Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and has been since I was a kid. I grew up on the thrillers of the 1970’s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (be thankful I didn’t choose the other image from that iconic movie). What I liked most about many of the thrillers from back then was that we often didn’t actually see the monster until late in the movie. So much of what scared us was the idea of the monster lurking in the dark.

Many companies have built their brands on promises based on addressing fears – the needs for protection, for reassurance, for status, for achievement, recognition and so on – in a world where so many of those things are portrayed as being at risk. But how successful is fear as an emotive driver today and should we still be using it as a motivation to get people to buy more?

The first thing to be aware of – fear works. While some marketers regard fear as an old-fashioned way of changing attitudes and behaviors, a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2015 and based on 50 years of research shows that fear-based appeals are still effective, particularly when they contain recommendations for one-time only behaviors. According to the article, including a fear element more than doubles the probability of change relative to not presenting a fear motive or including an appeal that has a low fear component.

Some of the reasons for this seem obvious. Fear gives people a reason to pay attention and therefore it instills an emotive reaction. Fear plays to our view of a changing world. And it seems we live in an age where fear is a significant component in the media. As someone remarked recently, the world is now presented to us as an ongoing sequence of dramas. So much is such a big deal that if your message lacks an element of primal response, there’s a risk some will feel that your brand could easily be lost in the noise. The temptation for brands to play up fear is also brought on by the observation that others seem to be using it successfully.

Keith Payne, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, makes the point that the brain is a pattern-seeking machine. In the absence of patterns, we go looking for regularities to make our lives work, he says. Chaos and randomness stress us because they make us feel left out, left behind or out of control. Lack of pattern and predictability induce fear. Too much pattern and predictability, on the other hand, quickly incites boredom and rebellion. We all want to know where we stand. At the same time, we don’t ever want to feel stuck or being seen to be stuck. We fear that.

Social media has generated its own fears, particularly around failure. The article I read that quoted Keith Payne also pointed out that Facebook et al have exploited notions of what is normal. Perfection is now portrayed ubiquitously as achievable and expected. In a time where so much is streamed to us as picture perfect, the fear of missing out or of not keeping up is driving many of those who interact with their world digitally to be highly anxious and chronically over-aware of other people’s achievements and opinions.

Another reason why fear gets our attention is that we have conditioned ourselves to believe that we must not just solve the problems that we face, but do so in ways that vanquish them completely. One of the key reasons for that, according to Brene Brown is we live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. We’re told we’re not getting enough sleep. We worry that we’re not getting enough done. We’re concerned that we’re not perfect enough. And we feel an expectation to deal with those concerns comprehensively; to use the resources that we have available to us to make the problem go away once and for all. But Brown makes the point that the opposite of scarcity is not necessarily abundance or completeness. Sometimes, it’s the ability to do enough, just enough, and then stop.

That brings us back to the point in the research – that people are looking for answers that resolve what concerns them; answers that they understand and can act on.

If you believe as I do that brands are most effective when they address a need stated simply, clearly and distinctly, then the path to being competitive may not lie in simply adding to the burgeoning fear factor. If they want to avoid being caught up in this escalating volume of drama, outrage, and concern, brands may want to adopt a different approach. As Anne Bahr Thompson points out, millennials rely on their favorite brands to help them feel less anxious and more emotionally balanced and fulfilled in a world that is increasingly complex to navigate. And so brands could, perhaps should, be making better use of that reliance to help them achieve a balanced response to the demands of their social media peer group and to develop more valuable relationships in a range of ways. I think her ideas are potentially applicable to all sorts of brands:

1. Deliver Leadership – in a world where people are concerned about the quality of life, long-term security, and family, brands should be looking for ways to inject confidence about the future and the planet and to embed broader societal solutions into their ways of doing business.

2. Be Realistic – brands need to help people connect with what really matters to them in life. The most powerful way they can do is by example – by being genuine and sincere themselves in how they interact with customers and potential buyers.

3. Protect The Relationship – brands need to respect buyers as people and treat data as a relationship building tool rather than as a sales platform and a means to stalk shoppers. Inevitably that means addressing the irony of a desire for more personalized interaction with a willingness to set boundaries around intrusion.

4. Treat People Fairly, Starting With Your Own People – brands need to establish their credentials as good citizens by behaving fairly and openly, but they also need to build a deeper and broader sense of community by taking opportunities to involve more people in how they develop products and set and deliver policies.

5. Defend And Support Wellbeing – in much the same way as brands need to consider how they can offer solutions for the world, they should also look at how and where they can help people function more effectively and in a more fulfilled manner. That may well mean looking out beyond what they feel they are responsible for (via their products and services) to a broader consideration set of human factors that they could positively influence.

Increasingly, it’s not good enough for brands to simply focus on what they want to get out of their relationship with customers and to use whatever means necessary, including fear of failure, to achieve that. While the pressures to deliver profitability internally may be as strong, if not greater, than ever, and certainly more complex, the onus for brands now is to participate in a much more rounded and considered way with those who buy from them.

