Branding Best Practices: Differentiation Vs. Distinctiveness

by | Sep 1, 2021 | Branding, Insights

Talk to most brand marketers and you will likely hear that brands need to be differentiated. Most “positioning” exercises are directed at finding the one (hopefully major) thing that will make a brand stand out from the competition. Positioning is about connecting the dots between what your target customers need, want, or aspire to with what you offer (or can offer). It’s about getting into customers’ minds and occupying a unique “mind space” with your brand.

That is the ideal.

The reality is more difficult. Many products and services today are “also-rans”—basically the same. And customers know it. Finding features and benefits that are uniquely different is getting harder and harder, thanks in no small part to global competition and supply chain optimization.

Fortunately, brands can be differentiated on other variables than actual functional benefits (like product features). For example, brands can also be differentiated on the basis of emotional benefits (how they make you feel) and self-expressive benefits (what they say about you to others).

However, when differentiation is not to be had for a given brand, all is not lost. Regardless of whether a brand can be differentiated from the competition, a brand can ALWAYS be distinctive.

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Making your brand distinctive is the least you must do for brand success. A brand that does not stand out from competition in terms of its look and feel has little to no chance of succeeding and will be relegated to competing on price.

At Six Degrees, we use the model below to help identify how to make brands differentiated and/or distinctive from their competition.

The lower half of the model describes the areas for potential differentiation and the top half shows the areas for making a brand distinctive. Ideally, a brand can be both differentiated based on benefits and distinctive based on look & feel. But even if differentiation is elusive, any brand can be made distinctive.

Brand distinctiveness can be articulated in a variety of ways, including a name (e.g., Frusen Glädjé), a logo symbol (e.g., London Symphony Orchestra), the brand look & feel (e.g., Lemonade Insurance) or personality (e.g., Nike).

Regardless of how you choose to make your brand distinctive, the key is to stick to it and stay consistent over time. Brand image, like the reputation of people, takes a long time to build up but can be lost quickly and easily.

Aim to differentiate, but always be distinctive.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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