www.toms.com
16. Appeal to Emotions
Your brand can stand out by delivering an emotional experience that’s associated with your product or service. Coca-Cola capitalizes on emotional appeal by branding their products as happy, implying its the maker of joy and harmony. Everything Coca-Cola does from a strategic branding perspective is to associate the brand with ‘happy occasions’.
17. Be (Relevantly) Shocking
Aligning your brand with shock value can help you differentiate, but use this strategy with care. The outrage you can generate from a shocking brand should be directed in a positive way, toward your brand and what you stand for. Italian fashion brand Benetton’s has used shock campaigns multiple times over the years to raise brand visibility such as with their “Unhate” campaign, which managed to anger the U.S. government, the Vatican, and many other organizations – but was a hit with customers.
18. Change Your Customer Experience
If your industry is known for a certain type of experience, you can differentiate by making your customer experience different. GEICO succeeded in the insurance industry, which often uses serious approaches and scare tactics, by creating a whimsical and fun marketing strategy with talking animals. Southwest Airlines injected quirkiness and enjoyment into the cookie-cutter world of travel.
19. Make it Personal
Personalization can help you differentiate your brand. Allow your customers to make your products their own through interactive buying experiences, higher levels of customer service, and digital marketing strategies like retargeting and pre-targeting that offer the right products, to the right people, at the right time.
20. Link to an Occasion
Another way to differentiate is to build up your brand’s association with a particular occasion or celebration. Cadbury’s is synonymous with Easter, De Beers is equated with Valentine’s Day, and Christmas (in the United States, at least) can’t happen without the Macy’s parade and Coca-Cola virtually invented the big red suited man at Christmas along with a multitude of other ‘happy occasions’ throughout the year.
21. Personify Your Product
A slightly different strategy from brand mascots, brand personification involves creating a “character” that represents the characteristics of your brand. Green Giant vegetables has done this successfully with the Jolly Green Giant, while Keebler snacks are personified through the Keebler Elves.
22. Give Back
Modern customers, most notably Millennials, love to get behind a brand that gives back to the community. By emphasising corporate social responsibility (CSR), you can differentiate your brand and get an edge over the competition such as O’Egg’s support of ‘Action Breast Cancer Ireland’.
23. Go Green
By the same token as community generosity, more of today’s customers are concerned about the environment. Differentiating through green packaging, green manufacturing, or even environmental charity can help your brand stand out.
24. Break Away
You can differentiate your brand by moving away from the conventional wisdom surrounding your industry and delivering an opposing viewpoint. Odour control brand PooPouri accomplished this by abandoning discretion in their marketing and embracing all things poo – with lots of toilet humour.
25. Redefine Your Product Use
If your products can accomplish more than one thing, the alternate use can help you differentiate your brand. As an example, Arm & Hammer was just another baking soda until the brand began marketing the idea that it also made an excellent air freshener along with a multitude of other uses.
Image via www.armandhammer.com
26. Simplify Your Customers’ Lives
Simplicity and purity are highly prized in today’s cluttered world. Marketing your brand as a simple pleasure can help you rise above the noise. The Method brand of cleaning products uses this strategy, providing naturally derived and non-toxic household cleaning products that simply work. This simplicity is underscored by their tagline: “people against dirty.”
Image via www.methodhome.com
27. Provide Higher Quality
Luxury brands are able to command premium pricing through an emphasis on higher quality products – either actual or perceived. Providing luxury is an automatic brand differentiator for most markets.
28. Limit Availability
While it may seem counterintuitive to profits, limiting the availability of your brand can actually help you sell more, at higher price points, through differentiation. When customers perceive that not everyone will be able to have a product, demand and perceived value increase. Ben & Jerry’s premium ice cream employs this strategy with limited production runs for some flavours, and by “retiring” flavours after a certain period of time.
Image via www.benjerry.ie
29. Reposition Your Category
You can differentiate your brand by developing a new category that falls within your industry. In the United States, the National Pork Board accomplished this with a campaign slogan: “Pork, The Other White Meat,” which appealed to customers who enjoy red meat, but don’t care for chicken. The campaign also made pork more appealing due to the health issues being associated with red meat consumption.
30. Serve an Unmet Need
An effective way to differentiate your brand and reach a broader audience is to identify a need that isn’t being met, and fill that need by tweaking or repositioning your offerings. Enterprise Rent-A-Car became the top car rental company in the U.S. when they began to offer a leasing option – when none of their competitors did.
So, what do you think?
• How does your brand differentiate from the competition?
• Is your packaging distinctive or stand-out in some way? How could you change that?
• What does your brand do to differentiate your customer service?
• Are there new audiences you can reach through differentiation?
• What would it take to reposition as a luxury brand and differentiate through added value?
• Can you share other strategies for brand differentiation?
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!