The more similar competing organizations are, the more important any difference becomes. And when meaningful differences are difficult (or impossible) to find in a product or service, the market will find differences outside of them.
Your customers will define you, if you don’t define yourself.
That’s why, for most organizations, the key to success is differentiation. Even if nearly identical in many ways to other competitive offerings, your prospects and customers do perceive differences. And these differences influence purchase decisions, and relationships.
But how do you define these differences? You start by gathering information, understanding the brand experience as well as strengths and weaknesses as perceived by your key audiences. Internally, this includes executives, management and customer-facing employees. Externally, garner insights from your customers, investors, prospective customers and others.
Taken together, this provides the data you need to create a perceptual map of your brand. This “brand map” will help you understand where you stand with your customers, and the market overall, today.
Where do you want to go… tomorrow?
Brand research, and analysis of the data that must both drive and validate your approach, doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s relatively easy to capture both “present state” and “aspirational” brand attributes, values, and differentiators if you are smart, are a research expert (or have a team at your disposal) and understand both your business, and the underpinnings of high-performing brands.
But what isn’t easy is to create true differentiation by relying totally on what exists today. Yes, building a brand based on “present state” values and attributes takes both strategic acumen and research skill. But defining a brand that truly says “We’re Different; We’re Better; We’re Special” takes something more. Simply interpreting the numbers won’t drive the type of category-defining brand that many high-performing organizations wish to become. Supported by defensible (and illuminating) market and brand research, it also takes creativity.
Mind you, we’re not talking about “blue-sky let’s see what sticks” creativity, but creativity rooted in a deep understanding of your vision, your culture and your customer experience. To build a truly differentiated brand, you need to define where you want to go, where the “ideal” customer experience intersects with business, strategic and market realities, and set a stake – a defensible, differentiated stake – in the ground.
As Harry Beckwith points out in the book Selling the Invisible, “Create the possible service; don’t just create what the market needs or wants. Create what it would love.”