You might have a good company that’s profitable and endearing to your customers, but is there anything that sets it apart as different and distinctive? If most business owners are honest, their brands play it safe and closely mimic the competition. This limits a company’s growth potential and creates noticeable limitations in terms of reach and engagement.
Distinctive Branding Over Uniqueness
Every entrepreneur, business owner, and marketing executive wants to believe their brand is unique from the competition, but this is rarely true. Even in spaces with very recognizable brands, there isn’t much uniqueness between competitors.
Take Coca-Cola and Pepsi as an example. Is there anything that Coke does that makes them unique from Pepsi? The same goes for McDonald’s and Wendy’s. When you drill down to the heart of their businesses, you’ll see that they’re selling burgers and fries in a fast-food setting with an emphasis on consistency and low prices.
So to say that a brand has to be unique in order to be successful would be a misstatement. As soon as a unique company enters the market and enjoys success, dozens will follow it. (See Uber and the handful of companies that have tried to replicate its success.) What truly matters is distinctiveness.
As brand strategist Jenay Sellers writes, “Distinctiveness has nothing to do with how a product functions or its selling propositions – it’s the elements of a brand that make it recognizable and different. When unique elements are tied back to a brand, they are known as ‘distinctive assets.’”
Top brands really aren’t viewed as being radically different from the competition. As much as they may like to think they excel in this area, the reality is that consumers don’t see all of the small nuances that brand strategists and marketing executives wish they’d notice. So instead of spending tons of money on developing a revolutionary business model, you should really be looking at ways to make your brand distinctive.
In essence, distinctiveness is a brand’s ability to stand out in a way that buyers can easily and readily identify it amongst competitors. Think of the McDonald’s “Golden Arches” or Nike’s “Swoosh.” Distinctiveness is about a brand looking like itself.
“This characteristic is far more critical for brands than differentiation, as they need customers to quickly notice, recognize, and recall their brand over others,” marketing professional Kat Gebert explains. “Not only this, but distinctiveness, or branding, is legally defensible. Branding can be trademarked, but points of differentiation cannot.”
How to Make Your Brand Distinctive
If it were easy to make a brand distinctive, there would never be any confusion or challenges with differentiation. But don’t let the challenges of setting your brand apart prevent you from doing so.
Here are some practical pointers, ideas, and examples:
1. Unique and Distinctive
Before discussing this topic any further, let’s be clear about one thing: There’s nothing wrong with being unique. You need some sort of unique value proposition in order to build a successful brand. However, doing so in isolation won’t do you much good. You need to do something unique and have a distinctive brand supporting it.
King Price Insurance is a great example. Not only do they have distinctive branding with rich red colors and a recognizable crown-emblazoned logo, but they also do something unique. In an industry where car insurance rates typically go up over time, King Price offers car insurance premiums that decrease on a monthly basis. Once customers hear about this, they instinctively tie it back to the King Price brand.
“If a brand element is unique to your brand, every time a customer sees it, they can strengthen the memory structure linking that element to your brand, increasing the likelihood of buying in the future,” Gebert says. “Uniqueness simply makes your brand more identifiable.”
2. Embrace Your Audience, Not Your Industry
Give your customers what they want, right? While this seems like a pretty simple idea, it’s one that seems to be forgotten. Brands often spend more time trying to embrace the industry in which they operate – trying to live up to the standards that competitors have established – rather than giving customers the answers they’re seeking. By flipping this script and focusing on the customer over the industry, you can make your brand distinctive.
Dollar Shave Club provides a perfect illustration of this. Their brand literally breaks every rule that previously existed in the “razor” market. They go straight to consumers, offer low-priced products, and deliver marketing messages that are blunt, humorous, and straight to the point. Their actual razors may not be very different than the razors another company sells, but their branding is distinctive.
3. What’s Your Signature?
In addition to creating a recognizable logo and sticking with consistent color schemes, fonts, and marketing slogans, you need a signature action that’s tangible and sensory. In other words, you need something that your brand does that immediately creates an “Of course they would!” moment in the customer’s mind.
For example, if you’ve ever been to a Moe’s Southwest Grill, you know that you’re going to be greeted with a loud and animated “Welcome to Moe’s!” every time you walk in the door. Or if you’ve ever stayed at a DoubleTree hotel, you know there will be freshly baked cookies. When you walk into a Target store, you know you’ll be hit with that Target “smell.”
The question is, does your company have a signature that’s unique to your brand? While you don’t want to force something, there’s value in tying little elements like this to your brand’s identity. If nothing else, it reinforces who you are every time you engage a customer.
Set Your Brand Apart
Developing a distinctive brand takes time, effort, and plenty of strategizing. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it requires a rigorous commitment to consistency. But if you want to enjoy long-term success, you have no choice but to set your brand apart. And that’s a challenge worth embracing.