Being Meaningfully Different Can Command a Premium – But many salient brands miss this major opportunity
Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst
The Top 100 brands are all big and salient, but in many categories
they struggle to be seen as meaningfully different. This works to their
detriment because brands that are perceived as meaningfully different
possess some important properties:
- They grow faster in response to marketing support;
- They are more resilient to competitive action; and
- They can command a price premium over close alternatives.
These are all very desirable qualities, so why do so many of the Top
100 struggle to be perceived as meaningfully different? Part of the
challenge is that brands only become truly meaningful through
personal experience. In the documentary Objectified, Bill Moggridge,
co-founder of the design firm IDEO, suggests that our appreciation of
well-designed objects develops over time: they wear in not out. The
same is true of brands.
Potential buyers may understand how a brand could make their lives
better but ultimately it will be their own experience that confirms
whether the brand truly does meet their needs. A potential buyer
may find a brand more appealing than others but only the passage of
time will deepen that affection. However, this process can be shaped
and guided by marketing communication that focuses attention on
positive aspects of the brand experience.
The power of difference
Being meaningful is a powerful brand asset, but the power of that
asset is strengthened if your brand is perceived to be different
from the alternatives. Why? Because difference serves these three
- Difference helps people make a choice between close alternatives;
- Difference justifies paying a price premium; and
- Difference makes people feel more satisfied with their choice.
When it comes to choosing between alternatives a difference might
be trivial in nature; in the absence of more knowledge an attractive
design may be enough to clinch the deal. However, when it comes
to justifying a price premium, all the evidence suggests that better
differentiated brands can command higher prices. And particularly
when people do pay a premium, an easily available rationale justifying
the choice helps stave off buyer’s remorse.
One of the biggest marketing myths of the modern day is that
differentiation is hard to sustain. In part, this is because marketers
tend to think in terms of product differentiation, not perceived
differentiation. Marketers are intimately familiar with how their
product stacks up against its competition; consumers are not.
Consumers’ assessment of product differentiation is partial and just as
susceptible to influence as is their brand experience. Besides, there is
huge scope for differentiating brands in terms of ideals, values, tone
of voice, personality and design. Perceived differentiation is about
creating the feeling of difference and, once established, it will be very
difficult for competitors to displace the idea from consumers’ minds.
Start with what
differentiates your brand
The starting point for creating meaningful difference lies in defining
what could make your brand be seen as different. To be a valuable
asset, the differentiation created by the brand needs to be potentially
meaningful to the target audience, sustainable and easily appreciated.
Trivial line extensions or facelifts may be easily appreciated but they
are unlikely to be meaningful or sustainable.
To identify a more fundamental meaningful differentiation, many
brands take a step back and examine their purpose. What difference
is the brand going to make in people’s lives? The power of purpose
lies in creating something unique that your brand champions. It
is inherently differentiating. While the true motivational power of
purpose may lie more with people working for the company than
consumers, a strong sense of purpose helps align innovation and
marketing efforts to best effect.
Ensure you deliver on your promise
Once you have identified something that differentiates your brand
– functionally or emotionally – the next step is to ensure the brand
delivers on its promise. To build meaning it is critical to deliver a
positive experience, not just once but on a repeated basis. It is
repeated good experiences that build habit and affection. The flip side
is that a single bad experience can undermine years of investment in a
matter of moments, unless addressed quickly and effectively.
Lastly, do not assume that marketing communication has no role in
creating meaning through experience. Marketing communication
has a huge role in framing the brand experience – modeling what it
is going to be like to use the brand and how that experience might
be different. Marketing communication does not just make a brand
salient – it has a powerful influence on what aspects of a brand
people notice and experience.