Building A Brand – Why Distinctiveness Rises Above
This is an update of a previous post, with new knowledge, branding inspiration and research links. What is not updated, however, is the thesis of this blog post. Building a brand by being different isn’t sufficient. To rise above the noise and create a brand identity that cuts through in an increasingly crowded and morphing wellness industry, wellness branding calls for being distinctive first. Brand differentiation and brand distinctiveness are not two sides of the same coin.
Wellness Branding And Wellness Marketing Truths
When it comes to building a brand, there are three things that all marketers can likely all agree are true:
- First, brand marketing spend levels are never as robust as you’d want them to be.
- Second, tied to the above and the increasingly competitive wellness industry, it’s really tough for brands (even in high-involvement wellness segments) to stand out in our mind and memory.
- Third, the spectrum of brand touchpoints through which people search for, learn about and possibly engage with a brand, continues to expand.
Which means consistent use of distinctive brand assets (not the strict adherence to consistency of their presentation) provides brands with the opportunity to cut through the marketplace clutter.
The Difference Between Brand Distinctiveness and Brand Differentiation
Tiffany’s blue box, Amazon’s smile logo which arrives with every home delivery, and KIND Snacks color bars symbol are examples of distinctive brand assets. They are the recognizable, ownable and reassuring triggers that immediately build brand connection and separation. Brand distinctiveness is achieved by consistently using these brand assets – strategic branding tools that help customers identify the brand and build trust in different environments – like logo, color palette, font, tagline, images and words.
Brand differentiation, on the other hand, occurs after brand strategy (brand positioning) is developed based on identification of a true, relevant and unique selling proposition. Some brands build differentiation based on a significant advantage of their offering, e.g., Walmart and its lowest prices, Lego and its ability to inspire and develop children to think creatively.
Some achieve differentiation by using specific language to describe their brand, e.g., Red Bull’s promise of “giving you wings” and making your heart race in everything the brand does. But not many brands have succeeded in achieving this differentiation, as it’s unlikely customers can decipher the subtle differences in positioning, product offering and messaging.
While brand differentiation happens primarily on a strategy level, brand distinctiveness is more tactical. It is about obtaining a unique look and feel and not being mistaken with competitors.
The Evidence In Support of Brand Distinctiveness
According to How Brands Grow author Byron Sharp, director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia…
Differentiation (a benefit or “reason to buy” for the consumer) and Distinctiveness (a brand looking like itself) are different things. This isn’t just semantics, as any lawyer or judge will tell you. Distinctiveness (branding) is legally defensible, while differentiation is not (other than time limited patent protection).
Rather than aiming for meaningful differentiation, seek instead for distinctiveness (that may be free from meaning). We need to quickly establish a brand within consumers mind – and being distinctive helps make a brand salient.
Sharp goes on to say that…
There is little empirical evidence that a differentiation strategy actually leads to brand growth (yet there is evidence that most brands in a category have similar rivals). Most people buy within a category for the generic benefits of that category – which everyone offers. Thus for many brands the areas of differentiation are marginal (and temporary) and thus have limited influence on purchase patterns. Often any differences are quite functional (e.g. American brands are perceived as American, and expensive brands perceived as expensive).
Global market research and a consulting firm Ipsos states…
Brands exist in people’s minds as an associate network acting as a mental shortcut. Distinctiveness is the shortest route to your brand. Differentiation (which may be temporary) is good. Distinctiveness (which is ownable forever) is great.
Brand distinctiveness (delivered through strong and consistent branding), is what really matters. Not because it makes people appreciate the brand more but because it makes the brand easily identifiable and memorable. As Byron Sharp in How Brands Grow explained, “Rather than striving for meaningful, perceived differentiation, marketers should seek meaningful distinctiveness. Branding lasts, differentiation doesn’t.”
