Common sense brand differentiation

Many businesses face more competition than ever before. This can be from rival companies fighting harder for market share; or from start ups thinking they have an approach that will challenge the market. Businesses need to constantly strive to get new sales, more business, more customers or clients – not to grow and flourish but in some instances just to keep going.

Related to this is the ‘Holy Grail’ of branding and marketing – the need or the desire to try and ‘differentiate’ your business. If you can make your company stand out from the crowd, of course it makes sense that this gives you a great opportunity not only to survive but move forward.

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The recessions in the past created an irreversible mentality in our customers and clients, to question every purchase they make like never before. Customer loyalty has to be constantly earned, which is a double edged sword. You need a strategy to stop your clients jumping ship but also a way to attract new customers from other less dynamic rival companies.

A fear for many companies regarding brand positioning is the perceived challenge to be unique or different – therefore “why bother, we all offer the same thing”. However, while being unique is a great way to differentiate your business, few companies can truly say that. We believe it is more important to have an ethos that you can be true to, believe in and demonstrate or show your commitment to. These are all more important than being unique or quirky.

If a brand is going to be criticised it will be for not being true to their values – when have you ever heard a brand get criticised for not having a unique value or quality? What is interesting is how the internal focus for brand values by a business owner, is often different to the reality of what a customer or client is looking for. We help our clients take a step back and see their business or marketing from an external view point.

A great example of this in action is a project we completed for a promotional merchandising company. Initially we were approached to help the company with business development. When we sat down with the business owner, we started by discussing the background to the business, and tried to find out the values and personality that defined them. Unfortunately the company had never thought about the business in this way. The owner knew his own values and what he believed his business should stand for but nothing had been formalised. He guessed everyone in his sector would be saying the same thing.

Very often a company’s true values are the reason the business was started up in the first place. Why the entrepreneur believed they could offer something better than the competition. Somehow that gets lost along the way.

A powerful way to position an existing brand is to interview clients and customers. A business owner or management staff can sometimes be too close to a business. Sometimes the business has moved on, the sector has changed and they are not looking inwardly to see this. Acumen Design created a small questionnaire and interviewed some of their clients, using questions that analysed the business and the sector as a whole. The interviews were all very insightful and positive, identifying that in their client’s eyes the best values were integrity, attention to detail and caring. Basically good old fashioned customer care – but not unique.

Interestingly these were the values that the business owner initially mentioned as his own ideals and that he believed all his competitors would also say. But hearing this from client side is much more powerful. These are not just marketing words now, this company is actually delivering on these values and being true to them. To differentiate this business through excelling at traditional values, we created a customer charter. This shows their clients that they are so committed and true to their standards of customer service that they are making a public commitment. This is much more powerful than having a quirky USP.

In some ways this is all common sense. But in our experience many brands focus on the wrong viewpoint when it comes to values. This is where we can help.

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