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How Not to Be A 'Me-too' Brand: Brand Differentiation in a Crowded Market One can only stand and promote a brand with the power of innovation in today's competition

By Rochelle Chhabra

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Would the soft drinks market have eventually fizzled out if 7-Up had not been launched as "The UnCola', a disruptive alternative to the colas? Would Nike have been able to sprint ahead as the leading athletic footwear and apparel brand if it had failed to create a strong brand image among its core customer base or stopped innovating customised products? Or, would Apple have succeeded in hijacking our collective consciousness had it been lethargic about nurturing imagination, design and innovation?

The unifying reason why these brands have attained iconic status is that they intuitively understood how to differentiate themselves in a cluttered marketplace. In other words, they dared to be different.

Can your brand do that? Does it have a point of difference that gives it an edge over its competition? For those who are yet to crack the code to a meaningful differentiation strategy, here are some critical elements that your company can track to ensure it is building a brand that makes it stand out from its competitors.

Make this your mantra: Customer is king

Since I spend much of my time in understanding customer feedback on our products, I firmly believe that companies should be willing to engage emotionally with consumers. Oftentimes products are purchased for emotional reasons. Therefore, it pays for brands to always be on their toes, to show that they are striving to fulfil customers' unique needs.

The key to a brand's successful differentiation strategy is to value its customers and deliver beyond their expectations. Amazon's sharp customer-oriented strategy has played a big role in its success. It has consistently made it to the top of the rankings of "World's Most Admired Companies' lists that shows it's an organisation that listens to its customers and leverages the power of data analytics to make each purchase a memorable experience for the buyer.

The big appeal: What makes your brand special?

Having observed the beauty business at close quarters, I understand how some of the challenges faced by both established brands and new entrants are identical. Like how to launch products that are clearly distinct from the ones sold by competitors—nail polish anyone? Since the shelves are cluttered with a plethora of seemingly indistinguishable products to choose from, various branding techniques could be applied across industries, specifically choosing a distinctive brand name, colour, or packaging. For example, Apple names all its mobile products with a lowercase "i", like an iPhone, iPod, iPad. Likewise, the bright yellow colour on Maggi packets is a classic example of how customers automatically connect with its distinctive packaging. Finally, consider how PaperBoat uses its simple, quirky storytelling design approach to connect emotionally with consumers.

Blending it right—pricing and positioning

These are the two important Ps for a brand that seeks to increase its visibility vis-a-vis the competition. For instance, notice how Starbucks offers premium quality at a higher price and Apple is positioned for the more discerning design conscious user.

Cheerleaders matter. Ensuring influencer engagement.

According to brand managers, leveraging the influence of a celebrity or social influencer will help customers connect better with a brand and enhance its credibility. This can be done by engaging high-profile influencers and celebrities to share their knowledge about a brand and its products, much like Nike has done by roping in top sports stars like Cristiano Ronaldo.

Coming up with out of the box campaigns

Brand recall is an effective tool to differentiate a product. One effective way to do this is to create a unique campaign that generates a buzz around a brand and makes it a talking point among consumers. Coca-Cola's #LiftTheFeeling campaign did just that, riding the happiness experienced by its consumers.

Strong brands reflect the company's values and quality in their offerings, thus it becomes imperative to invest in a brand's positioning and visibility to attain the final goal – customer engagement and satisfaction. In a hyper-cluttered market, a brand that differentiates itself engages its consumers and creates an emotional connection with them is a brand that will stay afloat among the competition and create an unforgettable brand identity for itself.

Rochelle Chhabra

Professional Division Head (Streax Professional), Hygienic Research Institute Pvt. Ltd

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