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Be Distinct, not Different...
Posted by
Nicole Zetler at 10:00

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?

It's actually about being distinctive, not differentiated!

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.

Distinctive brands are noticed and get consumers talking:

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!

Distinctive brands have longevity and move people from being brand users to brand advocates:

Think about the small shifts you can do to create a distinctive brand:

  • Look beyond your industry for inspiration 
  • Identify what the category norms and stereotypes are; and break them
  • Make curiosity an objective and ensure that your brand activities constantly drive consumer interest
  • Innovate wherever you can
  • Always try to do things differently
  • Focus on true customer needs and base your brand on real market insight and a brand truth that you can actually deliver

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!" 

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