Solo(ish): Insights on Brand Strategy
50 Ways to Differentiate Your brand
The Paradox of Wanting a Unique Brand Everybody wants a brand that’s different. The irony of that statement is intentional. It belies the conservative manner in which most brands approach competitive difference. They say they want to be distinctive to consumers but often, in their heart of hearts, they actually want to align (read conform) […]

The Paradox of Wanting a Unique Brand

Everybody wants a brand that’s different. The irony of that statement is intentional. It belies the conservative manner in which most brands approach competitive difference. They say they want to be distinctive to consumers but often, in their heart of hearts, they actually want to align (read conform) with the rest of the industry. One of the key issues for that is an uncertainty on the part of brand makers and decision makers to find a starting point.

Starting Simple: A Single Degree of Separation

In some ways, starting a unique branding approach is less difficult and daunting than it first appears. Begin with a premise that is truly one degree away from your rivals. By logically progressing that premise over time, and with strong discipline, you will build a brand that is consistently and markedly different.

50 Ways to Make Your Brand Stand Out

1. Embrace the Slow

Go slow in a world of speed. Each Rolex takes a year to manufacture. The perception that a longer process is needed to build the world’s best timepiece also reinforces the value.

2. Geographical Identity

Use country of origin to your advantage. Brands from Switzerland are highly associated with precision and fine craftsmanship. Seek to build brand associations with countries that support your reputation for service, manufacturing, innovation etc.

3. Customer Interaction

Behave differently. Online shoe retailer Zappos has built its advantage on an iron clad return policy and customer service that goes above and beyond, breaking down the perceived barriers of selling and buying shoes online.

4. Visual Identity

Look different. Apple always looks like Apple. Diesel always looks like Diesel. Absolut Vodka always looks like Absolut. They’re in a sector but they don’t look like part of the sector.

5. The Underdog Appeal

Be the underdog in a sector where everyone else wants to be top dog. Nantucket Nectars started “with only a blender and a dream,” and Clif Bar proclaims that its founder once lived in a garage. Underdogs win the compassionate consumer. Look for the underdog story you can tell.

6. Controversy with a Cause

Be truly and unapologetically shocking. Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign ruffled feathers on almost every front. But – and this is critical – the outrage you generate must link to a solution and that solution should be your front. Otherwise, you simply risk shouting into the wind.

7. Discover New Audiences

Expand your appeal. “Discover” an untapped audience in your sector and, by drawing them in, intensify the sense of community around your brand and the interaction that people have with the brand. Enterprise Rent-A-Car did just that by offering leasing at a time when competitors did not. By serving this unmet need with attention to customer experience, Enterprise became the world’s number 1 car rental company.

8. Redefine a Category

(Re)Invent a category – and own it. UFC became the fastest growing sports organization in the world by redefining the reach and the audience for mixed martial arts. Today, UFC produces more than 30 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world.

9. Create a New Category

The Toyota Prius, the Nintendo Wii, and Red Bull are all brands that created new categories, outside the established norms of their product category. By stepping outside the bounds of their categories, these brands created a space that they can call their own.

10. Unique Brand Stories

Tell a story that defines you and is unique to you. The story may be about your founder as in the case with Virgin and Richard Branson, your heritage like Hickory Farms or the value you bring to the world like Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness. It may also be based in imagination – like the thought that Keebler elves make Keebler cookies. Or perhaps it’s a story based on your highly guarded secret – only two people in the world know Coca-Cola’s formula.

This is just a snapshot of the diverse strategies that brands can adopt to forge a distinctive path in the marketplace. With each of these strategies, brands have the opportunity to carve out a unique space for themselves, leveraging everything from their origins and customer experiences to their visual identity and narrative. To truly differentiate, a brand must not only aspire to be different but must also embrace and cultivate these differences in every aspect of its operation and presentation.

11. Legacy and Innovation

Forge new ground in the spirit of your founder. Chanel continues to personify the philosophies, ideals, and legend of Coco Chanel long after her death.

12. Leveraging History

Leverage your history to define tomorrow. National Geographic has redefined what it means to experience the world we never see by expanding their channels and offerings while still holding their history close.

13. Owning Eternal Ideas

Own an eternal idea. Red Bull expresses in every action its belief in, and addiction to, excitement. Ingredients, spirit, sponsorships and the human desire to do things that make the heart race are inextricably linked.

14. Technological Innovation

Change the possibilities. This is about more than just product innovation. It’s about the introduction of technologies that completely change how people can live. Google may well redefine how we see with Google Glass.

15. Be the First to New Markets

Make active plans to be where others aren’t (yet). While Chinese consumers are now overwhelmed by Western brands, other countries in Asia with booming economies like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines remain largely overlooked.

16. Solving Global Challenges

Solve a global problem. “Big bang” solutions in areas like pharmaceuticals or biotechnology require huge investment and scary timeframes, but when they work, they deliver huge distinction, kudos, and profits.

17. Creating a Groundswell

Build groundswell. Do something startling to generate attention. Use attention to build a crowd. Use a crowd to gain credibility. Use credibility as the jumping-off point for your next distinctive act.

18. Redefining Purchase Experience

Redefine how people buy. With millions of products, 24/7 access, superior search and browse technology, offers a superior purchase experience.

19. Infusing Optimism

Bring unprecedented optimism to a sector. Nike redefined what people believed they should be capable of.