In a blog post written on BrandStruck, they ask readers to think about brand pairs – Nike and Adidas, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, or UPS and FedEx – and how easy or not it is for consumers to decode their brand positioning. Would consumers be aware that Nike is about overcoming one’s weaknesses and that Adidas is about creativity in sport? Or that Coca-Cola promotes happiness and that Pepsi promotes fun? Would they be aware that UPS is “in the problem-solving business” while FedEx “connects people and possibilities”? It’s likely that not many consumers would. However, most of them without any doubt would easily identify the Nike swoosh, the Adidas three-stripe logo, Coke’s red, Pepsi’s blue, UPC’s brown and FedEx’s purple. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Informing Brand Distinctiveness
Distinctiveness should still be grounded and guided by strategy (e.g., differentiation, regardless of its power to actually inform consumer behavior). The colors a brand uses, the fonts, tagline, tone of voice and many other branding assets are generally based on a sound brand strategy. One stellar example of creating a beautiful, relevant and unique visual identity is seedhealth, the microbial sciences company pioneering applications of bacteria to impact human and environmental health.
While organizations do sometimes create branding assets not rooted in strategy, in most cases, creative teams will want to work to a brief that defines what the brand stands for and the personality the brand wants to project. Even if customers do not identify the specific brand message in the selection of colors, symbol and typeface, subconsciously they will recognize the branding cues the brand wants to project.
The Power of Brand Assets To Drive Decisions
Consider all of the brand assets you have in your strategic branding arsenal. These elements are critical to manage because symbolism is the language of emotion and a key set of triggers for decisions by our fast, intuitive system 1 brain. Daniel Kahneman, Israeli-American psychologist and economist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, states that “System 1 runs the show. That’s the one you want to move.”
Picture the leading brands across a range of categories — Intel, Ikea, Amazon, Kiehl’s, Instagram, Tiffany’s, Burberry, Geico, BMW, Red Bull, Subway, Citi, etc. All of these brands understand the symbolic meaning in everything. They exploit colors, shapes, logos, characters, images, fonts, tone of voice, advertising styles, music, packaging, product design, service delivery and sensory cues such as sound, smell, and taste to evoke particular emotions. This aligned symbolism constitutes a brand mnemonic, and creates an ownable (enduring and distinctive) language for brands to talk directly to consumers’ decision-drivers.
Evaluating Your Brand Assets
How do you determine if you have valuable assets to exploit through your wellness marketing. There are two qualities to consider:
First, referring back to Ipsos above, a brand asset must be distinctive and ownable. Which means that consumers unmistakably link that asset with your brand. It attracts attention, drives recognition amidst competing alternatives and serves as a ‘mental shortcut’ to identify your brand.
Second, a brand asset must be relevant or on-brand. As the asset is consistently used across multiple touch points, it reinforces the mental structures that consumers associate with the rational and emotional benefits that your brand promises to deliver.
If you have distinctive brand assets in your wellness branding arsenal (like the Gekko), they should consistently be integrated into all communications and experiences to cement them into long term memory. This familiarity creates an emotional reassurance of the brand, which in turn helps nudge people to purchase. The corollary to this is when a brand drifts into the back of our minds, which diminishes the opportunity to be considered when a consumer is ready to buy.
Brand Asset Alignment
Aligning look, message and emotion across every different touchpoint is a tremendous challenge today for brands. Managing brands 24/7 across geographies, agency partners, channels and consumers weighing in to how your brand is expressed is no small feat. But achieving and maintaining brand alignment delivers returns not only in enhanced relationship-building, but in maximized return on brand marketing budgets. This alignment is also key to evolving your brand to create new opportunities to drive brand growth, while ensuring you do so in a consistent manner by leveraging your distinctive and relevant brand assets.
When was the last time your organization took an inventory of your brand assets? The benefits of doing so are that you ensure that all of your stakeholders and partners recognize which of your brand assets are sacred and must not be tampered with.
However, another important aspect of taking this inventory is that it helps you uncover which brand assets are not adding value to the brand, or worse, holding it back. This provides those responsible for brand management and execution with clear direction on which brand assets can and should be evolved or removed to ensure brand distinctiveness and relevance.
In an increasingly competitive wellness industry landscape, being able to make a first impression on your prospective customers is critical to getting into their consideration set and building a brand. Strategically-grounded brand distinctiveness that cuts through makes this possible. The fortunate thing is, creating and building upon these trademarkable and legally protectable brand assets (logos, colors, taglines, fonts, symbols/characters, etc.) is available to every brand. And the stronger/fresher these distinctive qualities, and the more links in memory, the easier it is for the consumer to identify the brand. Ultimately, brand distinctiveness is a win-win for both consumers and brand marketers.