Posts Tagged 'differentiation'

social media is always about people

eskimon coke

It’s widely known in marketing circles that Coca-Cola’s Facebook page was originally created by two ardent fans who had no official ties to the company.

I was always impressed that Coke brought these fans in to help them run the page, rather than simply taking control of the property and relieving the creators of their legacy.

However, on a chance visit to the brand’s Facebook page yesterday, I noticed that the brand has decided to tell the whole world that story too – and they’ve done a really good job of it too.

Take a look at this fantastic tab:

Apart from the fact that the tab is a great example of how to design a Facebook tab – a simple, appealing layout with a variety of content types – there are a number of things that make this an excellent case study in social marketing.

Firstly, the tab celebrates fans.

This is central to any successful branded community, but Coca-Cola have taken this to a whole new level.

Its real magic is in the message it sends – we celebrate fans who share their love of Coca-Cola.

It’s the perfect incentive for other fans to go out and create pages and communities of their own, furthering the brand’s impact and deepening its social resonance.

It’s even led to the creation of a separate ‘Dusty and Michael’ fanpage.

Secondly, it tells an enduring story.

This tab is not a ‘campaign’; the Creators tab appears to be an on-going project that evolves naturally.

That’s an excellent way to ensure the brand continues to have interesting content for its page that people will actually engage with.

Indeed, the tab already features 13 distinct bits of video content, as well as links to the brand’s YouTube channel:

The story element is tightly interwoven with the tab’s third strength: it’s human.

Good social media marketing is always about the people.

Sure, Dusty and Michael are now social media ‘celebrities’ in their own right, but they’re still people that the average fan can relate to.

The brand makes it very clear that these were just 2 ordinary guys with an extra-ordinary love for the brand:

More importantly, to the page’s other fans, Dusty and Michael are now ‘real’ people with whom they can develop some kind of relationship.

That means there are even more opportunities for people to engage in dialogue with the brand.

In other words, it’s now even more social.

And that’s what changes a page into a community.

What do you think? What else makes it such a strong example of social media marketing?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

awesome or die

There’s been much talk recently about doing ‘awesome’ stuff.

Faris is a particularly strong exponent.

To many, it might seem hyperbolic – an excessive superlative used merely for effect.

But it’s not.

When it comes to advertising, we have two options: death or glory.

Which only leaves us with one appealing option.

Stuff that inspires people’s awe and wonder.

Sadly, a toned-down compromise that appeases a variety of different stakeholders simply isn’t going to work.

‘Good’ just isn’t good enough.

If you’re not looking at the work and thinking, “F**K yeah!”, chances are that the audience is simply going to pass it by.

In advertising terms, that’s death.

So don’t be scared of hyperbole.

Be scared of mediocrity and blandness.

Choose life.

Choose awesomeness.

great to share

It’s been a while since I posted something in the classics series, but I’ve found myself referring to this spot quite a lot recently, so I thought it was probably worth sharing here too.

This ad does a great job of extending the product’s benefit into a compelling new territory.

Up until this, most gum ads talked about ‘freshness’ and alluded to the romantic advantages this could bring.

But this ad reversed the allusion, putting the romance centre stage, and so making the overall benefit much more emotional.

This turns the promise into a more engaging story that people can relate to, and crucially, it makes it much easier to recall (20 years later I still remember it clearly).

I really like the way the final product shot feels like a natural part of the story too.

What about you – what do you think makes it work?

comparing apples with apples

A few weeks back, Seth shared this interesting anecdote on his blog:

“At the farmer’s market the other day, three perfect strangers
asked me what sort of apple to buy…

People are now afraid of apples: afraid of buying the wrong kind;
of making a purchasing mistake or some sort of pie mistake.”

From a certain perspective, I understand what he’s saying: it’s widely accepted that too much choice can actually lead to ‘decision-making paralysis’.

However, there’s an alternative interpretation of Seth’s apple episode that’s equally intriguing:

Maybe the questions weren’t asked in fear.

Perhaps those three strangers struck up conversation because they were excited about this abundance of choice.

In recent years, the apples available in Western supermarkets have become commoditised: the same few varieties, in the same standard sizes, with the same bland taste.

But people who visit farmers markets tend to care deeply about their food: they’re passionate about taste, colour, texture, perfume, and about the gastronomic experience in general.

So, when they’re presented with an exciting array of new apple varieties, it seems natural that they’d want to share their excitement.

Here are some alternative reasons why people might have asked Seth a question:

Questions quickly establish rapport by engaging people in active conversation. They give the respondent a chance to share their own excitement without feeling challenged or inferior, fostering a freer exchange of information and opinions.

