Us marketers are obsessed with the concept
ofdifferentiation.Perhaps it's because this piece of brand wisdom
has been drilled into us from an early age, or maybe it's because
we cannot conceive of developing a marketing strategy or campaign
without it. Indeed, differentiation has become our holy grail - a
sacred something that we hope to find and implement in order to
guarantee brand success.
Yet if we take a step back and place ourselves in the consumers'
shoes, it is apparent that the differentiation is actually not so
different. Consider the skin care category as an example. If we
were to remove the logos and taglines from marketing collateral,
you would be left with a horde of generic messages and a mass of
beautiful, half naked people.
Marketers often forget how much time we spend looking at an
industry, with the devotion and detail that few people would even
think of. This results in great differences perceived by marketers,
but to the average consumer, these are actually minor variations
that go unnoticed.
So if differentiation is not so differentiated, how do marketers
get brands to stand out from competitors?
Being different isn't enough to create consumer brand preference
and stand out. The term distinctive can be defined as
"distinguishing characteristics that have a special quality and are
markedly individual". Contrasted to 'differentiation', it implies
true uniqueness as opposed to a difference. It's distinctiveness
that captures the hearts and minds of customers, not differences
that are usually overlooked. The local banking industry serves as a
great example where being distinct reigns supreme: FNB acknowledged
that people viewed the category as being boring. Who wouldn't?
After all a bank is a bank is a bank, isn't it? By turning the
category on its head and through small, yet significant
innovations, FNB could undisputedly be classified as the most stand
out banking brand in South Africa. It has turned an uninspiring
category into one worth talking about ('Hello Steve!') and people
have followed suit by switching over to FNB.
Instead of differentiating to break through the flock of
competitor brands, distinctive brands focus on breaking away
completely. They go beyond the category and transcend into our
wider culture. For instance, consider how Facebook as a brand has
changed our lives. Instead of creating minor differentiated
attributes that would distinguish themselves from MySpace, they
created a unique brand that seeped into cultures around the world.
The same can be said for brands like Apple, Nike, Nandos,
Starbucks… and even Madonna!
Think about the small shifts you can do to create a distinctive
In essence, it's not about being different, but rather it's
about being distinct and unique. As the great Dr Suess said: "Today
you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is
youer than you!"