You have been told that you need to differentiate your brand in order to position it in the market. You've been advised to communicate your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) in all communications, including social media and marketing campaigns. And yet, your brand is being subjected to all the same industry stereotypes that have been in play for years, decades…or even centuries.
Or, your brand was created to be one thing, and consumer needs and market demand have shown you a different path. Your brand has grown and transformed itself. And still, your brand is being viewed in that old light, instead of its new and improved image and purpose.
What is a brand builder to do?
When it seems you're doing everything you know how to do, and yet, your brand is being thrown into categories with other brands that your ideal customers are fed up with, you can develop some pretty heavy frustration.
You don't want to be pigeonholed into a limited consumer understanding of what your brand is about.
You don't want to be associated with brands that have disappointed your ideal customers.
And finally, you don't want your brand—the brand you have worked so passionately to build—to perish along with the others it's being associated with.
Today, we're talking about how you can prevent your brand from being pigeonholed, as well as how you can remedy a stereotype situation after it has begun to take root.
When Your Brand gets Labelled
There are lots of things you admire about your competitors. Some of those things are the reasons you got into this business in the first place.
However, there are a few things you don't like. These are the things your ideal customers complain about—the things they would change about the industry if they could. And yet, those consumers have become so accustomed to 'the ways things are' that they have placed blanket assumptions over the entirety of the industry…your brand included. It's as if they can't believe that anyone would change things now, so they don't even listen.
Here's what I suggest doing as you build your brand, to help avoid being pigeonholed:
- Focus on communicating your USP from the beginning. From the moment you conceptualise your brand, the main selling point (i.e. benefits) should be built upon your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), so that when people see your brand's benefits they immediately see what makes you different from the competition. This way, there's no chance of people overlooking what makes your brand atypical; it's the first thing they see.
- Know what makes your ideal customers unhappy and draw attention to that. Your competitors are doing things that your ideal customers don't like, and it's up to you to counter that with what your brand is offering. If they don't like slow service, fast service should be your main selling point. If they’ve grown tired of empty promises, let them know that integrity is your #1 corporate value. In other words, tell them you understand what has been bothering them about current offerings, and that you're committed to creating a better experience (then let them know how you're planning to do that).
- At every opportunity, tell your brand's unique story. People remember stories. They also remember how you and your stories made them feel. For these reasons, it's important to tell them how your brand got started, and how that led to you offering something entirely different (and better) than what they're accustomed to. People are unlikely to forget your story, and are therefore unlikely to forget what's different about your brand.
What if your brand started out as a discernable force, but it's now been either lumped in with other brands or it's still being perceived as the brand it was years ago?
Here's what I suggest:
- Be direct and honest about incorrect perceptions. Consumers are busy and they have limited time and attention. That's why it makes sense to be as direct as possible when correcting misconceptions. If your audience believes your brand is something other than it is, tell them you're not what they think you are. Tell them that there's been a misunderstanding. Tell them who you really are and what your brand can be for them. CAVEAT: Always remember that consumers' perceptions are the only ones that matter in branding; however, that doesn't mean you can't help to colour those perceptions with your vision. Just make sure your vision is something the market needs and your ideal customers want.
- Tell your story to the right people. You might be telling your brand story often; however, if you're not telling it to the right people, it's not going to make a difference…or differentiate your brand. Find the most direct line to your ideal customers (i.e. decision makers) and make your story impossible for them to ignore. You can tell your story to investors, affiliates, news outlets and influencers…but if they're not in touch with your target audience, you're wasting your time.
- Make full use of brand advocates. Brand advocates (those who appreciate the value offered by your brand and recognise its uniqueness) come in many forms. What they all have in common is a desire to spread the word about your brand. Give them the tools (i.e. language) they'll need to do so in a way that makes your brand's USP their main message.
- Compare and contrast your brand with your competition. If you're listening to your audience and catering to their unique needs, then your brand is probably a better fit for them than the competition. Pull out a few points where you and the competition differ, and build a campaign that reminds your audience about those points. It won't be long before they remember what they don't like, and be reminded that there is an easier, less expensive, higher quality, quicker—or just plain better—option.
I hope these points have helped you to get clear on how you will differentiate your brand now, and continue to do so in the future. Always put your USP first in marketing and communications, followed by your vision, mission and values. Remember that people need to know what's in it for them (i.e. benefits), and the sooner you convey that information, the more likely they are to stay interested.
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