Why brands need to be seen as different and distinctive

Why brands need to be seen as different and distinctive

Several years ago now I wrote a Point of View titled “It Is Not a Choice: Brands Should Seek Differentiation and Distinctiveness.” I still cannot imagine why a marketer would choose one quality over another because they are both important, unless, of course, it is simply easier to change your logo than it is to create meaningful differentiation.

As I noted in a recent M&M Global post, perceived differentiation is driven more by whether people view the brand as unique, like Burberry, or setting the trends for its category, like Apple. Difference can be driven by an innovative product, positioning or even tone of voice. Distinctiveness is driven by sensory and semantic cues that make the brand easy to recognize, for example colors, packaging, logo, design or taglines.

The evidence we have based on consumer perceptions of nearly 5,000 brands measured in last year’s BrandZ survey (look out for the launch of BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands on Wednesday) , suggests that the two qualities are highly related – even when we remove the influence of brand size (r=0.78). I conclude that,

“Marketers need to strive to make their brands both different and distinctive: different in order to justify a price premium over close alternatives, distinctive in order to trigger pre-existing, positive feelings during search or shopping. The two qualities are both highly desirable but, sadly, most brands are lacking in both.”

There are other consumer-driven reasons why you might seek to make your brand as meaningfully different as possible but there is perhaps a more important corporate benefit. Knowing what makes a brand meaningfully different provides a reference point for all the people working on that brand: inside and outside the company. It helps them know what to do and say and what not. Further, I would suggest that knowing what makes your brand meaningfully distinctive gives you a big head start in ensuring that it is distinctive.

A while back, Gordon Pincott and I developed a one day workshop called ValueDrivers that helped define a brand’s potential meaningful difference and then examine how best to reflect that difference in activities designed to amplify the brand, including design elements, marketing partners and sponsorships and the like (for more details see Brand Premium). It is always tough to get to one thing that everyone agreed on, but once people knew what the brand stood for it became really easy to identify what was likely to work for it and what was not and what design assets fit and what did not.

All of which makes me wonder if we are not making an artificial distinction between difference and distinctiveness. What do you think? Please share your thoughts.

by Nigel Hollis, Millward Brown| May 25, 2015

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