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Fifty tips​ to differentiate for your brand.


Everybody wants a different, more meaningful brand. The irony of that statement is intentional. It belies the conservative manner in which most brands approach competitive differences. They say they want to be distinctive to consumers but often want to align with the rest of the industry in their hearts. One of the key issues is uncertainty on the part of brand makers and decision-makers to find a starting point. Branding is not just about getting your target market to choose you over the competition. Branding is about convincing your prospects that you can only provide a solution to their problem. 


Begin with a premise that is truly one degree away from your rivals. You will build a consistently and markedly different brand by logically progressing that premise over time and with strong discipline.

A brand checklist, 50 aspects, and cited examples on how you can create a meaningful difference for your brand:

  1. Go slow in a world of speed. Each Rolex takes a year to manufacture. The perception that a longer process is needed to build the world’s best timepiece reinforces the value.

  2. Use your country of origin to your advantage. Brands from Switzerland are highly associated with precision and fine craftsmanship. Seek to build brand associations with countries that support your reputation for service, manufacturing, innovation, etc.

  3. Behave differently. Online shoe retailer Zappos has built its advantage on an iron-clad return policy and customer service that goes above and beyond, breaking down the perceived barriers to selling and buying shoes online.

  4. Look different. Apple always looks like Apple. Diesel always looks like Diesel. Absolut Vodka always looks like Absolut. They’re in a sector but don’t look like part of it.

  5. Be the underdog in a sector where everyone else wants to be the top dog. Nantucket Nectars started “with only a blender and a dream,” and Clif Bar proclaims that its founder once lived in a garage. Underdogs win the compassionate consumer. Look for the underdog story you can tell.

  6. Be truly and unapologetically shocking. Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign ruffled feathers on almost every front. But – and this is critical – the outrage you generate must link to a solution, and that solution should be your front. Otherwise, you risk shouting into the wind.

  7. Expand your appeal. “Discover” an untapped audience in your sector and, by drawing them in, intensify the sense of community around your brand and people's interaction with it. Enterprise Rent-A-Car did just that by offering leasing at a time when competitors did not. By serving this unmet need with attention to customer experience, Enterprise became the world’s number 1 car rental company. Apple, too saw what others did not. No one was asking for an iPhone, but an untapped audience emerged when the new value of a cell phone was introduced.

  8. Re-Invent a category – and own it. UFC became the fastest-growing sports organization worldwide by redefining the reach and the audience for mixed martial arts. Today, UFC produces more than 30 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world. Swatch differentiated from other watch brands by focusing on self-expression rather than precision.

  9. Create a new category. The Toyota Prius, the Nintendo Wii, and Red Bull are all brands that created new categories outside the established norms of their product category. By stepping outside the bounds of their categories, these brands created a space they could call their own.

  10. Tell a story that defines you and is unique to you. The story may be about your founder, as with Virgin and Richard Branson, your heritage like Hickory Farms, or the value you bring to the world, like Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness. It may also be based on imagination – like the thought that Keebler elves make Keebler cookies. Or perhaps it’s a story based on your highly guarded secret – only two people know Coca-Cola’s formula. Your story may also be about the source of your product, service, or inspiration.

  11. Forge new ground in the spirit of your founder. Chanel continues to personify the philosophies, ideals, and legend of Coco Chanel long after her death.

  12. Leverage your history to define tomorrow. National Geographic has redefined what it means to experience the world we never see by expanding its channels and offerings while still holding its history close.

  13. Own an eternal idea. Red Bull expresses in every action its belief in and addiction to excitement. Ingredients, spirits, sponsorships, and the human desire to do things that make the heart race are inextricably linked. Dove owns and serves the idea of real beauty. Lululemon finds its eternal idea in the mind state of yoga and has built a powerful athletic apparel brand on that concept.

  14. Change the possibilities. This is about more than just product innovation. It’s about introducing technologies that completely change how people live. Boeing redefined travel forever with the 747. Google may well redefine how we can see with Google Glass. Dyson changed the possibilities by reinventing old technologies like the vacuum, hand dryer, and fan.

  15. Make active plans to be where others aren’t (yet). This article looks at the fact that while Chinese consumers are now overwhelmed by Western brands and doing business in Greater China has become very expensive, other countries in Asia with booming economies like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines remain largely overlooked.

  16. Solve a global problem. “Big bang” solutions in areas like pharmaceuticals or biotechnology require huge investment and scary timeframes, but when they work, they deliver huge distinction, kudos, and profits. A “Big Bang” solution can come from any brand — TOM’s seeks to solve the problem of children without shoes. TOM’s matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need. One for One.

  17. Build groundswell. Do something startling to generate attention. Use attention to build a crowd. Use a crowd to gain credibility. Use credibility as the jumping-off point for your next distinctive act. Red Bull, Virgin, and Apple should come to mind.

  18. Redefine how people buy. With millions of products, 24/7 access, superior search and browsing technology, user reviews, and many other sources of in-depth product information, offers a superior purchase experience.

