Branding Through Differentiation

It’s not enough for your company to merely offer a great product or service. To get ahead of the field, today’s competitive marketplace demands that business owners establish and develop a distinct brand.

It’s important that your brand help create and further a clear identity, one that every employee, from the CEO down to the sales team, can understand and get behind. The brand must be your mantra, and it needs to be one that can be stated succinctly. It also needs to translate easily to advertising, marketing, graphics, display, and collateral campaigns.

The real key to increased market share is differentiation. How you approach differentiation depends on your particular product or business. The critical starting point is understanding whether your business or your product is the brand. For instance, Procter & Gamble manufactures and sells countless products but consumers far more readily recognize P&G’s individual product lines: Mr. Clean, Tide, Crest, Folgers, and Charmin, for example. That’s intentional branding that favors the product, not the company. However, for most small businesses, the business itself will be the brand. How you proceed depends on whether your company or product varies greatly from your competitors or whether you’re one of several companies offering similar goods or services.

No matter what, you must determine with certainty who is and who is not the intended audience. Good branding also considers how best to position your company, so you might weigh age, class, or lifestyle factors if your goal is to appeal to one of these groups. With a general demographic in mind, you can further differentiate your product. The key is zeroing in on what makes your company or product most noticeable or special. If the point of differentiation is that your product is the least expensive item on the market, that point can become part of your branding strategy, allowing the positioning of your product as the best bargain. Conversely, if your product is expensive, positioning it as the most luxurious could be smart branding.

Some products might be more suited for an attitudinal approach to branding. For instance, a special events planning business or singing telegram company might be able to go wacky, zany, and fun with its branding, whereas a financial planning services company or health-care provider would be more suited to a steady, measured, confidence-building approach.

Differentiation is more difficult when products seem less outwardly different. For example, insurance agencies often offer the same basic types of insurance programs. In such cases, the brand identity of the business must be more inherent, so these companies might be more successful by playing up the trust, loyalty, or experience angles of their reputations rather than exploiting differences where there are few.

Companies need to be smart about branding so they don’t waste time. One way to be efficient is to be conscious of the desired and targeted overall market share. If you’re one of several businesses providing a basic commodity or service, such as an insurance agency or a financial planner, you’ll probably want to take a conservative approach with broad appeal. If, however, you’re a niche sporting goods producer of an extreme-snowboarding accessory, focus your branding on the narrow margin of dedicated athletes who crave the latest product.

If your brand manages to communicate your company’s core values and distinguishes your product, you’re on your way to success. Expend energy determining your differentiation strategy and your brand may very well take on a life of its own. Differentiation can lead to that edge your brand needs to gain consumer recognition in the market, and once you’ve got your brand and identity percolating, you can get down to the business of building and growing your brand.