So if fear works as such a powerful motivator, how do we harness it without relying on it? As Martin Lindstrom wisely pointed out, what’s more important for brands is to use our fears as the starting point for helping people to better manage their lives:

  • Convert problems into assets – People always have problems. Rather than highlighting those, find answers to the underlying difficulties. For example, he says, no one knew they wanted an airbag, but everyone agreed they wanted safer cars.
  • Add a practical dimension to an irrational decision – if you want people to buy something that rewards them emotionally, find a way to include elements that seal the deal.
  • Don’t just play on the fear. Instead, look for ways to systematically remove it, so that people feel a sense of progress and personal achievement.

Here is my perspective on how to best think about fear when: “People’s deepest feelings generally fall into two buckets: (1) anxieties/fears and (2) desires/longings. People try to avoid that which they fear and seek that for which they long. I personally believe marketers should pay more attention to people’s desires and less attention to their anxieties. And, to Brene Brown’s point, brands need to do so in ways that are practical, finite and provide a sense of closure and resolution. Brands should inspire customers to achieve what they want, but also help them set limits on where a sense of fulfillment ends, and unhealthy obsession begins.

That conversation – the one about brands’ responsibilities for responsible consumption – is only just getting started, and there will be some who fear it’s a step too far because it’s not the role of brands to define when enough is enough. But as brands like Patagonia have shown, calling time on what counts as *enough* builds trust and reinforces authenticity.

My (professional) fear is that unless brands choose to see their behaviors in the wider context of social responsibility and check them accordingly, they will continue to play on powerful emotions like fear for the quick wins they can get now, at the expense of the brand’s deeper, long-term value and trustworthiness to customers.

Facebook Posts

When Is It Time For A Name Change?

When Is It Time For A Name Change?

Dunkin’ Donuts recently announced that it was considering dropping ‘Donuts’ from its name in selected stores. A Pasadena, California location is to be the first with the Dunkin’ only branding. This new naming will highlight that there is more to the brand than the products it’s well-known for, according to a spokesperson.

“While we remain the number one retailer of donuts in the country, as part of our efforts to reinforce that Dunkin’ Donuts is a beverage-led brand and coffee leader, we will be testing signage in a few locations that refer to the brand simply as “Dunkin’,” according to a company statement. “We have been referring to ourselves simply as Dunkin’ in our advertising for more than a decade, ever since we introduced our ‘America Runs on Dunkin’ campaign.”

Is this a smart move?

Identity, meaning, and recognition are the most powerful elements of a brand name. A great name tags a brand’s character. You know what to expect from the way the brand identifies itself. Casual, credible, functional … great names capture the nature of what they describe. Powerful brand names also hint at hidden meaning. Sometimes, they carry within them the synopsis of a story. And of course, names provide us with cues as consumers. We recognize them. They give us something to ask for, and something to look for.

So if the Dunkin Donuts name already has a clear personality why would the company look at changing it? It means a lot to plenty of people and it’s very recognized. There are arguments for and against such a move. Coca Cola changed to Coke, and Starbucks dropped Coffee from its’ name. But when Pizza Hut tried to become “The Hut” it reverted under public pressure. Consumers dismissed the initiative as an unfashionable attempt to be fashionable.

So when should a brand look at changing its name? If you want to signal a change in strategic focus, and if the name change will serve greater meaning, resonance, and value for consumers and customers, then do it.

Let’s apply those three criteria to Dunkin’ Donuts proposed name change: Does “Dunkin’” as a name carry greater value than the original? Yeah, sure, it gets around the recognition issue in that half the original name is there. And since people want minimalism and simplicity, it could bring greater resonance to a market where it’s harder and harder to stand out.

As for the third criteria, only time will tell whether consumers see enhanced value in the abbreviated version. After all, the company is currently the undisputed leader in the donut industry with a greater than 60% market share and a presence that runs to 11,300 restaurants globally.

What’s the biggest risk here? Messing with the brand essence too much confuses customers. You put doubt in the consumer’s mind as you force them to ask if that new brand is still the same product they used to buy or a completely new product. This changes consumer expectations erodes the hard-earned reputation and can result in a drop in sales due to the confusion you as a brand owner create.

Here is the real question: what benefit will shoppers get from the Dunkin’ brand that they don’t get from Dunkin’ Donuts? In terms of association and experience, is anything going to be different? If not (the company has talked about rolling out a new image, with emphasis on beverages and leadership in coffee), then what exactly does the change signal?

Every change you make to your brand is a signal to the market that things will not be as they were. What Dunkin’ Donuts seems to be signaling though is a shift that could feel like a brand looking to keep up with the times. People may like that, and welcome it. Or they may not. Because they may see value in it happening, or they may perceive no important difference—in which case they might prefer that things stay as they are.

