The Single Most Important Brand Differentiator You Will Ever Have
Larry Myler Former Contributor
In order to strengthen your market position, you need a powerful brand. To do that, you need strong brand differentiation. Here’s what you need to do.
If I were to ask you which television station broadcasts the most conservative news, there’s one in particular that would most likely rise to the very top: Fox News. If I asked you which car company stands for safety, you’d most likely reply, “Volvo.” We could go on and talk about key words in each industry and for each category, most people would agree on who the number one player is. That’s the power of a brand, and yet most companies don’t fully understand what is required to build a powerful brand.
Value Alignment: The Single Most Important Brand Differentiator
“Brands that embrace a strong set of values, that is brands that stand for something, have the potential to become the strongest brands in the land. Customers who share your values will be attracted to your brand and are likely to become loyal to your brand and even enthusiastic advocates of your brand. Further, sometimes those brands become ‘a badge’ (that is, deliver self-expressive benefits) for those who share brands’ values. And some of these brands even become the primary platforms and communities through which people connect and express those shared values.”
To that last point, how many of your customers have your company’s logo tattooed onto their body? While they most likely don’t have yours (B2B logos are less likely to show up on your customers’ bodies), here are just some brands that you will see: Harley Davidson, Ironman, Nike and Apple. In order to understand why someone would do that, let’s dive deeper into value alignment. I asked VanAuken to provide some specific examples of value alignment, to which he shared:
“The strongest companies/brands connect with their customers on a values level. Toyota Prius is for people who are progressive, environmentally sensitive and care about “Mother Earth,” while Mercedes shouts social status and is for people who want to be perceived as having made it in the world. Mini-Cooper is for people who want to be perceived as non-conformists, as being a little bit different or unique.” Overcoming Your Biggest Branding Challenge
If value alignment is the single most important brand differentiator, then why do so many companies-especially B2B companies-struggle? Simon Sinek, in his famous TED Talk, explains that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” And yet, despite this clear-cut call to action, most companies fail to align on their true purpose.
VanAuken argues, “Brands must understand people’s beliefs and core values if they are to relate to people in deep and meaningful ways.” And those values must first be aligned internally with your team before you can work on external value alignment.
In the day-to-day pressure (all in the name of growth), I find that many companies have a tendency to lose focus on why they started in the first place. Rather than staying focused on one specific customer need and value, companies make the mistake of trying to broaden their appeal to many different customer needs and values, thereby diluting what made them unique and special in the first place.
“You need to decide what beliefs and values your brand is primarily intended to appeal to” says VanAuken. “And then you need to infuse those beliefs and values into the very heart of your company so that it guides everything you do.”
There Can Only Be One
Here comes the hardest part. If I told you that you could only pick one value that you placed above all others, what would it be? This is where even the most mission driven companies tend to come up short. You’re brand can have many attributes and even have more than one value, but the best brands in the world concentrate it down to the very core. Here are some B2B and B2C examples:
- FedEx delivers when it has to get there on time
- Computers run on Microsoft’s operating system
- SAP handles your ERP
- Intel chips are the brains of your devices
- No one was ever fired for hiring IBM
- Zappos delivers happiness
- Nike wants you to just do it
- Coke invites you to open happiness
- Dove wants to talk about real beauty
- Patagonia loves people who love nature
What’s your one thing? If you are sure you know it, test it. Ask any employee, “What do we stand for?” or “What’s our purpose?” and see what they say. Talk to your customers and ask them the same question. If your one thing isn’t their one thing, more work on your brand is needed. I encourage you to read VanAuken’s book for a deeper dive into this important topic.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.