Brands are all about differentiation. Aren’t they?

Well yes. The fundamental principle of branding is to add value by creating differentiation from the rest of the market. By making your brand unique you avoid being reduced to a commodity where price is the only differentiator.

But what if there is no difference?

For most of the history of brands, differentiation has focused on finding a unique property either a product benefit or emotional benefit and dramatising that through brand communication.

For much of brand history this was summed up by the concept of the USP. What is our “unique selling point?” echoed around marketing departments. It all seems so quaint and old-fashioned now. Because most markets are so crowded that finding a USP that chimes with the consumer is nigh on impossible.

And that is where ‘distinction’ may be a more useful goal than ‘differentiation’. This might sound like splitting hairs semantically, but if differentiation is all about a unique property then distinctiveness is more about creating unique feeling: this could be a tone of voice or a look and feel or a personality or culture.

Of course, a unique, reasonably rational and relevant point of difference is always preferable but in so many sectors (particularly the service sector), the danger is that in desperation to find a differentiating, point of difference that point of difference is not relevant or persuasive enough to base your brand communication.

It is far preferable to make your brand distinctive even if your product offer is indiscernible from some or many of your competitors.

In our very own business, the world of ‘marketing services brands’ this has been the approach for the last decade. There are hundreds of marketing services businesses that offer pretty much the same services. But some are just more distinctive and that makes them more noticeable, which gets them on more pitch lists which leads to greater success.

In an over-supplied, global marketplace where consumer attention and ‘brain space’ is at a premium, being ‘distinctive’ is an objective that every brand should be focusing on.

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