Each farmers’ market offers different foods and different varieties, but a good proportion of visitors tend to be regulars. Faced with a wide variety of unknown apples at a new farmers’ market, I’d seek the opinion of those around me too, because foodies love to share their passion and recommend favourites to others. Indeed, this sharing and conversation is a central part of the market experience.

The broader appeal

There’s a more general truth here that offers marketers a fascinating opportunity.

When people are passionate about something, their passion often spills over: they like to share their excitement with other people, and their own enthusiasm often extends into adjacent areas of interest.

For example, a love of wine can easily extend into passion for Scotch and Cognac.

And while it’s unlikely that we’ll ever succeed in arousing everyone’s passion for our category, those who do get passionately involved are worth a lot more.

This is because people love to indulge their passions: wine enthusiasts tend to spend a lot more on wine than ‘average’ drinkers, and they often buy a range of expensive accessories too.

Putting it in context

The trick is to understand where your brand sits in people’s world, and how it relates to their passions.

Part of this involves understanding that people can get passionate about things that we’d never expect, and as a result, even seemingly mundane brands can become highly relevant to their lives.

For example, I know many people who are passionate about their homes, and who spend hours researching new ways to make their home cleaner and fresher.

Although these people are unlikely to get excited about bleach as a category, a household cleaning brand that extends its relevance beyond simple product attributes to offer advice and solutions for the houseproud is much more likely to engage them.

As we’ve seen before, the task isn’t necessarily to become their favourite brand ever; rather, it’s about demonstrating how good your brand is in relation to everything else it competes with.

This is more about two-way engagement rather than advertising: finding more immesrsive ways to share things with them, and more importantly, helping them to share things with us and their peers.

UPDATE: Just noticed this wonderful post by Spike over at Brains on Fire – some very wise words that add an important focus to the words above:

“…many [people] are still treating people’s passion as something a company can find and then own. Find? Yes. Own? Never. Passion is not a sales transaction.

Passion is sacred. Passion is a part of a person’s life. Their soul. To find it, you have to clear away everything else. You won’t find it in a focus group that is created to talk about you and your product. You won’t find it when you do all the talking. And you won’t find it wd a tree until it falls for it.

Passion is not a commodity. It is a gift. Treat it like one.”

Go read the rest here.


Crowdsourcing continues to be one of the hottest topics in marketing today, but it receives its fair share of skepticism too.

That skepticism may have merit: to some, crowdsourcing seems like a simple case of repackaged logic.

After all, the marketing concept asserts that the best way to build a successful business is to offer people what they really want; because crowd-sourcing helps us understand what people actually want, it seems like a key ingredient of any successful business.

However, there’s a key difference between crowdsourcing and our previous, research-based approach: collaborative engagement.

The more we involve people in every aspect of developing our products, the greater their subsequent level of engagement, and the deeper their relationship with our brand.

This physical contribution and emotional engagement means people have a vested interest in your brand’s success.

In their minds, it becomes their brand too.

The death of brands?

So if people could always join forces to solve their problems, would brands still exist?

In its ideal form, crowdsourcing would mean we would never need to choose between different brands again, because our co-developed solutions would always satisfy our specific needs.

That Utopian vision seems appealing on many fronts.

There’s just one problem.

Democratic stagnation

The main challenge with crowdsourcing is that it rarely delivers radical innovation.

Indeed, two things lead me to believe that crowdsourcing could actually slow our rate of progress.

Firstly, everyday people tend to imagine the future in relation to their present.

Henry Ford summed this up beautifully:

“If I had asked people what they wanted,
they would have said faster horses.”

Secondly, the democratic process tends to dilute innovations down to a lowest common denominator.

Most people are fearful of change, and reject things that are far removed from their current sphere of familiarity.

As a result, involving too many people in the process risks death by democracy.

Right tool, right job

So, rather than using crowdsourcing to solve all our business problems, we might be better to use it for a more specific purpose.

Here’s my theory.

When we know what people want, we’re better placed to offer it to them in the most effective and efficient ways.

However, if we’re to succeed in adding value, rather than merely delivering it, we need to go one step further.

We need to show people what they could have; not just a better version of what they already know.

As a consequence, I think crowdsourcing’s real potential lies in helping us to identify the core benefits that people seek.

In other words, we need to get people to explain their ideal end, rather than asking them to design a shinier version of the means they currently use to get there.

It’s then our job to create truly innovative solutions that deliver those benefits better than anyone else.

Thanks to Neil for the inspiration.

everything’s relative


Most of the time, success isn’t about how good you are; it’s about how good you are relative to everything else.