Facebook Posts

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

We all understand how important brands can be. There are brands that are significant all over the world. Nike. Harley Davidson. Starbucks. These are companies that are more than just the products they sell. They’re lifestyles. They’re statements, both about the company and the consumers who choose them.

If you think bold, memorable branding is only available to big companies with massive marketing budgets, think again! No matter your industry, you can cultivate a unique brand that resonates with your clients. Want to know how to do it?

Small Business Branding Tips

1. Clarify Your Company’s Purpose. For a brand to be meaningful, it must connect to your company’s reason for being.  Why did you start your company?  How do you think you’re making the world a better place?  Without a firm grasp of your purpose, you’ll never be able to communicate what’s unique and important about your company.

2. Enlist Your Employees. Along with clarifying your purpose, you must also ensure that every single member of your staff understands that purpose and knows how and why to communicate that purpose with every customer. In a perfect world, your purpose isn’t something that’s pounded into your staff. It’s something you hire for. When you hire an employee who shares your values, then you’re on the right track. Effective branding isn’t an afterthought. It infuses everything you do!

3. Create a Rallying Cry. Your rallying cry lets you communicate your purpose and values quickly … to anyone and everyone. More than 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sang about a reason to believe, a hopeful song from the otherwise stark Nebraska album. There’s a reason this theme is a recurring one in music, literature and business. In relationships, as consumers and even as companies we need reasons to believe in the people and causes we stand behind, and for someone to believe in us. Companies spend a lot of time developing products and services, creating messaging and engagement, nurturing customers and prospects. Why? To create reasons to believe (which often lead to reasons to buy). A rallying cry builds loyalty and comfort, and creates advocates. A rallying cry gives a company its mojo. Its swagger. Its ethos. Its reason for being. That’s your brand. As Springsteen sang: “at the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe.”

4. Enlist Your Customers. You know your purpose. Your staff knows your purpose. But do your customers know your purpose?  Letting your clients know that they’re buying more than just your goods or services is key to enlisting them in your brand building efforts.  Consider the Life is Good brand.  When people don a t-shirt, they’re making a statement about a lifestyle, rather than just getting dressed. Folding in what makes you unique and worthwhile is a big part of successful branding.

5. Hire a Pro. Sometimes we think we should be able to do it all, but no matter how talented you are, you need help in the areas that aren’t your strength. If marketing isn’t your thing, consider hiring a consultant or agency to help you crystallize and evangelize your brand. Professionals can help you avoid spinning your wheels and wasting money on ineffective tactics.

Your brand is more than just your company name, logo, or slogan. It’s the expression of your values, your quality, and your unique vision.  Branding done right cements you in the minds of your customers. It makes it easy for people to understand who you are and what you do. Branding differentiates you from your competitors, and it speaks to your ideal customer, resonating with the people who will most appreciate your work.

Facebook Posts

Transforming Your Brand Culture

Transforming Your Brand Culture

In the first part of this two-part series, I talked about brand cultures that focus on performance, those that are restless for change, freeform cultures and those that learn fast and continue to evolve.Understanding the type of branded culture you are trying to change is critical, because no culture is serendipitous. It evolves from the mindsets, habits and viewpoints of those who made it the way it is. Equally, change will be dictated by the willingness of those involved to change.

I’ve always argued that changing a culture requires working with its pervading biases to the greatest extent possible. If you are looking to change or adjust a performance culture, for example, work with the competitiveness that is inherent in that culture rather than trying to work against it. So much cultural transformation fails I believe because those seeking to change a culture try to impose an ideology that simply doesn’t align with the dominant characteristics. Some will say that is what cultural transformation is: taking a brand’s culture, breaking it down and rebuilding it. I beg to differ, and the failure rates around corporate cultural change would suggest that, at the very least, a different approach is well worth considering.

With that in mind, here are four more of eight different brand cultures I’ve encountered and some thoughts on what it takes to successfully achieve enduring change in each of these environments.

5. Purpose Culture – driven by a need to change the world. Dominant once in challenger brands and ethical brands, but increasingly becoming mainstream as corporate brands catch onto the galvanizing power of focusing their people on a big idea. These cultures are highly motivated because they have a clear ‘wrong’ that they are intent on righting. You’ll find these brand cultures across many sectors, particularly those where the mainstream incumbents are seen as out of step or in areas where there are opportunities to fly the flag for democratizing access. Three things can do serious harm to a branded culture that is purpose driven. It becomes too successful for its own good, and therefore loses much of the energy and ambition that powered it. It can become so absorbed in what it is doing that it loses the plot competitively. Or people within the organization can decide to over-share their evangelism, lecturing those that they see as disagreeing with them or who they regard as obstructive, including the brand’s own customers. In their book On Purpose, Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan share the story, for example, of Virgin Atlantic firing 13 crew members after they posted rude comments about passengers. The great strength of purpose-driven brand cultures – their impatience for change – is also their potential weakness unless handled well. Refocusing is best achieved by a shift in target, preferably to something even bigger and more ambitious, leveraging off a sentiment that ‘our work here is done’.

