Everywhere I go as a presenter, speaker or strategist, I hear companies talk about brand Differentiation as a marketing goal. It seems that all marketers learned in business school that they must emphasize product differentiation.
The problem is that, when we take a close look at those differentiation promises, they are as similar as identical twins. You cannot find the room to pass a sheet of paper between the claims of competitors.
Why does this happen? One school of thought is that, early in their education, marketers were all taught the same principles and practices. Everyone does SWAT analyses and everybody talks about their brand’s point of differentiation.
I actually think it is caused by mental laziness and unwillingness to challenge all the clichés and jargon of the marketing’s accepted terms. Critical thinking is rare and therefore should be valuable.
If you are looking for real points of brand differentiation, you need to fly right past platitudes and generalities. Stop all the talking about category benefits such as hiring the best people, concentrating on customer service and ensuring excellence. Those are great goals but, because we are talking about strategy here, we need to discuss the processes that deliver those benefits. Let’s get our promises connected to the way in which you deliver value.
Then you must make it true.
Consider Coca-Cola for a moment. For as many years as I can remember, Coke has promised to be the Real Thing. No doubt it believes it lives that ideal everyday. But, how real is Coke?
If, as a brand, you promise that everything you do and make is real and authentic, then you would think that Coke might spend a bit more on its flagship brand and replace the corn syrup with the real thing — cane sugar.
What would change at Pizza Hut if it really believed that what made it different was based on its promise, “Make it Great”? Now there is a different claim than what John Schnatter blandly reassures us that his stores have better ingredients and therefore better pizza. No wonder the entire pizza category fights on who can cut the most nickels off the $10 pizza pie.
The market is full of this sort of silliness. Companies and brands claim meaningless values and then define those values in meaningless and benign ways.
We all know why this happens. It is because being truly different is hard work. Owning an emotionally important claim requires critical thinking and an understanding of the prospect in ways that go further and deeper than platitudes.
For those who have a real focus on stealing market share, this is good news. Being important and preferred is a very low bar indeed.