6 Powerful Ways to Differentiate Your Brand

December 16, 2013

differentiate your brand

One of the most important things a brand should do is create relevant differentiation for its products and services. Most brands strive to do this by being able to differentiate your brand. But some do it far better than others.

First, these are important considerations in creating brand differentiation:

  • Brands should focus on delivering one or two customer benefits or shared values that are unique and compelling within their product/service categories.
  • Emotional, experiential and self-expressive benefits are much more powerful than functional benefits.
  • Related to this, appealing to the “heart” is much more important than appealing to the “head.” Emotions drive behavior. Reason justifies it.
  • Finally, it is not enough for a brand to promise benefits. It must consistently deliver those benefits.

These are the 6 most powerful ways to differentiate your brand.

  1. Stand for something. Have a strong set of values. Align these values with your customers’ values. Create a community around those values. Examples of this: FOX News, Tesla Motors, Patagonia, Harley-Davidson
  2. Brand as a badge. Focus on self-expressive benefits. People love to use brands to reinforce their self-concept or to make a specific statement to the world. Examples of this: Mercedes-Benz (I have social status), MINI-Cooper (I am unique-notice me), Apple (I am hip/cool), Toyota Prius (I care about the environment)
  3. Create a superior customer experience. Examples of this: The Ritz-Carlton: Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen, Apple with its aesthetically appealing, intuitively easy products, the Build-A-Bear experience compared to buying another teddy bear brand off a retail shelf.
  4. Innovate, disrupt the industry, deliver value in new unanticipated ways. Examples of this: Netflix,, Toyota Prius, Tesla Motors, Trader Joes, Facebook
  5. Customer segment focus. Brands that try to be all things to all people eventually fail in being anything important to anyone. Conversely, brands that focus on a specific customer need segment with the intention of becoming customer experts and meeting the specific needs of their customers can achieve uncommon success. Examples of this: lululemon (we only cater to women who are size 12 or smaller), Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors (“The Magazine of the Coast of Maine”), Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (we only provide financial services to Lutherans), Paul Smiths College (“The College of the Adirondacks”…for people who love to live and play in the Adirondack wilderness)
  6. Deliver the best overall value. Value has a numerator and a denominator. That is, there is a set of functional, emotional, experiential, self-expressive and other benefits that are delivered in return for a certain investment of time and money. The best value does not always mean the least expensive. In fact, it seldom does. It results from the best ratio of benefits to investment. Examples of this: (convenience, functionality and price), IKEA (affordable style), Toyota (reasonably priced, low maintenance, long life, safe, top Consumer Reports ratings, etc.), JetBlue (discount airline with individual TVs, inflight Wi-Fi, etc.)

You may notice that some of the strongest brands today are examples of more than one of these approaches., Apple, Tesla Motors and Toyota fall within this esteemed group. I hope that one day your brand will join these leading brands.

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About The Author

Brad VanAuken is president and founder of BrandForward, Inc., a brand strategy consultancy with clients throughout the world. Previously, Brad was the vice president of marketing for Element K, a leading e-learning company and director of brand management and marketing for Hallmark Cards, Inc. During his tenure as Hallmark’s chief brand advocate, Hallmark rose to 4th in the EquiTrend national quality brand ranking and Hallmark received the Brand Management of the Year award. Recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on brand management and marketing, Brad is a much sought after speaker and writer. He has been interviewed by CNN, Entrepreneur magazine, Fox News, Investor’s Business Daily and The Bloomberg Money Show and has been a guest lecturer at many universities including Stanford University, Northwestern University, Vanderbilt University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, RIT, University of Rochester, University of Kansas and University of Missouri at Kansas City. He wrote the best-selling brand book Brand Aid. His blog,, is read by tens of thousands of marketers throughout the world. Brad has a BS degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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