6. Start Up Brand Culture – the culture that defines the brand. There’s a romance and defiance to the best start-ups that most CMOs would love to bottle. To me, that aspect of a brand culture is seldom the issue. The small number of people, the huge workloads, the odds against success, the pressures of investors and the belief that they have something that will change the world combine to give those start-ups that make it the gumption and vision to pull together as a team. Where things become difficult is when the growth sets in. As the brand incorporates more systems and processes, perhaps increases its footprint and learns the meaning of success, hesitation becomes more normal. The impulsive early days are replaced by broader and slower decision making, the rise of silos, politicization and a tendency to take less risk. All of this can combine to make the brand culture more obstructive, less enjoyable and less motivated. The key with any start-up as it grows up is to insist that the characteristics that built the company stay with the brand; and that it embraces those defining tenets to address its growing problems, rather than abandoning them in order to grow. That may sound relatively straight-forward, but in reality it’s difficult because it requires those coming aboard to ‘learn’ what the brand was while adding to what the brand is. I’m always bemused by the fact that start-up brands seem too eager to abandon their history as they grow while established brands don’t seem eager enough. Two questions I like to ask of start-up brands that are evolving to the next phase in their culture are these: What motivated you to start in the first place? And where do you continue to put all that energy?

7. Personality-Powered Culture – shaped by the style, manner and priorities of a leader. These people exert such an influence over their organizations that they drive and shape the entire culture. This can be a hugely positive force for good – think Walt Disney or Coco Chanel. But when a brand revolves so much around one person and the brand they envisage, it can, in the wrong hands, stifle innovation and change. People and their visions underpin some of the most powerful brand stories. Great brands leverage the charisma and vision of these leaders to hold the brand together, but continuing to interpret the founder’s vision or that of a great leader after they have left is something many cultures grapple with. Too often, they lapse into preservation – failing to change because of a reluctance to move on from what has been a tradition for too long. The secret to driving such a culture forward is not dissimilar to that of the start-up brands given above. It’s about holding the organization accountable to what made the brand famous and continuing to evolve how the culture works and thinks. There was a great piece by James Allen and Christopher Zook last year in which they talked about the need for organizations to keep their founder spirit. To do that, more brands need to disperse that thinking beyond their leadership and into the very marrow of their culture so that everyone feels encouraged and motivated to think like an entrepreneur.

8. Lean Culture – these are brands that need to keep pushing down costs in order to thrive. Often they are in sectors characterized by high volumes and low margins, such as wholesalers, big box retail and many intermediaries for example. There’s a tendency to see such brand cultures as people-unfriendly. Brands such as WalMart have taken a lot of flak over the years for the demands they make on staff and suppliers alike because of their propensity for driving out cost anywhere they can. But brands like Costco have also shown that lean cultures can be effective and humane. It all comes down to where you put your priorities. Lean brand cultures that see people as costs will look to automate and standardize in order to hit their bottom lines. Lean brand cultures that see people as assets will look to do the exact opposite: treat their people as a resource for extracting more value out of how the business works. Happiness, motivation and support may seem like fluffy qualities in sectors where price and margin dominate so many of the conversations, but the secret to making these cultures work is recognizing that change from within rather than from above will be most successful. I’m a huge advocate for little changes when looking to move lean cultures – because the cumulative effect of so many tweaks can be significant and people feel like they have control and that they are bringing the change about themselves. But there’s a flip side to this success as well: getting everyone to understand and embrace the pricing, and encouraging a straight-shooting culture where no-one is scared to tell the truth. When people feel they have a future, but they also know what the business needs to achieve in order for there to be a future, it quickly generates a powerful sense of ownership.

Perhaps some of you will be thinking that your culture has elements of several of these cultural types, and therefore it’s hard to pinpoint where you should focus in order to achieve meaningful change. My recommendation is that you look for two things: the characteristics of your culture that drive the greatest and most successful change; and those that hold the brand back and prevent it achieving its potential. If you can, draw on the first to address the second.

Facebook Posts

Free Brand Checkup Worksheet

Starting a company? A brand checkup can help you start thinking now about key fundamental areas that strong brands are built on. It only takes 15 minutes.

Interested? Lets Chat.

Schedule a free, no-obligation 30 minute consultation and strategic needs assessment.

Lets get to the heart of the "big Idea" of your brand.

3 Keys to Building An Admired Brand

3 Keys to Building An Admired Brand

The more your brand enables entices, and enriches customers, evoking their positive emotions and building their trust, love, and respect, the more highly admired it will be. An admired brand offers the greatest opportunity for enduring and profitable growth. When your brand is seen as lacking in even one of the three components of brand admiration, it will not be regarded as strongly admired. Apple sets the standard for brand admiration. It is clearly one of the most successful brands in recent history and it has become an admired brand by providing benefits that enable, entice, and enrich customers.

