Over and over again, companies hear the importance of differentiation—of distinguishing their brands from the competition. And while it’s important to be aware of your place within the competitive landscape, it’s even more important to understand your target audience.
Why? Because differentiation is more than a marketing method among your competitors.
It’s how a brand is experienced—whether in a tangible or intangible way. It’s a way of thinkingto better understand the audience you want interacting with your brand. And it’s about learninghow to resonate with an audience through relevance and conviction.
Here are a few tips to help understand the importance of your audience and remaining relevant when it comes to differentiating your brand.
Adopt the mindset of your audience.
Traditionally, some level of disconnect has always existed between most companies and their audience. While executives may see their company’s services and offerings as differentiated and valuable, their customers may not always agree.
The problem lies with having too internal of a focus. Instead, executives must remember that branding is more or less based on the perception of the audience. It’s not what you say your brand is but rather what they think.
It needs to fulfill an unmet benefit for them. It needs to be relevant to their lifestyle. The timing must be right, and the messaging needs to speak to them in a way that’s compelling and desirable.
Know who you’re talking to—and how to talk to them.
According to Youngme Moon, a Harvard Business School professor and author of Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, there are two main types of consumers within a general audience: the connoisseur and the novice.
The connoisseur is a consumer who has developed the ability to deconstruct the product category to find his or her own purchasing preferences—becoming a type of category expert that is more informed, critical and opinionated. You can’t sell them the same “noise” as all the other competitors in your market. It must be a truly unique “must have” promoted in a way that’s both factual and authentic. And the product or service must come through with its promise, or all trust will be lost.
However, in a landscape overrun by similar brands, a novice has more difficulty seeing the differences—giving that consumer a harder time to make a buying decision.
So while you must appease the connoisseurs in your target, it’s just as important to state your differentiation in a manner that’s simple to understand. This means truly cutting through the noise to help the novice navigate through what Moon calls a “sea of sameness.”
Human behavior is complex, especially as consumers evolve with market trends. Differentiation doesn’t last. The expectations of your audience will grow as innovation continues to progress, and they’ll look to you to move with it.
Consumers need constant interaction and “reassurance” of why they should stay loyal to your brand. The core values of a brand don’t have to change, but how it’s perceived should be refreshed and reinvigorated.
In fact, according to research firm Millward Brown, differentiation isn’t always about “functional product [or service] benefits” but through “creatively connecting with consumers.” This means finding unique ways to integrate your brand into a consumer’s everyday life—or align it with cultural trends or issues consumers care about.
While true differentiation is very rare, brands that distinguish themselves in a meaningful way—and can deliver on their promises—are more likely to be repeatedly considered by consumers. However, this kind of success greatly depends on how well a brand continuously understands and engages with its audience.
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