5 + 1 Techniques for Creating Brand Differentiation


Creating Brand Differentiation

 If you’re from California, you may have seen the “Top Tier Served Here” campaign that is now being run by virtually every gas station you go to. I originally pitched this campaign in late 2013 to a regional player. They test marketed it at one station and within two months, British Petroleum rolled out the exact same marketing at every one of their Arco AM/PM gas stations within California. The “Top Tier” designation is an industry award that has been created that serves to differentiate gas station brands that use more detergents in their fuel than the average. In this case, the benchmark they use is, double the federally mandated level. The kicker is, all gasoline sold in California automatically qualifies for this award since CA regulations mandate that all gas sold in CA contain double the federally mandated level of detergents. Despite this fact, the “Top Tier” campaign was able to create market separation (until the campaign reached the point of overexposure). In this post, I wanted to spend some time delving deeper into this issue, as well as offer some tips on how you can easily create differentiation for your own brand.

Why Is Brand Differentiation Important?

 I know this seems completely obvious and there are more than a few readily apparent advantages that brand differentiation brings, so I wanted to touch on this subject from a different angle specifically for this audience. Brand differentiation is often equitable to your competitive advantage. Many fresh entrepreneurs tend to think that the most successful businesses are the ones that create a completely new product or industry, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most businesses become successful because they figure out some competitive advantage that makes them stand out from the competition in their niche. Most businesses stay successful because they are able to do this repeatedly as new and old competitors try to erode their market-share. Nine time out of ten, if there’s no competition in a niche, it’s because that niche is a dud, not a goldmine. If you’re ever stuck looking for business ideas, take a deep look into the biggest brands in a niche you are passionate about and try to find some area in which they are underperforming or a demographic they are ignoring and simply focus on creating solutions to fill that void.

Techniques To Differentiate Your Brand

 Packaging: As a marketer, I like bringing this one up because it shows the true power that marketing can have. I also like to discuss this topic first because it showcases how creative you can get with these concepts. There is a story that is now pretty infamous in the marketing world that goes something like this; there was a regional grocery store that produced their own off brand products such as soda, canned goods, and sugar. When it came to the sugar, they were able to create a campaign that did the unthinkable, it propelled sales of their off brand sugar higher than the name brands. The very simple thing that they did was add the messaging “does not contain salt” prominently on their packaging, again for sugar. While all sugar logically doesn’t contain salt, it’s really hard to choose the package that doesn’t say that it does not contain salt when you have a package staring you in the face stating this fact. This is both the simplest and most beautiful use of marketing to create brand differentiation that I have ever heard of.

Customer Service: I felt that this topic was worthy of this slot despite the fact that it is extremely obvious because of how often companies still tend to ignore this. More specifically related to marketing, almost every marketing related survey I have ever seen ranks customer service in the top 3 as far as importance when deciding on a brand. If you create a world class customer service department, and then figure out some way to market it beyond listing “Best In Class Customer Service” as one of your selling points in your ads, you will have attained one of the best and most durable forms of differentiation that money can buy.

 Product Quality: At the behest of my wife, I recently started a leggings company that has been going gangbusters. The biggest player in the niche got to be the biggest initially off the back of their product quality but that has taken a nose dive within the last 6 months because they moved to an overseas manufacturer and have seemingly lost control of product oversight. I was able to exploit this niche because I made connections with a local textile manufacturer (and because my wife has access to an amazingly large network of people within this community). Producing a higher quality product is obviously more expensive and when companies get to the point where they are looking to cut costs, this is often the first place they turn to which means there is always some niche somewhere where this is currently a brand differentiation looking to be exploited.

 Luxury: One of the best consumer behavior studies I have seen regarding luxury was from an institute that did an experiment with wine. In this experiment, they bought wine from a gas station and served it to two groups of test subjects. For the first group, they told them it was gas station wine and all of the participants wrote reviews about how rancid it was. For the second group, they poured the wine into a more expensive bottle and told the participants that it cost $100. Almost all of the participants in this group wrote pleasant reviews of the wine. It’s a simple concept but it is often ignored, don’t try to fill a hole in the market by being the cheapest brand around. Rather, try to be the most expensive.

 Convenience: If you study the academic literature on marketing, they have recently added an additional step to their buyer behavior models. This step comes right after the consumer has made the decision that a particular brand will satisfy their need and they have agreed to the price in their minds, but before they actually make the purchase, and this is the action step. There are numerous reasons why consumers fail to proceed past the action step but the biggest is that the purchase is not convenient in some way. While it’s somewhat clichéd at this point, Netflix’s toppling of Blockbuster is still the best example of how important this point is (some might say Uber is a better recent example but I think Uber’s success came from a lot more than focusing on making getting a ride more convenient).

If you are still wondering what the plus one is that I referenced in the title, it’s exactly what I mentioned in the introduction, Industry Awards. Consumer research shows that consumers rank prestigious independent awards such as JD Power and Associates' various awards, just as highly in their decision-making calculus as a personal recommendation.