First, Apple is a clear leader in providing enablement benefits. Its technology, while not simple, makes learning and using Apple products easy. Apple’s famous one-touch solution and intuitive interface took what was otherwise an intimidating product category and made it user-friendly. Apple products “speak” to one another by virtue of their common operating system, making it easy for consumers to move seamlessly from one Apple product (e.g., a Mac) to another (e.g., an iPhone).

Second, Apple products are different from other technological products in their enticement benefits—specifically, through their design. Indeed, for Steve Jobs, visual design elements were on equal footing with technological advances in product development. The design of the buttons and screen and even the partially bitten apple logo itself makes customers gravitate toward Apple’s products. The visual simplicity and clean lines of Apple retail stores make for a warm and inviting environment where customers can play with any Apple product on the market.

Finally, Apple offers strong enrichment benefits. It speaks to consumers’ sense of self, asking them to Think different. Apple products were a status marker at one time, with people defining themselves as Mac, rather than PC, users. Users saw themselves as cool, and they felt proud of being Apple fans. Mac users felt more open minded, younger, and hipper. Apple’s Think different campaign showcased iconoclastic thinkers (e.g., Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Muhammad Ali, and John Lennon). It inspired consumers to think that they, too, could one day change the world. No other products have become so embedded and respected in every aspect of our daily lives as have Apple products.

Nonadmired Brands

Customers consider nonadmired brands differently. These brands might be called decent, noble, boring, confusing, faddish, pompous, or even despised. These brands are lacking in their ability to offer one or more of the enablement, enticement, and enrichment benefits. They just can’t command the trust, love, and respect that admired brands do. Despised brands are the opposite of admired ones. Customers aren’t just indifferent to them; they actively avoid them or speak poorly of them. We’re not suggesting that a brand that’s not admired can’t be profitable. Even a despised brand can be profitable in the short term with great manufacturing and other operational efficiencies, particularly if customers have no other choice but to buy it. But it’s unlikely to survive the test of time, grow into new markets, and have strong equity unless it delivers on the things that are important to customers and make them happy.

Key Takeaways

1. Across highly diverse industries, admired brands are similar in their ability to provide enabling, enticing, and enriching benefits that yield positive customer emotions and build brand trust, love, and esteem.

2. Such brands have been able to build, strengthen, and leverage their admiration over the long term by their continued efforts to best themselves and their competitors in the benefits (and hence value) they provide to customers.

3. Benefits that enable customers to solve their problems and conserve their scarce resources leave customers feeling 
empowered, in control, secure, confident, and relieved. Customers trust brands that they can consistently rely on to solve their problems and conserve their resources.

Benefits that entice customers stimulate their senses, their minds, and/or their hearts. The brand’s benefits leave customers feeling gratified, engaged, entertained, upbeat, and/or warm-hearted. The more the brand provides these benefits, the more customers will come to love the brand.

Benefits that enrich customers respect their beliefs and hopes for a better future. They can also symbolize aspects of who one is, the status or respect one commands from others, and the groups of which one is a part. The brand’s benefits make customers feel inspired, proud, connected, validated, and influential. Customers respect brands whose beliefs and hopes are congruent with their own. They respect brands that help them connect with others who support them.

Brands that have emphasized these benefits relentlessly over time have managed to thrive over decades, generations, and even a century or more.

What About Your Brand?

1. Is your brand focused on a specific type of benefit, or on enablement, enticement, and enrichment benefits? How well is it performing on each benefit type? If you think it’s difficult to differentiate your brand from others, take heed of the lessons from brands such as Nike and Caterpillar.

2. If your brand is fully differentiated from competing brands, does this differentiation have anything to do with types of benefits and the emotions that result from their provision? How would your brand stack up relative to competitors if you tried to differentiate it with the 3Es in mind? (
Enablement Benefits, Enticement Benefits, Enrichment Benefits)

3. How would customers describe your brand? Is it admired? Is it faddish? Is it decent?

Facebook Posts

Free Brand Checkup Worksheet

Starting a company? A brand checkup can help you start thinking now about key fundamental areas that strong brands are built on. It only takes 15 minutes.

Interested? Lets Chat.

Schedule a free, no-obligation 30 minute consultation and strategic needs assessment.

Lets get to the heart of the "big Idea" of your brand.

50 Ways to Differentiate Your brand

50 Ways to Differentiate Your brand

Everybody wants a brand that’s different. The irony of that statement is intentional. It belies the conservative manner in which most brands approach competitive difference.

They say they want to be distinctive to consumers but often, in their heart of hearts, they actually want to align (read conform) with the rest of the industry. One of the key issues for that is an uncertainty on the part of brand makers and decision makers to find a starting point.

