Brand differentiation is what signals your audience to pay attention to you. Without it, the audience has no basis for choosing you. So finding your brand’s differentiator is not an easy task, but it is an essential one to help you stand out among competitors. And while you may think you have defined and are communicating a solid brand differentiation, does it really resonate with and motivate your audience to action?
Start Internally with the Why
Before you can define what makes your brand truly different, you have to uncover why your brand exists. In 2009 Simon Sinek lead a popular TEDx Talk that has now been viewed by over 3.7 million viewers on YouTube. In the talk, he asks businesses to start with the question “Why does your organization exists?” The answer to this question is often linked to your organization’s mission statement and values. These touchstones are at the core of any brand differentiator. Truly understanding your company’s “why” will lead you in the direction of your true differentiator.
This is also what will then motivate your employees to not only embrace, but believe in and get excited about the brand. Why should you expect your customers to love your brand if you can’t convince your employees to do the same? Employees should have complete understanding not only of what their company does and how they do it, but more importantly, why it exists. If you asked all of your employees why your company exists, would the same theme emerge? Companies who know and own their brand differentiation start internally. And then continue to engage them through your company’s culture. Employees at Apple aren’t part of the company just because they like phones or computers. They’re aligned with Apple’s mission to “think different” because they believe in challenging the market through great design and industry-leading innovation. And this attitude doesn’t stop at their products, but spreads through their company’s culture.
Brand Differentiation Means Specifics
After identifying your “why”, you then need communicate to your customers so what you have to say resonates and helps them understand how you will make them better. To accomplish this, understand what motivates your key target audience. Begin with how your business meets a rational need/want that your audience has. What are you offering them that is a solution to one of their problems? How are you accomplishing this in a way that’s different than your competitors? Refusing to commit to defining your brand differentiation doesn’t make your organization inclusive but rather sends mixed messages to customers who have no bias for choosing you.
To start this exercise, ask yourself what your organization does better than anyone else. Be specific and honest.
Yes, you may be innovative…but how? Can you back that claim up with statistics that resonate? Of course you have greatest employees who know how to get the job done, but how can you prove they care more than your competitors? Do you have customer service data? Are they better to work with due to a higher level of collaboration? Or offer a level of transparency that your competitors can’t or won’t? If you communicate your differentiator using empty buzzwords and no specifics, your audience will lose your point of difference in the white noise of what they perceive as empty promises.
Brand Communication that Sticks
Once you’ve framed the specifics as to what your point of difference is, you should then remind your customers why you do what you do. As Simon Sinek mentioned, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” People are motivated by rational as well as emotional thoughts and opinions. While one side tends to win in the tug-of-war that is decisionmaking, people still want to align themselves with others who have common beliefs and goals. For example, telling your key audience of airplane OEMs that your point of difference is “a factory line that reduces quality error by 10%” is great product differentiation, but following it up with “because we know how important it is to get your passengers home safely” tells the audience why you’re in business. The emotional motivator behind your “why” is where your audience can relate because it is a core belief they also hold.
Evaluate the Relevance of Your Brand Differentiation
The only constant in business, as in with life, is change. And the pace of change is rapidly increasing in our digital age. As your business grows and improves processes along with services, your brand differentiation could alter. This is true for your competitors too. They are watching the marketplace and listening to their customer’s needs as well. The way you once communicated your brand differentiator could be adopted by your competitor within three to five years. Or due to market changes, your target audiences has a new problem that’s leaving them hungry for a solution. Your business structure could also have a stellar new service offering or increased department performance that’s setting the bar at a new high in your industry. Whatever the disruptor may be, you are guaranteed that there will be one in the marketplace.
This is why it is so important to continue to evaluate your brand differentiation and understand if you’re still communicating it in a way that resonates with your audience. Does your point of difference still stand out from your competitors? If not, then it is important to adjust your brand communication so your audience understands your point of difference is solving their problem, and then again remind them of why you exist.
Each organization has something different to offer its audiences. This differentiation may be similar to competitors, but how you communicate emotionally and inspirationally it is what really sets you apart.