4 Dimensions Of Brand Difference

Walker SmithOctober 18, 20233 min

1. Meaningful Difference. Kantar’s singular BrandZ database of 20,000+ brands across 50+ countries is based on research tracking brand equity since 2006. It’s a leading resource for studying how brand value is built.

The clear, evidence-based answer is that meaningful difference builds value, with difference being the change-maker. Which raises the follow-up question of what meaning and difference really are. It’s a relative answer for both. Difference comes from many things, but for a given brand, it is found relative to the category or competitive set. Hence, brand owners must be deeply knowledgeable about the specific situations in which their customers live and their brands compete—and then stand out in that relative context. This is why expanding the category is a proven growth strategy—more needs, brands and spending equal more opportunities to be relatively better.

2. Different Difference. Not all difference is the same. Or equal. There are types of difference. To begin with, brands are often different without being meaningful or relevant to needs. But even meaningful difference can vary. Brands that stand out as different and innovative grow more than brands that are merely different. So, difference with a twist of innovation means more value. Line extensions that are not only different but also a good fit with the core brand build greater awareness, and thus value. Difference of some sort is just the starting point. Delivering other functional or emotive performance, both tangible and intangible, makes difference work even better to create brand value.

3. Similar Difference. The analysis of line extensions reveals another aspect of brand difference. Line extensions must be different but not so different that they are a poor fit with the core brand. In other words, different from competition but the same as the core brand. This is obvious simply from the fact that line extensions intentionally leverage the platform of the core brand. It jumpstarts awareness. It borrows trust. It provides permission and reduces risk. So, a connection to the core brand is an essential part of the strategy for a line extension. Similarity must be part of the value proposition. At the same time, a line extension must deliver something different—something the core brand does not do and something relatively better than competition. Net net, there are situations in which difference must be combined with similarity in order for difference to build value.

4. Enduring Difference. Brands can never take difference for granted. It is always relative, so any shift of preferences or performance will change the relative standing of brands in a category. Unless a brand is always upgrading its value proposition, it will eventually find itself turned upside down by fast-moving trends and competition. The only way to have enduring strength is to be constantly improving. Stasis means an erosion of difference. Yet again, a paradox is surfaced. Brands must have an enduring identity that consumers feel they know and can count on. But that identity cannot be so fusty that it becomes stale and outdated. The core of a brand endures only if it embraces change. Every brand follows new trends and copies the best practices and new ideas of competition. Inevitably, what once was different becomes alike. Difference endures and continues to build value only if it is freshened with regularity.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar

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