In some ways that’s actually less difficult and daunting than it first appears. Begin with a premise that is truly one degree away from your rivals. By logically progressing that premise over time, and with strong discipline, you will build a brand that is consistently and markedly different.

Here’s 50 ways you can create a meaningful difference for your brand:

Go slow in a world of speed. Each Rolex takes a year to manufacture. The perception that a longer process is needed to build the world’s best timepiece also reinforces the value.

Use country of origin to your advantage. Brands from Switzerland are highly associated with precision and fine craftsmanship. Seek to build brand associations with countries that support your reputation for service, manufacturing, innovation etc.

Behave differently. Online shoe retailer Zappos has built its advantage on an iron clad return policy and customer service that goes above and beyond, breaking down the perceived barriers of selling and buying shoes online.

Look different. Apple always looks like Apple. Diesel always looks like Diesel. Absolut Vodka always looks like Absolut. They’re in a sector but they don’t look like part of the sector.

Be the underdog in a sector where everyone else wants to be top dog. Nantucket Nectars started “with only a blender and a dream,” and Clif Bar proclaims that its founder once lived in a garage. Underdogs win the compassionate consumer. Look for the underdog story you can tell.

Be truly and unapologetically shocking. Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign ruffled feathers on almost every front. But – and this is critical – the outrage you generate must link to a solution and that solution should be your front. Otherwise, you simply risk shouting into the wind.

Expand your appeal. “Discover” an untapped audience in your sector and, by drawing them in, intensify the sense of community around your brand and the interaction that people have with the brand. Enterprise Rent-A-Car did just that by offering leasing at a time when competitors did not. By serving this unmet need with attention to customer experience, Enterprise became the world’s number 1 car rental company. Apple too saw what others did not. No one was asking for an iPhone, but an untapped audience emerged when new value in the form of a cell phone was introduced.

(Re)Invent a category – and own it. UFC became the fastest growing sports organization in the world by redefining the reach and the audience for mixed martial arts. Today, UFC produces more than 30 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world. Swatch differentiated from other watch brands by focusing on self-expression rather than precision.

Create a new category. The Toyota Prius, the Nintendo Wii, and Red Bull are all brands that created new categories, outside the established norms of their product category. By stepping outside the bounds of their categories, these brands created a space that they can call their own.

Tell a story that defines you and is unique to you. The story may be about your founder as in the case with Virgin and Richard Branson, your heritage like Hickory Farms or the value you bring to the world like Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness. It may also be based in imagination – like the thought that Keebler elves make Keebler cookies. Or perhaps it’s a story based on your highly guarded secret – only two people in the world know Coca-Cola’s formula. Your story may also be about the source of your product, service or inspiration.

Forge new ground in the spirit of your founder. Chanel continues to personify the philosophies, ideals and legend of Coco Chanel long after her death.

Leverage your history to define tomorrow. National Geographic have redefined what it means to experience the world we never see by expanding their channels and offerings while still holding their history close.

Own an eternal idea. Red Bull expresses in every action its belief in, and addiction to, excitement. Ingredients, spirit, sponsorships and the human desire to do things that make the heart race are inextricably linked. Dove owns and serves the idea of real beauty. lululemon finds its eternal idea in the mind state of yoga and has built a powerful athletic apparel brand on that concept.

Change the possibilities. This is about more than just product innovation. It’s about the introduction of technologies that completely change how people can live. Boeing redefined travel forever with the 747. Google may well redefine how we can see with Google Glass. Dyson changed the possibilities by reinventing old technologies like the vacuum, hand dryer and fan.

Make active plans to be where others aren’t (yet). This article looks at the fact that while Chinese consumers are now overwhelmed by Western brands and doing business in Greater China has become very expensive, other countries in Asia with booming economies like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines remain largely overlooked.

Solve a global problem. “Big bang” solutions in areas like pharmaceuticals or biotechnology require huge investment and scary timeframes, but when they work, they deliver huge distinction, kudos and profits. A “Big Bang” solution can come from any brand — TOM’s (pictured) seeks to solve the problem of children without shoes. TOM’s matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need. One for One.

Build groundswell. Do something startling to generate attention. Use attention to build a crowd. Use a crowd to gain credibility. Use credibility as the jumping off point for your next distinctive act. Red Bull, Virgin and Apple should come to mind.

Redefine how people buy. With millions of products, 24/7 access, superior search and browse technology, user reviews and many other sources of in-depth product information, offers a superior purchase experience.

Bring unprecedented optimism to a sector. Nike redefined what people believed they should be capable of.

Connect the previously unconnected. LinkedIn brought business people together so that they could network and share ideas in a way that was effortless, credible and global. In doing that, they resolved a problem that no-one realized they had until they saw the potential for what they would now be able to do.

