Brand differentiation is the claim of every marketer. Few succeed.

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

13 June 2014

Most brand think they are different, but they’re not

Everywhere I go as a presenter, speaker or strategist, I hear companies talk about brand diifferentiation 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.

“If you are looking for real points of brand differentiation, you need to fly right past platitudes and generalities.”

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.

Brand Differentiation as a marketing goalI 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.

See more posts in the following related categories: brand positioning Branding


  1. Corbin

    “Then you must make it true”

    Companies want to do this but when they realize it can be difficult or out of their comfort level they stop.

    Making it is hard work as you say and it baffles me just how many companies don’t want to do that little bit more for the potentially much greater payoff.

  2. Mike Oz

    I agree, Corbin. Especially about the hard work. Most marketers just slap on a product benefit they believe is different without objectively looking at their own brand and the competition.

    • Tom Dougherty

      They need to think about emotional connections and not simply rational benefits.

  3. Mark D.

    Being great and different takes effort and devotion and a willingness to peel away the layers of the onion. Too often we take the easy path rather than the tough one. Frost said it perfectly, “it made all the difference.”


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Bonus system perpetuates media struggles

  Media struggles   Tom Dougherty, CEO - Stealing Share 25 June 2019 Bonus system perpetuates media struggles I get the reasoning for it, but a newspaper paying bonuses to reporters whose stories drive page views is a profoundly bad idea. The recent years of...

Stop eliminating the chief marketing officer

  Chief Marketing Officer   Tom Dougherty, CEO - Stealing Share 24 June 2019 Stop eliminating the chief marketing officer There’s a damaging trend developing in the marketing departments of major companies. The elimination of the chief marketing officer...

Share This