Brand Differentiation: Ten Traps to Avoid

(Reading Time: 7 minutes)

In my last post, I proposed five principles of brand differentiation:

  1. The goal is not “difference.”  The goal is value and meaning.
  2. Differentiation is not something you find.  It’s something you create.
  3. In branding, as in life, what we do matters more than what we say.
  4. “Best” is relative.
  5. Be precise with your Who.  Be creative with your How.

These are the starting points.  But if you’ve ever attempted to cut your own hair during a pandemic – speaking hypothetically, of course! – you know there can be a huge gap between “best intentions” and “end result.”  Things go wrong along the way.

The same goes for brand differentiation.  There’s the moment of inspiration, and then there’s all the hard work that comes after it.

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Five Principles for Creating Brand Difference

(Reading Time: 3 minutes)

Harvard’s Michael Porter famously said that there are exactly two ways to compete: Cost leadership and differentiation.

Are you Walmart or Amazon?  No?  Then differentiation seems like the way to go.

Practical example: If you own an independent flooring store, and a Home Depot opens up half a mile away, do you really think you’re going to beat them on price?  Time to start thinking about playing a game you can win.

The trouble is, many products, services and brands have no real point of difference.  Which means they’re in trouble.  If you’re not different, you’re dying.

So here are five “first principles” – mindset, not tactics – to help you stand out: 

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Act With Purpose: Four Factors for Making a Difference

Act With Purpose
(Reading Time: 3 minutes)

Last week, I shared five reasons why I’m at odds with the “Change or die!” fear-mongers.  Today I offer an alternate (and calmer) approach: “Act with purpose.”

I’ll begin with another rebuttal to “Change or die”: We’re already changing, without anyone shouting at us to do so.  As people, as teams, as organizations, we’re changing all the time.

Any time we adopt a new habit, launch a new product, or add even one new team member, we’re changing.  But change can be intentional or unintentional.  So the operative question is this:

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Don’t Waste This Crisis: How Strong Values Improve Strategy

(Reading Time: 6 minutes)

There’s a question that’s asked far too rarely as we develop brand and business strategies.  It’s simple but extremely powerful, since it shapes everything that you’ll do as a team or organization.

The question:

Who do we want to be?

It’s challenging to lead an organization in the best of times.  In a time of scarcity – like the one we recently, abruptly entered – it can feel impossible.

But navigating difficulty is one of the roles of a leader.  As FDR said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” 

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The Super Bowl Ads: A Guide for the Rest of Us

(Reading Time: 10 minutes)

Friends, the Super Bowl is just a few days away.  That means the Super Bowl ads are just a few days away.  And that means the advertising media, and a few pundits, are working themselves into a lather right about now.

Take Gary Vaynerchuk.  He’s on record as saying:

“Super Bowl ads are underpriced.  Yeah, I said it.”

Medium.com, Jan. 29, 2015

And:

“When I buy my first brand, the first thing I’m gonna do is run multiple Super Bowl ads.”

ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, 2016

See that?  Gary Vee doesn’t even know what his product or service will be, let alone anything about its market or competitive situation, and he’s already committed to a tactical decision on its behalf.  This is obviously a problem, and we’ll come back to it.

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Of Sparkling Water and Hockey Pucks

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

Sparkling water costs pennies per can to produce.

If you knew this fact only, and you were in the sparkling water business, you might reasonably conclude:

  • Others are going to want a piece of this profitable market.
  • Some of them have been canning fizzy water for decades, and they’re damn good at it.
  • Some of them have very deep pockets.
  • Some of them are going to innovate.

What happens?

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If It Doesn’t Solve Your Problems, It’s Weak Strategy

Theranos Elizabeth Holmes
(Reading Time: 4 minutes)

Let’s begin with a simple truth:

Every business has problems.

Those problems may be internal or external (often both).  They may be created by others or self-inflicted.  They may be present-day certainties or future possibilities.

But there’s no business anywhere that is blissfully free of challenges, obstacles, changes… problems.

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