Stop Trying to Differentiate your Brand

Marketing teams often spend eye-watering amounts of time and money looking for something that often doesn’t matter, usually has no impact and is likely to make their advertising less effective. Differentiation. Yes, the thing that plagues most marketing textbooks and every PowerPoint on branding. It’s supposed to be the crux of every brand strategy and unfortunately, it’s nonsense.

The trouble is that we’ve forgotten that branding is about being distinctive. Not different. They are not the same thing. The idea of a supermarket doing lots of small things to improve customer experience isn’t unique to Tesco. It’s not different. But “Every Little Helps” is most certainly distinctive. As is often the case in life, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that counts.

Broadly speaking, it seems clients (and some agencies) are more content with bland creative on a differentiated positioning, than they are a distinctive piece of communication on a category norm. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve spent vast amounts of time and money scrabbling around for the one obscure thing that’s unique to their brand. But the consumer hasn’t seen the boardroom presentation. They couldn’t care less.

According to the APG, “analysis of the IPA Databank suggests that, while branding is key to long-term profit, campaigns focusing on differentiation underperform.”

This also won’t be news to anyone from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, which has decades of research showing that most successful brands don’t have a differentiated positioning.

So why are clients so insistent on this approach? I suspect there are two reasons. Firstly, most new marketing teams want to make their mark. So, propositions are constantly revaluated. Secondly, I think everyone is under the impression that their brand must be able to ‘own’ something.

In a meeting someone will say, “Yeah but we don’t own that. Any one of our competitors could claim that.”

This is rubbish. Ads do not need to convey a USP. Nor do brands need to be functionally differentiated from their competitors.

Before 1988, there would have been nothing stopping Adidas using the strapline ‘Just Do It’. There’s nothing particularly ownable about that line. Dettol ads claim, “Kills 99.9% of bacteria”. In fact, most antibacterial surface cleaners do exactly the same thing. Yet Dettol is the No.1 worldwide in antiseptic personal care.

All I ask is that marketing teams choose creative routes that will make their brand stand out. If you want to own something, talk about that thing in a distinctive way and with time, money and the nerve to stick with it, you will own it. Next time you’re faced with a potential line, the question isn’t ‘Is it own-able?’, it’s ‘How can we own it?’.

I still have absolutely no idea what Vorsprung Durch Technik means. I don’t need to.

I just know it means Audi.

At Ponderosa, we put strategy and planning at the heart of everything we do. If you need help making your brand more distinctive, get in touch.

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