20. Connecting the Unconnected

Connect the previously unconnected. LinkedIn brought business people together so that they could network and share ideas in a way that was effortless, credible, and global.

21. Rewriting Experiences

Rewrite the experience. Southwest Airlines put the fun, the quirkiness and the savings back into the serious and process-packed world of travel. Starbucks differentiated not on coffee, but on a ‘third place’ – a respite between home and work.

22. Personalization

Make what you sell feel even more personal. Personalization can transform a generic product into a must-have item.

23. Tying Brands to Occasions

Link your brand to specific occasions. Habits are powerful, but occasions may be even more so. De Beers, Hallmark, Mercedes, Hershey, and others have tapped into occasions or created occasions and have made themselves synonymous with the celebration of those occasions.

24. Licensing Strategies

License to brand. Brand licensing can bring valuable new meaning to a brand, further differentiating it from its competitors. Pillsbury licenses the Cinnabon brand to enhance its cinnamon rolls.

25. Breaking Conventional Wisdom

Break away from conventional wisdom. Breakaway brands bring new meanings to the party and make the most of the stretch, holding on to enough of the old to avoid category defection.

The continuation of these points illustrates the diverse and dynamic strategies brands can deploy to establish themselves as unique in their respective markets. Whether through leveraging history, embracing technological advancements, or connecting previously unconnected individuals, each strategy provides a blueprint for differentiating and sustaining a brand in a crowded and competitive landscape. By actively choosing one or more of these strategies, brands can create meaningful differences that resonate with their target audiences, ultimately ensuring their growth and relevance in the market.

26. Changing Names for Appeal

Change the name. Sometimes your original name doesn’t sound appealing enough. For example, the Chinese gooseberry was renamed to kiwi fruit, which helped it become a global favorite.

27. Personification

Personify your brand. The Green Giant character became synonymous with vegetables, and Frank Perdue personified his brand as the tough man behind tender chicken.

28. Introducing New Products

Create a new item. Innovate within your category like introducing Cornish game hens instead of “miniature chickens” to create an appealing product niche.

29. Repositioning

Reposition the category. “The other white meat” campaign for pork changed its market perception at a time when red meat faced health scrutiny.

30. Emphasizing Identity

Identify, identify, identify. Use branding to make ordinary products stand out, like Chiquita with bananas or Dole with pineapples.

31. Expertise and Specialization

Be the expert or specialist. Focusing on one product or benefit can help penetrate the market more effectively, such as Domino’s with its fast delivery service.

32. Pricing Strategy

Price with pride. High pricing can suggest superior quality, as seen with Starbucks coffee and Singapore Airlines.

33. Leveraging Ingredient Brands

Use Ingredient Brands. For instance, The North Face uses Gore-Tex technology to highlight its performance differentiation.

34. Targeting Specific Markets

Highly target a market. FOX News, for example, caters specifically to an audience with conservative political views, establishing a strong brand identity.

35. Changing Distribution Methods

Change the reach. How your product or service is delivered can set you apart, such as Redbox with its convenient DVD rental kiosks compared to online streaming services.

36. Offering Exclusive Access

Give unprecedented access. Concorde offered faster flights and networking opportunities, distinguishing it from standard airlines.

37. Building on Shared Values

Share values. When a brand is built on shared values, like Patagonia with its environmental focus, it can resonate deeply with its customer base.

38. Aligning with Customer Ideals

Stand for something your customers want to stand for. Brands like Kashi align their product ethos with the health and well-being values of their consumers.

39. Innovative Packaging

Give them something to unwrap. Packaging design, like the iconic Tiffany & Co. box, can be a powerful differentiator.

40. Sensory Engagement

Engage the senses. Hotels use signature scents to create a unique and memorable environment that distinguishes them from competitors.

41. Celebrity Endorsements

Put a famous face to your brand. Ensure there’s authentic alignment between the celebrity and the brand for effective endorsements.

42. Redefining Product Usage

Redefine usage. Arm & Hammer Baking Soda found new life as a deodorizer, expanding its market significantly.

43. Simplifying Consumer Lives

Introduce simplicity and purity. Brands like Honest Tea cater to desires for less processed and more natural products.

44. Emotional Connections

Tap into the power of emotions. Brands like GEICO use humor to stand out in the insurance market, which traditionally uses fear-based messaging.

45. Controlling Accessibility

Control the accessibility. Luxury brands often limit production to increase desirability and maintain a high-value perception.

46. Focus on Design and Aesthetics

Consider aesthetics in product design. Brands like Hermès and Alexander McQueen focus on distinctive designs to stand out.

47. Conveying Status

Convey status. Certain brands are associated with social status, and using them as identifiers can communicate wealth and prestige.

48. Unique Purchase Experiences

Create a unique product purchase experience. Build-A-Bear Workshop offers a personalized approach that differs vastly from standard toy purchases.

49. Unusual Themes

Create an unusual theme or twist to your brand. Themed restaurants like Opaque (dining in the dark) offer unique experiences that are memorable and distinctive.

50. Exceptional Customer Service

Treat people differently than your competitors do. The Ritz-Carlton’s motto emphasizes a high level of service that fosters strong customer loyalty.

These strategies demonstrate that differentiation can come through many avenues—product innovation, marketing tactics, customer engagement, and service excellence. By integrating these approaches, brands can establish a compelling and distinctive identity that not only attracts attention but also builds lasting customer loyalty.

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