  19. Bring unprecedented optimism to a sector. Nike redefined what people believed they should be capable of.

  20. Connect the previously unconnected. LinkedIn brought business people together so they could network and share ideas in an effortless, credible, and global way. In doing that, they resolved a problem that no one realized they had until they saw the potential for what they would now be able to do.

  21. Rewrite the experience. Southwest Airlines put the fun, the quirkiness, and the savings back into the serious and process-packed world of travel. Starbucks differentiated not on coffee but a ‘third place’ – a respite between home and work.

  22. Make what you sell feel even more personal. This great infographic hints at how much further retailers could take personalization.

  23. Link your brand to specific occasions. Habits are powerful, but occasions may be even more so. They engage us so effectively because they combine time and focus. And because of that, they provide permission – it’s OK to behave this way or that. It’s OK to do something you wouldn’t do on any ordinary day. De Beers, Hallmark, Mercedes, Hershey, Cadbury, MACY’s, and others have tapped into occasions or created occasions and made themselves synonymous with celebrating those occasions.

  24. Brand license. Brand licensing can bring valuable new meaning to a brand, further differentiating it from its competitors. Pillsbury licenses the Cinnabon brand to do just that for its cinnamon rolls. Colgate licenses Disney characters to increase its brand appeal.

  25. Breakaway from conventional wisdom. Breakaway brands bring new meanings to the party and make the most of the stretch, holding on to enough of the old to avoid category defection. Breakaway brands stretch the boundaries and live as outliers. These brands are the opposite of the well-behaved brands in the category and consequently provide radical differentiation from the status quo. Cirque du Soleil is one such brand. It falls into the “circus” category, but this brand has skillfully crafted a highly valued and differentiated positioning as everything a circus is not. There are no tents, tigers, or elephants. No ringmasters. Instead, it borrows attributes from other entertainment categories like dance, music, opera, and theater. It becomes something different–far outside the bounds of a conventional circus.

  26. Change the name. Sometimes your original name doesn’t sound like something you want to put in your mouth, like a Chinese gooseberry. When the name was changed to kiwi fruit, the world suddenly had a new favorite fruit that it wanted to put in its mouth.

  27. Personify. The Green Giant character became the difference in a family of vegetables in many forms. Frank Perdue became the tough man behind the tender chicken. The Gecko became the much-loved spokesperson for GEICO.

  28. Create a new item. The cantaloupe people wanted to differentiate a special, big cantaloupe. But rather than call them just “big,” they introduced Crenshaw melons. Tyson wanted to sell miniature chickens, which didn’t sound very appetizing. So, it introduced Cornish game hens.

  29. Reposition the category. The pork was just pig for many years. Then the industry jumped on the chicken bandwagon and became “the other white meat.” That was a very good move when red meat became a perceptual problem.

  30. Identify, identify, identify. Ordinary bananas became better when a small Chiquita label was added to the fruit. Dole did the same for pineapple with the Dole label, as did the lettuce people by putting each head into a clear Foxy lettuce package. Of course, you then must communicate why people should look for these labels.

  31. Be the expert or specialist. The specialist can focus on one product, benefit, and message. This focus enables the marketer to put a sharp point on the message that quickly drives it into the mind. Domino’s can focus on home delivery. Pizza Hut has to discuss its different pizzas, home delivery, and sit-down service.

  32. Price with pride. Starbucks prices its coffee higher to raise perceptions of the quality of its coffee.  Singapore Airlines, the most profitable airline in the world, does the same thing and always sells at a premium. In each case, the price signals supremacy – differentiation via perceived quality.

  33. Use Ingredient Brands. The North Face uses Gore-Tex technology to differentiate. The Intel brand adds to the product’s perceived performance in the PC space. Each brings noticeable differences in its own right.

  34. Highly target a market. Whom you focus on can create a unique point of difference. Consider FOX News, an American news outlet designed to serve the Republican Party and its supporters. This laser focus has made it synonymous with conservative views and policies, creating the strongest commercial brand associated with those views. Wegmans Supermarkets believes that happy employees generate happy customers. They have built their powerful brand on the mantra that their employees are number one.

  35. Change the reach. How your product or service reaches a customer can set you apart. Redbox specializes in the rental of DVDs and video games. Through an easy-to-use kiosk, it differentiated from its competitor Netflix and helped seal the fate of Blockbuster. Amazon has a futuristic plan to deliver some orders via drone.

  36. Give unprecedented access. People flew Concorde because of opportunities that could come from whom you would sit next to. You weren’t paying for a faster flight; you were paying for the company. Country clubs in Asia are the same. It’s not about the game of golf; it’s about networking. The unique value for Citibank’s Citi Private Pass card holders is in the preferred access at entertainment events.

