What if your brand isn’t that different?

By Lynn Manternach / Guest Editorial

There’s a lot of research and evidence that shows differentiation is critical for a strong brand.

According to research by Millward Brown, brands that are perceived as meaningfully different grow faster with marketing support, are more resilient to competitive action and can command a price premium over close alternatives.

But what if your brand doesn’t seem to be all that different?

If you’re looking at the tangible and quantifiable differences between specific products in a given category, most brands are pretty similar. Because of consumer demand and strong competition, we have seen an overall rise in product quality across many categories. That results in a sense of sameness for consumers, making it difficult to differentiate between products.

When people need a clear reason to choose one product over another, they look for differences. A differentiated brand gives consumers an easy rationale for choosing it, as well as a justification for paying a higher price.

Product quality and functionality will always be important, but the emotional values related to brand experience and communication have the potential to truly differentiate your brand in the eyes of the consumer.

According to William McEwen in the Gallup Management Journal, “Emotional connections are not merely warm and fuzzy, nor are they simply interesting to contemplate and debate. They have powerful financial consequences, ranging from share-of-wallet to frequency and amount of repeat business. ‘Fully engaged’ retail customers spend more and return more frequently than those who are disengaged.”

Everything you do in your business has an impact on your brand – good or bad – and creates feelings, associations and ideas in the minds of your consumers. The challenge is to make sure those actions create an experience that people want to repeat.

So what do you need to do to amp up the emotional connections for your brand? Here are some tips to get you started.

Get personal. Don’t think broadly in terms of consumers. Think about people rather than customers. Think about experiences rather than products. Consider storytelling rather than content development. Emotional branding works best when you’re approaching your audience as individual people who live and work and think and dream − and when you engage them with all of that in mind.

This is easy if you really know your customers. Studying who they are and what really attracts them to your brand will help you determine the best ways to make critical emotional connections.

Quantitative research is very helpful for seeing the big picture, but you also need a close-up view. Consider casual conversations, one-on-one interviews and focus groups to better understand the emotional connection between your brand and your customers.

There’s a pretty good chance your customers will tell you something you didn’t know about how they perceive your brand, how your brand makes them feel, and what they want or expect from your brand.

Get your employees involved. There are lots of tactics that can be deployed through your marketing and advertising channels, but to really make this work, your employees need to be part of the plan. 

Consumers are emotional about checking accounts and discount merchandise, as well as soft drinks and expensive purses. Wells Fargo and Target create emotional connections just as well as Southwest Airlines and Apple do. They do it in different ways, depending far more on their people than on their products, but the result is the same.

Create emotionally compelling content. Sharing and word of mouth is the best advertising out there, because it’s both heartfelt and free. You can’t pay for the kind of sharing that happens when a video or meme goes viral. So examine what’s working in the media you select − videos, ads, even memes − and tailor your message to that tone and approach.

It’s not about the information you communicate to your customers and potential customers. It’s about the feeling they leave with. You don’t have to make a direct connection between your product and the feeling you want associated with it. You just have to link them in your prospects’ and customers’ minds.

When you can differentiate your brand on an emotional level, you can connect with people in ways that matter to them and leave a lasting impression. A deep emotional connection translates into unwavering consumer loyalty. And that’s a differentiator everyone feels good about.




Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (MindFireComm.com) in Cedar Rapids and Le Claire. Contact Lynn at lmanternach@mindfirecomm.com.