Rewrite the experience. Southwest Airlines put the fun, the quirkiness and the savings back into the serious and process-packed world of travel. Starbucks differentiated not on coffee, but a ‘third place’ – a respite between home and work.

Make what you sell feel even more personal. This great infographic hints at how much further retailers could take personalization.

Link your brand to specific occasions. Habits are powerful, but occasions may be even more so. They engage us so effectively because they combine time and focus. And because of that, they provide permission – it’s OK to behave this way or that. It’s OK to do something you wouldn’t do on any ordinary day. De Beers, Hallmark, Mercedes, Hershey, Cadbury, MACY’s and others have tapped into occasions or created occasions and have made themselves synonymous with the celebration of those occasions.

License to brand. Brand licensing can bring valuable new meaning to a brand, further differentiating it from its competitors. Pillsbury licenses the Cinnabon brand to do just that for its cinnamon rolls. Colgate licenses Disney characters to increase its brand appeal.

Break away from conventional wisdom. Breakaway brands bring new meanings to the party and make the most of the stretch, holding on to enough of the old to avoid category defection. Breakaway brands stretch the boundaries and live as outliers. These brands are the opposite of the well-behaved brands in the category and consequently provide radical differentiation from the status quo. Cirque du Soleil is one such brand. It falls into the “circus” category, but this brand has skillfully crafted a highly valued and differentiated positioning as everything a circus is not. There are no tents, tigers and elephants. No ringmasters. Instead it borrows attributes from other entertainment categories like, dance, music, opera and theater. It becomes something all together different–far outside the bounds of a conventional circus.

Change the name. Sometimes your original name doesn’t sound like it would be something you would want to put in your mouth. Like a Chinese gooseberry. When the name was changed to kiwi fruit, the world suddenly had a new favorite fruit that it wanted to put in its mouth.

Personify. The Green Giant character became the difference in a family of vegetables in many forms. Frank Perdue became the tough man behind the tender chicken. The Gecko became the much-loved spokesperson for GEICO.

Create a new item. The cantaloupe people wanted to differentiate a special, big cantaloupe. But rather than call them just plain “big,” they introduced Crenshaw melons. Tyson wanted to sell miniature chickens, which doesn’t sound very appetizing. So it introduced Cornish game hens.

Reposition the category. Pork was just pig for many years. Then the industry jumped on the chicken bandwagon and became “the other white meat.” That was a very good move when red meat became a perceptual problem.

Identify, identify, identify. Ordinary bananas became better bananas when a small Chiquita label was added to the fruit. Dole did the same for pineapple with the Dole label, as did the lettuce people by putting each head into a clear Foxy lettuce package. Of course, you then have to communicate why people should look for these labels.

Be the expert or specialist. The specialist can focus on one product, one benefit, and one message. This focus enables the marketer to put a sharp point on the message that quickly drives it into the mind. Domino’s can focus on home delivery. Pizza Hut has to talk about its different pizzas, home delivery, and sit-down service.

Price with pride. Starbucks prices its coffee higher to raise perceptions of the quality of its coffee.  Singapore Airlines, the most profitable airline in the world, does the same thing and always sells at a premium. In each case, the price is a signal of supremacy – differentiation via perceived quality.

Use Ingredient Brands. The North Face uses Gore-Tex technology to differentiate. In the PC space the Intel brand adds to the product’s perceived performance. Each brings noticeable differences in their own right.

Highly target a market. Who you focus on can create a unique point of difference. Consider FOX News, an American news outlet designed to serve the Republican Party and its supporters. This laser focus has made it synonymous with conservative views and policies, creating by far the strongest commercial brand associated with those views. Wegmans Supermarkets believes that happy customers are generated by happy employees. They have built their powerful brand on the mantra that their employee’s are number one.

Change the reach. How your product or service reaches a customer can set you apart. Redbox specializes in the rental of DVD’s and video games. Through an easy to use kiosk it differentiates from its competitor Netflix and helped seal the fate of Blockbuster. Amazon has a futuristic plan to deliver some orders via drone.

Give unprecedented access. The reason people flew Concorde was the opportunities that could come from who you would sit next to. You weren’t paying for a faster flight, you were paying for the company. Country clubs in Asia are the same. It’s not about the game of golf; it’s about the networking. For Citibank’s Citi Private Pass card holders the unique value is in the preferred access at entertainment events.

Share values. When a brand is built on shared values it can differentiate on those values and enjoy perhaps the strongest bond in the marketing world. Think of any brand that really matters and you’ll discover the type of people buying the stuff are the same type of people who design, make and sell the stuff. This is the awesome sauce of brand values and brand identity alignment. Apparel brands like Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and The North Face understand the importance of shared values. The bond that binds is a deep inter-personal connection between the users and the makers.

