Branding Basics – Step 4


I promised in the last episode of this series we’d begin building our brand platform this entry. But I forgot one vital plank we must fashion prior to putting it all together.

That plank is differentiation.

Let’s start by defining differentiation. My American Heritage Dictionary defines differentiate thusly: “to become distinct or specialized; acquire a different character”.  That works for me, except I’d add this: “in order to achieve a unique and compelling competitive advantage”.

It’s the way you will fundamentally position your offering in an unoccupied portion of your product category. Or it may be the way you create an entirely new product category.

Marty Neumeier, author and consultant of the highest caliber, wrote an entire book around the concept of “ZAG”. When others zig, you zag. Incidentally, the title of the book is ZAG, and you can get it by clicking on the title. I recommend it.

Jack Trout, co-author of Positioning: a Battlefield for Your Mind, also wrote a book on differentiation. It is called Differentiate or Die. You can also buy this book by clicking the title.

Marketing a truly unique service, or a specialty product, or a new type of event can differentiate you.

Another class of differentiator can be deliberately achieved if accompanied by good timing and a modicum of luck. These include being preferred by authorities, being on the leading edge of a hot trend, establishing industry standards around your product’s proprietary strength, or being an industry (or neighborhood) leader.

Then there are the differentiators that a company can create deliberately through core competencies. It may be in the way a product is made (materials, process, patent), or the way in which a service is performed. It might have to do with the way you concentrate your attention on particular design aspects (like safety, ergonomics, or customization). Another differentiator might be the commitment you make to a particular market or market segment. It is possible to become a leader in certain segments through a concentration of resources. Or perhaps you can establish a unique distribution model.

Note that all these differentiators are derived from a strategic commitment to them. They are not marketing/advertising tactics. Unless they emanate from the business’s very core, they will be, rightly, viewed as so much hype.

Only one powerful and customer-relevant differentiator is enough.

Martin Jelsema

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