The toilet cleaner category is dull, but brands that stress an 0.2% improvement in efficiency just make it worse

So, while these may not be the best adverts of all time, they make me smile.

And voilà: they differentiate Ambi Pur from the rest of the category.

Job done.

Thanks to Inspire me, now! for sharing.

the danger of demographics

The clip above is an enlightening talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie.

Central to her argument is an implicit, yet critical question: what makes people similar?

As Chimamanda illustrates, it’s not ethnicity; nor is it age, or gender, or income, or any of those other ‘statistics’.

So why does almost every brief still include demographics?

It’s ironic: our task is to separate our brands from the masses, but the first thing we do is to group individual people together into a mass.

It makes no sense; we all know that everyone wants to be recognised as an individual.

Do we really expect to form a bond with our audiences if we treat them in the exact opposite way to that which they hope?

I recognise that it’s unrealistic to approach every individual in a unique manner, but it’s high time demographics disappeared from our toolkit.

Because no matter who your audience is, it’s always made up of individual people.

Thanks to Slava for introducing me to the talk.

for love or money

love or money

After the recent post on KINDED, I was interested to read about a Canadian credit union’s approach to  ‘random acts of kindness’.

Springwise report that Servus is giving away 20,000 ten-dollar bills to allow people to “make someone’s day” and start what they refer to as a “Feel Good Ripple”.’

In their own words,

The Feel Good Ripple was developed to inspire everyone to make a positive impact in their community – today and into the future.  It’s the credit union way of creating harmonious communities and sharing our cooperative beliefs.

Participants have already put some of the money to good use, including anonymously buying an elderly couple breakfast, and buying pet food for the SPCA.

It’s an intriguing initiative.

On the one hand, it’s great for provoking conversations; my first reaction – ‘what would stop someone from pocketing the money?’ – even works in the campaign’s favour, by increasing the likelihood that people will talk about it.

It’s also a refreshing and differentiating alternative to the usual banking campaign full of stock images and financial cliché.

Furthermore, generosity isn’t an attribute people normally associate with brands in the financial services sector. This ‘corporate philanthropy’ angle highlights the brand’s credit union philosophy and co-operative approach.

Sure, cynics may suggest that it’s all just marketing spin – that’s it’s just another example of brands trying to buy people’s affection.

But does that matter?

The brand could have used this money to produce the usual, irrelevant blandness.

Instead, real people are benefiting from the campaign.

And when it comes to choosing between one bland brand and the next, that little ‘feel-good’ edge could become a critical motivator.

Sometimes, it’s not about how good you are, but about how bad everyone else is.

Read more in the Springwise article and on the brand’s campaign website.

differentiating brands

stand out from the crowd

One of marketing’s key tasks is differentiation: helping a brand to stand out from the crowd of other options.

There are many different ways to differentiate a brand, but there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer; it’s simply a case of understanding what works best for your brand and the kinds of people you want to attract.

Rob has a great introduction to differentiation techniques on his semantic argument blog, so I thought I’d share some additional thoughts on aspects of the marketing mix you might want to explore when expressing what sets your brand apart. I’ve tried to make it as straightforward as possible, to ensure it’s accessible to those without a strong marketing background.

I don’t pretend that it’s a comprehensive guide to the topic, but together with Rob’s posts and other web resources, it should at least provide some useful stimulus when it comes to defining or sharpening your differentiation.

Price Differentiation

This is the most basic form of differentiation, although there are a few variations on the theme:

Super Discount

Differentiation based on being the cheapest. It’s clear to see why it appeals to consumers, but it’s a cul-de-sac for the brand: ever-eroding profit margins and constant compromises on quality make it difficult to sustain.

Highest Price

People sometimes use price as a proxy for determining ‘quality’, particularly in complex or technical categories. This technique interprets that insight to suggest that a high price is actually desirable in certain circumstances.

This is particularly true in the pharmaceutical and child-care categories, where brands often play on people’s fears of the perceived ‘compromise’ they associate with cheaper brands.

It is also a favourite technique amongst luxury brands, who use exaggerated pricing to transform their offerings into status symbols and badges of wealth and success.

Mid Point

Adopting a price point that lies between the prices of existing competitors establishes a safe, ‘middle-of-the-road’ positioning that neither offends nor excites anyone. It appeals to people who want to compromise, and as a consequence, it rarely delivers meaningful differentiation.

Quantifiable Superiority

The brand differentiates its offering via measurable attributes, e.g.:

The speed of a computer processor
The amount of legroom on an airline
The number of years a malt whisky has been aged

This approach works well for brands that can deliver superior functional performance over time.

