The 3 Differentiators Styles that Matter for Your Brand
Jenni here, and one question that we get asked a lot is:
"I know I need my brand to be "differentiated" or to be different than what everyone else is doing. How do I know that I'm telling a truly compelling brand narrative vs. being just like everyone else?"
After years of guiding and working with clients on our brand strategy and marketing plan, The Brand Plan, we have started to see some trends in the path we take brands through on their way from ordinary to compelling.
Here are three styles of differentiation that we've used to help successful brands step away from the noise and stand out in a crowd.
1. NICHE CUSTOMERS
Using niche customers as a differentiator: Buena Lane Photography
If you've been on the internet for any period of time, someone has probably told you to niche down, or specify your customer base. And in general, YES, we agree that having a clear customer base will help your marketing.
Your brand might be able to take this a step further and get incredibly specific in the kinds of customers they're talking to in order to stand out in your market. I've used this example before in a post about why positioning matters — our client Eileen Roche of Buena Lane Photography is my favorite to show off niche differentiation.
Buena Lane Photography isn't just for any couple. They're for couples who are looking to do intimate, non-traditional weddings. Take one look at her brand, and it's clear right away that she's not your generalist wedding photographer.
Here are a few telltale signs to show off her niche:
- Copy on her website: "Welcome to Buena Lane Photography. We partner with couples who are fans of the non-traditional, the natural, and the intimate. Your love, your way." --> She's calling out couples who want smaller weddings or want to do something with a non-wedding vibe.
- Images on her website: she has an image of a homosexual couple on her home page. There isn't more than 25 guests in any single wedding.
She's using niche positioning to differentiate herself from every other wedding photographer in the Bay Area. And it's working.
Here's a quote from one of her potential clients who emailed this prior to booking with Buena Lane: "We love your work, we love your site, but most of all we love what you believe in. Once we saw your work, we didn't need to look any further."
2. UNIQUE PACKAGING OR METHOD
The second style of brand differentiator that we see often is brand's that are essentially offering the same service or product as anyone else, but they are doing it in a totally unique way, or offering a signature method.
I'll give two examples of this, one for a product based business and one for a service.
Example 1: Using Unique packaging as a differentiator for product-based business: Care/of Vitamins
Care Of is a Vitamin company that is approaching suppliments in a totally unique way. Instead of offering bottles of pills at a health food store, they are offering completely customized daily packs of vitamins, delivered to your door.
Their offering and mission is essentially the same as many vitamin brands: to provide the highest quality supplements to their customers.
But their packaging, or the method / process they use to deliver the product, is what makes them truly stand out. They offer a personalized test to curate the right vitamins for you, and you can choose how often you get deliveries. Plus with the daily pill packs with customer's name printed right on them, Care Of is providing a differentiated product in the supplement market.
(Just to be clear here, when I say "packaging" I don't just mean their boxes or design, although Care Of does an amazing job at that. I mean what is included or not included in the offer, or the way the offer is executed or delivered).
Example 2: Using unique packaging as a differentiator for a service-based business: Primd Marketing
When it comes to service based businesses, creating a unique differentiator based on package looks like coming up with a method that you want to be known for. For us that's our branding strategy, The Brand Plan.
There are lots of companies out there that offer logos, websites, help with email marketing, or strategic thinking for your brand. And for the first 2 years of Prim'd Marketing, we were a generalist shop, offering all of these but holding back our opinion on what clients actually needed, in what order, and how we should walk them through those offerings.
But once we realized that we followed the same steps with our brand strategy every single time, we knew we could make a process around those steps, package the deliverables and name the offering. Lots of people offer smart marketing thinking, we are the only ones who offer The Brand Plan.
Now instead of being known as one of many creative shops, we have something specific to be known for.
The third way we see brands differentiate themselves is through bringing a bit of their style forward. This can be done either through the brand's or founder's personality, or a specific design style they are known for. This kind of branding comes from truly knowing who you are, letting your customers get to know you, and leveraging your style to connect more deeply with customers.
To show how style can be a differentiator for your brand, I will use two examples, one product-based and one service-based.
Example 1: Using style as a differentiator for service-based business by leveraging personality: Kathleen Shannon
When it comes to the "personal style" differentiator I am going to use the example of Kathleen Shannon of Braid Creative / Being Boss podcast. Kathleen is many things, but she wins customers over because they love her personality and are excited to work with her personality specifically.
While there are many coaches for example, coaching brands that leverage personality create relationships with people based on who they are. In turn, customers buy because they have a strong connection to the person behind the brand. In the case of Kathleen, she's generated multiple businesses based on sharing her own personality. Her fans and customers come to her specifically because they feel close to her and when they're looking for a podcast or branding firm, Kathleen stands out from the crowd.
Example 2: Using style as a differentiator for visual-business leverage design style: Chloe Meyer Art
Chloe Meyer is an artist here in the Bay Area, and she uses bright colors in her iconic artwork. She has a design fingerprint that she's known for. She makes original work that isn't following trends, but rather is establishing her own design style.
Businesses that use design style to cultivate a brand differentiator might resoate with the idea that when someone walks into a room, they take one look at a piece of work and say, "Oh that's a Chloe Meyer."
IF NOT THESE, THEN YOU COMPETE ON PRICE
If you haven't yet hung your hat on a certain kind of customer, a unique package or a unique style, then you're competing on price. And raise your hand if you're excited to be the cheapest professional in the room (that's right, NO ONE IS).
Unless you're brand is like a Walmart, where you can move millions of pieces of product and own a huge percentage of the market share, then competition on price is a tough business to be in.
The really good news here is also that you don't have to feel the pressure to be all of these things. You don't have to niche down to a super small target, become Instagram famous AND create a signature e-course just to have a great brand. You can choose the one that works best with your brand's style, and go for it.
CAN I HAVE MORE THAN ONE STYLE?
There are lots of brands who have more than one differentiation style, or use combinations of styles. In fact, I would argue that Care/Of also uses some great brand personality in addition to their unique packaging.
The main take away here is that you need at least one of these differentiators in order to stand out in your market. If you're not known for one of these styles, then you're not being purchased because you have a compelling brand that customers are loyal to, but rather because you were the cheapest option.
What's your brand's differentiation style?
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