Stand for something your customers want to stand for. In the same manner as the enthusiast apparel brands mentioned in #37, Kashi cereal customers see themselves, their values, and their identities in complete harmony with the Kashi brand. They’re one and the same. Likewise, the Kashi people care about the same stuff as their consumer– greater health and well-being for themselves and the planet. For Kashi, making food that enhances life is sacred business. For Kashi customers, living well is sacred business. More people are waking up to caring more about others and our planet, and buying Kashi products too. Your brand can differentiate as being the do-good brand in your space.

Give them something to unwrap. Package design offers one of the biggest opportunities for brand differentiation. Color, shape, size, functionality, texture and materials can influence purchase decisions. There’s no mistaking a Tiffany & Co. box and its distinctive blue. Innovative packaging proves another signature differentiator for Apple as well as Tropicana which learned the value of this difference when it attempted to redesign its packaging.

Engage the senses. Every marketer should explore the senses when ideating brand differentiation strategies. Each of the five senses offer a channel to connect with your target customer and flex a point of difference. The more each of these are engaged at any one time during customer contact the more your brand and what it stands for will be remembered. Scent branding in the hotel world is one example. Sofitel, Le Meridién, The Ritz-Carlton, Westin, Sheraton and Marriott are some of the hotel brands employing a signature scent strategy to further move away from their competitors.

Put a famous face to your famous brand. The age-old strategy of pairing products and services with a well known celebrity continues to be a viable option for brand differentiation. However, the rules have changed. There must be an authentic alignment between the brand and the celebrity. Case in point: Tiger Woods and Nike Golf: Yes. Tiger Woods and Buick: No. The association between brand and celebrity must be clear and obvious.

Redefine usage. How your product is used can serve as a key differentiator. Arm & Hammer Baking Soda became much more when customers discovered it also made for a powerful air freshener. This helped Arm & Hammer not only extend into new categories but also create a multi-use brand that is more meaningful to its target customers.

Introduce simplicity and purity into people’s cluttered lives. Stand for good things. Market highly valued values. With deep customer insight you will know what your target customers value most. That insight can help create highly valued brands. Honest Tea was born from the insight that simple and pure refreshment was missing from the market. The Method brand came to life through a quest to create household cleaning products that were not harmful.

Tap into the power of emotions. Linking your brand with customer emotions can prove an effective differentiator. It was humor that helped GEICO pull away in the me-too world of insurance brands. While their competition focused on fear, GEICO used witty and funny campaigns to differentiate itself and gain an advantage. Brands like Hallmark found brand differentiation based on human emotions could lead to a 92% mind share.

Control the accessibility. Brands can differentiate on when they make their products and services available and who they make that accessibility for. Elite luxury brands will limit how many of its signature products are manufactured. The most influential customers will have access to those products first. This all builds into the frenzy that drives desire and purchase of the brand. It also helps command a premium price. Brands like Coca-Cola use accessibility on the other end of the spectrum. They desire to be the most accessible brand and have distribution channels into the deepest regions of the world.

Focus on design and aesthetics. Consider Hermès scarves, Vilebrequin men’s swimwear, Robert Graham shirts and Alexander McQueen fashion wear. Or how about the Michael Graves Design’s collection at Target? This helps college and university brands too. Beautiful campuses tend to attract students. For municipality brands, “attractive neighborhoods” rates as one of the top things people consider when deciding where to live. Camden, ME, Niagara-on-the-Lake (ON, Canada), Quebec City (QC, Canada) and Bruges, Belgium are very popular as tourist destinations, in large part due to their superior aesthetics. Never underestimate the power of superior aesthetics to differentiate.

Convey status. If you knew I went to Philips Academy, Andover, Harvard and Stanford, lived in Atherton, CA, summered in Nantucket, drove a Mercedes-Benz model S-class, and sailed a Nautor’s Swan53, would these brands effectively communicate my social status?

Create a unique product purchase experience. How different is purchasing a teddy bear with a child in a Build-A-Bear Workshop versus buying one off the shelf in a typical toy or department store? Very different. And very differentiating.

Create an unusual theme or twist to your brand. Consider the following unusual restaurant brands – Opaque (dining in the dark), Ice Restaurant (in Dubai), Underwater restaurant in Maldives, Magic Restroom (toilet-themed) Café in CA or Dinner in the Sky (suspended 50 meters above the ground). For more creative restaurant themes, see here.

Treat people differently than your competitors do. We love Ritz-Carlton’s “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” mantra. This alludes to a level of gentility, civility and respect not often experienced in product purchase or usage experiences. If an opportunity to serve your customer better does not exist — create one.

To be different is to be not the same. To be unique is to be one of a kind.

Be different and be unique with a meaningful difference for those most important to your future.

Facebook Posts

Free Brand Checkup Worksheet

Starting a company? A brand checkup can help you start thinking now about key fundamental areas that strong brands are built on. It only takes 15 minutes.

Interested? Lets Chat.

Schedule a free, no-obligation 30 minute consultation and strategic needs assessment.

Lets get to the heart of the "big Idea" of your brand.