However, the brand risks losing its differentiation if another brand can deliver similar or superior performance, or if another brand succeeds in changing the basis for comparison to a different product or brand attribute.

It’s worth noting that brands can celebrate any attribute they choose, regardless of whether that attribute contributes significantly to its offering’s core performance, provided it can justify the relevance of that attribute.

There are a few variations on the Quantifiable Superiority approach:

Size Matters

This approach focuses on a comparative maximum or minimum of size, irrespective of how this impacts actual value – i.e. quantity over quality:

The hotel with the most rooms
The cable plan with the most channels
The smallest phone on the market

A parallel to this is the ‘blanket advertising’ approach, where the brand attempts to differentiate by shouting as loudly as it can, so that people simply can’t ignore it.

These approaches are neither pretty nor  subtle – they are the marketing equivalent of a man measuring his appendage – but their use is still widespread.

However, such popularity does not denote effectiveness.

Safety in Numbers

This approach harnesses the ‘herd instinct’, using rational claims to overcome more subjective concerns:

“Millions of satisfied customers can’t be wrong”
“The nation’s favourite”
“We work with more Fortune 500 brands than any of our competitors”

This works well in categories where measures of performance are more subjective; where people aren’t sure what really matters; or where competing brands emphasise a variety of unconnected attributes.

Interestingly, brands can also harness the opposite approach – ‘small for a reason’ – to equal effect, e.g.:

“For those who know the difference”
“Think different”
“Go your own way”

This is ultimately a volume limiting strategy, but the approach supports premium pricing that can offset lower unit sales.


The places where you make your brand available will play a strong part in establishing and reinforcing your positioning. However, distribution can also be used as a differentiation strategy in its own right.

Brands like Avon, Tupperware, and even Dell managed to break free from the traditional confines of their categories by making their brands available through new and relevant channels.

There are two broad routes to differentiated distribution:

Wherever, whenever

Although it may not the key pillar of the brand’s differentiation, this approach is most famously adopted by Coke, with their ‘always within arm’s reach‘ philosophy. Quick-service restaurants and mobile communications networks often emphasise it too.

It requires considerable commitment to introduce and maintain, and it’s fairly obvious if the brand doesn’t  achieve it (“they’re everywhere, except when I need them!”).

However, when implemented successfully, it creates ‘monopoly through ubiquity’; although it might not be a person’s favourite brand, they will continue to choose it because it’s always there when others aren’t.


Conversely, restricting the supply and availability of your brand can help to make it more desirable, particularly in categories like luxury and ‘gadget’ technology.

It can work well for high-quality brands if used in conjunction with other approaches – notably highest price –  but basing an entire differentiation strategy on restricted availability will most likely just frustrate people and accelerate the brand’s demise.


This approach plays on the belief that longevity is a reliable indication of experience and trustworthiness; e.g.:

“Established in 1823”
“A family recipe handed down over the generations”
“The original…”

Although not as extreme, this approach suffers from issues similar to Safety in Numbers: it is very effective in situations where people don’t know much about the category, or where it’s difficult to compare competitor claims, but it loses its advantage as soon as a competitor establishes a more compelling basis for comparison.

Rational Advantage

The brand demonstrates or claims superiority through a rational benefit of its offering, e.g.:

Saves you time
“Won’t let you down”
Simple enough for anyone to use

This approach shifts the focus from the functional attribute to the benefit that the attribute delivers, but it suffers from risks similar to those associated with the Quantifiable Superiority approach, and consequently may not be sustainable.

Augmented Product

Effectively a derivative of the Rational Advantage approach, this approach highlights advantages offered by features other than the core product, e.g.:

The purchase experience
After-sales support
Distribution or delivery

When used correctly, these features become more important than the product offering itself, and help to establish deep and lasting relationships with the brand’s customers.

Outstanding Promotion

Although common and seemingly attractive, this approach is highly risky, because it encourages people to focus on superficial aspects of the brand that have little to do with the product’s core benefit.

While this may be acceptable in spontaneous, low-risk purchase categories such as snacks, it is rarely sustainable elsewhere.

However, attractive packaging, beautiful merchandising, and slick advertising all help to solicit attention that enables the brand to introduce more complex or substantial dimensions of differentiation.

The Secret Formula, or Magic Ingredient

This approach bridges functional and emotional claims by harnessing what could be termed ‘irrational functional’ claims:

“A formula known only to 3 people in the world”
“With patented compound Q16e”
“A secret blend of 11 unique herbs and spices”

Brands that have used this approach to varying degrees of success include KFC, Kellogg’s Frosties, as well as numerous cosmetics brands.

