Brand Differentiation. It’s what we as business people talk about and try to achieve. However in any given market space there are a hand full of businesses that most consumers, much to our chagrin, see us as homogenous brands with interchangeable logos. So the question becomes how do we separate our brands and create space between us and the peloton of competition behind us. Let me illustrate with this anecdote.
As a marketing manager I am called upon by sales representative by printing companies wanting to talk to me about their printing capabilities and why I should use their service over the other printers in town. Over the years, I heard countless sales pitches that sounded as if they shared a script. Each had a Heidelberg high-speed press that printed 11 million dots per inch, and my customer’s advertising pieces would look life-like.
Finally one day I was having lunch with a pleasant young woman who pulled out her beautiful folder filled with a plethora of sales brochures and samples, all of which could have come from any of the previous printers that I had met. She then began to layout the reasons I should give her a shot. I stopped her dead in her tracks. I said “let me guess, you have Heidelberg high-speed equipment and can turn my jobs around in 14 minutes, right?” “And they’ll all look so beautiful that I will receive marriage proposals from my customers” I added. She didn’t know what to say so she said “yes!”
That’s when I told her “look (salesperson’s name) I get this from all of you. You all have similar equipment, some of you can do personalized 1:1 direct mail and all of you promise excellent customer service, but do you even know what I want out of a printer,” and it was as if a light went off… and she began asking questions. Now, she really didn’t know WHAT to ask me, since all she had ever been shown was how to “pitch,” but that’s for another story, place and time.
So back to the question, how do brands create real differentiation or “space” in the minds of their audience? Let me let YOU in on a little secret the advertising world has known for a long, long time….YOU SHOW THEM…YOU TELL THEM…YOU PROVE IT TO THEM! Three things you need to keep in mind when it comes to creating an image or “brand”:
- Know who you really are as a brand, what your competitive advantage is and who you are targeting. For example, if you carry high-end, expensive products, you better know that the your clients are going to be expecting performance. So ALL of your advertising, promoting, sales, operations, and even your company vans, better back up that image. If your strategy is to be a low-cost supplier, don’t try to brand yourself as the Cadillac of the industry. Buyers are smart and will figure you out, and your brand will be tarnished.
- If you are not actively creating this brand using electronic and traditional media, you passively allow your brand to be molded by the actions of your employees and information shared among peers in your market. Case in point: a) what position does the Rolex brand have in your mind? b) how did it get there? Thank you.
- Once you get the opportunity, you better deliver. If your brand expectations are high, every phone call should be greeted with smiles, pleases and thank you’s. Your products better deliver on your promises, as should your service levels. And when there is a problem (and they will occur, this we all know), they better be handled promptly and with the customer in mind, not our bottom-line.
- Don’t be afraid to share! The knowledge base within your organization is an untapped source of gold for setting your company apart from the competition. Thought Leadership has been a strategy for years, since the explosion of blogs and video libraries like YouTube. Imagine a company that regularly helped customers think through their problems before they became problems and didn’t even charge them! Now I’m not suggesting you give away trade secrets or patented processes, but there are a wealth of topics that you could expound upon, create value in the minds of your prospects and when the time comes for your product or service, guess who’s positioned right where you wanted to be?
On a personal level, some people are very good at branding themselves and creating space between themselves and the rest of the pack, just ask someone like Donald Trump. Like him or not, you know exactly who he is, he backs it up honestly and he even has a trademark logo. Do you know what it is? (think…hair) But when it comes to business, business leaders often forget it works the same way in their own markets.
Now, a discussion about brand separation, differentiation or space could go on for days, but I have reviewed the key elements, I’ve listed above. Actively telling people who you are helps to create your “brand” or “image” or “position.” Backing it up with the appropriate level of product and service will reinforce the brand you have proactively built.