  37. Share values. When a brand is built on shared values, it can differentiate on those values and enjoy perhaps the strongest bond in the marketing world. Think of any brand that matters, and you’ll discover the type of people buying the stuff are the same type of people who design, make and sell the stuff. This is the awesome sauce of brand values and brand identity alignment. Apparel brands like Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and The North Face understand the importance of shared values. The bond that binds is a deep interpersonal connection between the users and the makers.

  38. Stand for something your customers want to stand for. In the same manner, as the enthusiast apparel brands mentioned in #37, Kashi cereal customers see themselves, their values, and their identities in complete harmony with the Kashi brand. They’re the same. Likewise, the Kashi people care about the same stuff as their consumers–greater health and well-being for themselves and the planet. For Kashi, making food that enhances life is a sacred business. For Kashi customers, living well is a sacred business. More people are waking up to caring more about others and our planet and buying Kashi products. Your brand can differentiate as being the do-good brand in your space.

  39. Give them something to unwrap. Package design offers one of the biggest opportunities for brand differentiation. Color, shape, size, functionality, texture, and materials can influence purchase decisions. There’s no mistaking a Tiffany & Co. box and its distinctive blue. Innovative packaging proves another signature differentiator for Apple and Tropicana, who learned the value of this difference when it attempted to redesign its packaging.

  40. Engage the senses. Every marketer should explore the senses when ideating brand differentiation strategies. Every five senses offer a channel to connect with your target customer and flex a point of difference. The more each of these is engaged at any one time during customer contact, the more your brand and what it stands for will be remembered. Scent branding in the hotel world is one example. Sofitel, Le Meridién, The Ritz-Carlton, Westin, Sheraton, and Marriott are some hotel brands employing a signature scent strategy to further move away from their competitors.

  41. Put a famous face on your famous brand. The age-old strategy of pairing products and services with a well-known celebrity continues to be a viable option for brand differentiation. However, the rules have changed. There must be an authentic alignment between the brand and the celebrity. Case in point: Tiger Woods and Nike Golf: Yes. Tiger Woods and Buick: No. The association between brand and celebrity must be clear.

  42. Redefine usage. How your product is used can serve as a key differentiator. Arm & Hammer Baking Soda became much more when customers discovered it also made for a powerful air freshener. This helped Arm & Hammer extend into new categories and create a multi-use brand that is more meaningful to its target customers.

  43. Introduce simplicity and purity into people’s cluttered lives. Stand for good things. Market highly valued values. You will know what your target customers value most with deep customer insight. That insight can help create highly valued brands. Honest Tea was born from the insight that simple and pure refreshment was missing from the market. The Method brand came to life through a quest to create household cleaning products that were not harmful.

  44. Tap into the power of emotions. Linking your brand with customer emotions can prove an effective differentiator. It was humor that helped GEICO pull away from the me-too world of insurance brands. While its competition focused on fear, GEICO used witty and funny campaigns to differentiate itself and gain an advantage. Brands like Hallmark found that brand differentiation based on human emotions could lead to a 92% mind share.

  45. Control the accessibility. Brands can differentiate on when they make their products and services available and whom they make that accessibility for. Elite luxury brands will limit how many of their signature products are manufactured. The most influential customers will have access to those products first. This all builds into the frenzy that drives the desire and purchase of the brand. It also helps command a premium price. Brands like Coca-Cola use accessibility on the other end of the spectrum. They desire to be the most accessible brand and have distribution channels in the deepest regions of the world.

  46. Focus on design and aesthetics. Consider Hermès scarves, Vilebrequin men’s swimwear, Robert Graham shirts, and Alexander McQueen fashion wear. Or how about the Michael Graves Design collection at Target? This helps college and university brands too. Beautiful campuses tend to attract students. For municipality brands, “attractive neighborhoods” rates as one of the top things people consider when deciding where to live. Camden, ME, Niagara-on-the-Lake (ON, Canada), Quebec City (QC, Canada), and Bruges, Belgium, are popular tourist destinations, mainly due to their superior aesthetics. Never underestimate the power of superior aesthetics to differentiate.

  47. Convey status. If you knew I went to Philips Academy, Andover, Harvard, and Stanford, lived in Atherton, CA, summered in Nantucket, drove a Mercedes-Benz model S-class, and sailed a Nautor’s Swan53, would these brands effectively communicate my social status?

  48. Create a unique product purchase experience. How different is purchasing a teddy bear with a child in a Build-A-Bear Workshop versus buying one off the shelf in a typical toy or department store? Very different. And very differentiating.

  49. Create an unusual theme or twist to your brand. Consider the following unusual restaurant brands – Opaque (dining in the dark), Ice Restaurant (in Dubai), Underwater restaurant in Maldives, Magic Restroom (toilet-themed) Café in CA, or Dinner in the Sky (suspended 50 meters above the ground). For more creative restaurant themes,

  50. Treat people differently than your competitors do. We love Ritz-Carlton’s “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” mantra. This alludes to gentility, civility, and respect not often experienced in product purchases or user experiences. If an opportunity to serve your customer better does not exist — create one.

Source: branding strategy insider

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