When it harnesses a relevant truth, or is executed with appropriate humour, this approach can be highly engaging.

However, beware of relying on shallow claims, particularly in relation to pseudo-science; while you may fool people for a short while, if people discover or perceive that your brand is all ‘hot air’, you won’t have any equity left.

Implied Superiority

Exaggerating or downplaying other elements of the marketing mix can infer superiority on the product itself.

We’ve already seen how outstanding promotion or unexpectedly high pricing work, but downplaying such elements can also work when carefully implemented:

Purposely bland packaging in a category where extravagance is the norm
A well kept secret – the specialist connoisseur’s brand
“We don’t need to advertise; this product sells itself”

This approach can afford high margins, but is not without risk.

In particular, it suffers from the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ dilemma: it works brilliantly provided there’s real substance behind the exaggeration.

Subjective Superiority

The brand asserts its superiority based on subjective measures that are difficult to measure:

“Best-tasting brand”
“Probably the best lager in the world”
“If your pet could choose, they would buy this brand”

This approach is often carefully controlled by law to prevent misleading advertising.

However, provided the brand stays within relevant guidelines, and as long as the execution fits clearly with the brand’s overall personality, it can successfully engage audiences.

It seems particularly effective when used with irreverent humour.

Emotional Appeals

The brand highlights how it makes you feel, rather than what it does:

“Open happiness”
“A glass and a half full of joy”

This is an exceptionally powerful route to differentiation, because it allows the brand to break free from the limitations associated with functional product features, and instead focus on areas that foster more enduring bonds.

The brand can emphasise any emotion it likes, but those emotions that people commonly associate with the product’s functional benefits are often the simplest to establish.

It’s worth noting that brands can still gain an advantage over competitors by harnessing emotions that are generic to the category, provided they are the first or most credible claimants.

Flattery and Justification

This approach is more of an advertising technique than a unique differentiating approach, but deserves mention due to its ability to engage specific groups:

“Because you’re worth it”
“You deserve it”
“Go on, indulge yourself”

There are many variations on this theme, but they all pander to some sense of inner insecurity.

Although not particularly subtle, this approach can establish a deep bond, and is therefore worthy of consideration.

Affinity Plays

This approach is more about establishing a differentiated brand personality than it is about demonstrating tangible product differentiation.

The simplest approach is to highlight things that the brand has in common with the people it wants to engage – just as people who are meeting for the first time do. This is one of the main uses of sponsorship: brands attempt to connect with people by demonstrating shared ‘passions’.

A more difficult, yet potentially more engaging approach is to create a new focus for people’s attention. Red Bull has employed this strategy for a number of years, and has enjoyed considerable success with activities such as its Flugtag and Air Race events.

Despite their simplicity, Affinity Plays are difficult to implement successfully, because it’s very easy for the brand to come across as a me-too brand that’s trying too hard.

However, brands that succeed enjoy lasting success, because they establish meaningful relationships with people beyond the tangible and functional qualities of their products.

The key is to demonstrate early and lasting commitment to the area of focus; arriving late to the party makes it much more difficult for the brand to establish credibility.

The Choice Of…

A slight variation on Affinity Plays, this approach highlights the choices of people or groups that the brand believes its target feel an affinity towards.

It builds affinity by association:

By appointment to the Queen
George Clooney’s choice
The choice of a new generation

The approach is similar to Safety in Numbers, but emphasises emotional appeals over measures of sheer magnitude or volume.

Further thoughts

Many brands  combine a number of these approaches in order to establish and express their differentiation.

However, it’s often better to focus on one principal dimension at the outset, because it makes it easier for people to understand what makes your brand different and special.

Don’t forget that competitors won’t stand still either – as you define your differentiation and change market dynamics, so competitors will change their approach. Consequently, the task is never complete: you’ve got to keep building and reinforcing it.

Above all, remember that differentiation takes time. It isn’t a ‘campaign’ job – you’ve got to live it and demonstrate it in everything you do.

As I mentioned earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive guide, so I’ll pass the baton on.

What’s missing? What would you add or remove?

The comments section is waiting for your thoughts and feedback.

same same

[image from ibelieveinadv]

while i really like this new campaign from absolut, it seems very similar to the “if smirnoff made…” approach from a few years ago (which in itself seemed dangerously close to carlsberg’s campaign).

and it just doesn’t deliver the same connection as absolut’s previous iconic campaigns.

while clients and agencies get tired of long-running campaigns, everyday people take much longer to reach the same level of fatigue.

the iconic absolut campaign was (and still is) a favourite for consumer tributes.

with the popularity of ugc it feels like there is more differentiation left in the old approach.

from ibelieveinadv


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