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Sunday, April 29, 2012



In last week’s DISPATCHES, we shared our video on “Marketect Differentiation.” We hope you found it thought-provoking and motivating! If nothing else, we hope it reminded you once again of the necessity to “market brands, not sell products” in this ever-expanding age of product sameness.


Of course, marketers learn the importance of differentiation early in their careers. After all, it’s ultimately what we get paid for: to get the target consumer or customer to consistently perceive and choose our brand as a better choice than other brands in the category or class. But, where do marketers learn how to differentiate their brands? Put another way, how do marketers actually practice their differentiating?


One very good, logical answer to these questions would be, “Marketers practice differentiating their brands by developing and implementing their brand’s positioning.”   You would surely hope that’s so, right? But here’s the thing—there are all too many brand positioning strategies out there that are, well, obviously un-differentiated. How do we know? Because we see them all the time…or, if we don’t see the actual brand positioning statements, we see the brand’s in-market initiatives, which time and again look the same as those of their competitors. If you want to check us out on this, grab a popular woman’s magazine from the newsstand and flip through it. You’ll see ads for any number of skincare or hair-care brands, nearly all of which promise similar features and benefits and nearly all of which follow the same execution formula (big brand name; attractive, smiling model; extra large package shot).


It seems that, while nearly every marketer and brand-builder agrees that differentiation is critical, in actual practice it does not happen often enough. We think the problem isn’t that marketers don’t have the desire to differentiate; it’s that they (and their organizations) don’t have the habit of differentiating. Demanding and creating meaningful differentiation for the company’s brands is a mindset—that gets reinforced day in and day out throughout the organization. It’s a bit like the mindset of winning in a sports organization. When everyone in the organization has the winning mindset, daily practice is centered around expecting and achieving wins consistently…and of asking “Why?” and “What must be done now?” when wins don’t happen. 


Happily, there are some marketing organizations out there with the habit of differentiating. So, as a follow-up to last week’s differentiation video, we thought it appropriate to feature some of their common habits that make meaningful brand differentiation an expectation instead of an exception.


BOATS & HELICOPTERS: You Know an Organization Has the Differentiating Habit When Management…

  1. Insists upon committing each brand’s positioning to paper, sharing it across the organization, and reviewing it regularly. Practically speaking, this means that senior management requires the individual brand teams (led by their Brand Managers) to articulate a complete brand positioning strategy statement. It also means that, once approved by senior management, the brand positioning statement is explained and distributed to all function heads and their key managers. Finally, and most important of all, it means that (at the very least) each year during the Strategic Planning period, senior management reviews each brand positioning—in the context of the inferred brand positioning statements of key competitors.
  1. Assesses each brand positioning and each sub-strategy (pricing, product innovation, promotion, communications, and so on) with intellectual honesty. In other words, when reviewing the brand’s functional and emotional benefits or its reasons why or its brand character, hard questions are routinely asked…such as, “Precisely how, or in what way, is this stated benefit meaningfully differentiated versus those of our competition?” Or, “What marketplace or product performance data demonstrates that this positioning element is meaningfully different than those of our competitors?” And if such intellectual rigor results in a frank admission that the brand, in fact, does not have either real or perceived meaningful differentiation (among the positioning target), then specific actions are expected to get there.
  1. Holds the Market Research and R&D functions equally responsible with Marketing for delivering and sustaining meaningful differentiation. While Marketing is clearly accountable for articulating a competitive brand positioning strategy, the Marketing function alone cannot possibly make all the differentiation happen. Market Research must be expected to proactively field insight-generating methods—ones that will illuminate and keep ahead of evolving consumer and customer needs; and R&D must always be “on the hook” for acting upon those evolving needs to make the products “underneath the brand” better performing choices. Even more, each time a new research study or product initiative is recommended, the actual proposal should explicitly spell out how the outcome will support differentiation for the brand.
  1. Anticipates and plans for differentiation “neutralization.” Said another way, management routinely asks for “back-up” plans. For example, if a brand has a patented strategic ingredient or design, there should always be a process in place to address what will happen when competition matches it. This is especially important for brands in categories where differentiated benefits are hard to come by, making reasons why (features, attributes, endorsements) the primary differentiators. So our brand is the only one with retinol or the only one with the ADA endorsement. What will we move to when other brands in the category have the same?
  1.  Relies heavily upon creative resources—to create meaningful perceived differentiation. Is MasterCard functionally different from any other leading credit card? Hardly. But its combined Market Research and Brand Team creatively identified an emerging and growing consumer segment—the “credit card pragmatist.” They then added a perceived-differentiated emotional need-benefit (appreciating what really matters in life) to the brand positioning strategy that would appeal to this segment. And the brand’s communication agency crafted the “Priceless” campaign against that brand positioning…a campaign that definitely made MasterCard a perceived better choice than Visa or Amex among those credit card pragmatists.

Or take another example: Is Duracell a longer-lasting battery than the Energizer? Usually not. But its combined Brand and Communication Agency Team went out and secured a series of never-before-thought-of endorsers (like US heart hospitals and the Rocky Mountain Rescue Squad and Imax) and then turned those into the “Trusted Everywhere” campaign…which has made Duracell a perceived, meaningfully differentiated battery.


Saying that differentiated brands are important is one thing. But making them happen, consistently across an organization, takes more than just talking about differentiation: it takes making differentiation a habit. Maybe your organization isn’t yet in the habit of doing all five of these Boats & Helicopters. Okay. The question then is, “What can you and your Brand Teams do to break some old habits…and start some new ones?”

Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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