Hands up if you’ve ever googled anything along the lines of ‘small business marketing’ or ‘How to grow my business’ and have read numerous references that teach you that in order to be successful you need to ‘differentiate’.
As a marketing researcher the whole notion of differentiation has been revolutionised in the last 5 years and is now a notion is not as important as it once was. Now of course this is not without controversy, as many academics still advocate it. Differentiation in old marketing terms has implied that brands offering unique features are more successful brands and appeal to different segments. What is more unique about Coca Cola than Pepsi!? What is more unique about Woolworths Vs Coles? Sure they may have their own private label products etc, but they can be easily substituted across stores so it doesn’t make them any more ‘differentiated’.
What ‘differentiation’ has implied though is that your brand will appeal to a different segment of the market. Empirical research over the last 5 years has shown that the buyers of your product and service are no different to that of the competition and when surveying customers who were loyal to brands those customers did not buy those brands because they believed they were ‘different’. If the market doesn’t think that real brand differentiation exists, then what will motivate them to seek your brand out?
Now you may be thinking, ‘my brand is completely differentiated, I have better technology’. You may decide to spend money on a marketing campaign to tell customers of this difference and enjoy some gain in market share, but this is only short term. Eventually the market will follow and then all brands are at a new status quo and sharing the same brand features. Think of Apple and Samsung.
So the message is, don’t spend your days on trying to tell the world why your brand is ‘different’ in order to get them to buy because if customers perceive brands and competitive brands to be almost one and the same then maybe this notion of ‘differentiation’ is not as meaningful as early marketing researchers first thought.
The new research states that the real ‘differentiation’ in the minds of customers is whether your brand is top of mind, because customers cannot recall all brands from memory and will only generally recall a maximum of 3 brands in a category!
Be Distinct, Be Remembered
So what do you do then? Well, this is where the creative side come into play! You need to be distinctive and spend your marketing dollars on being distinctive so that buyers can easily find you and remember you without confusion. Distinctive qualities can be anything that help a customer remember your brand. It could be logos, brand promises, brand colours, brand ambassadors, advertising campaigns i.e. think of the Coles ‘Down Down’ campaign or Woolworths ‘Every day low prices’ campaign. Further distinctive qualities could be in-store displays.
Ultimately, being distinctive means that your remain fresh in your consumers memory structures (which are already so overloaded with information from advertising everyday), making your brand easier to locate.
Refresh Your Brand
Focus on refreshing your advertising, (but don’t change the brand message as this only leads to confusion for your customers). Make the brand distinctive so that it can increase the number of stimuli that can be uniquely linked to your brand. For example most people can look at the Woolworths Logo and recall the name Woolworths, or see a red coke can and immediately think ‘Coke’.
Being distinctive means that your small business marketing needs to be consistent (same brand message), but fresh and evolving (marketing campaigns that are unique and can be remembered) and your dollars need to be spent on standing out.
Woolworths has used the ‘Australia’s fresh food people’ tagline since 1987 and they are still building on this but are being distinctive by introducing brand ambassadors such as Jamie Oliver, creating new advertisements that tell the same ‘fresh’ story to remain ‘top of mind’, ensuring that the green uniforms call to mind the ‘Woolworths’ brand, green trolleys, consistent marketing and more ways of trying to create unique identifying characteristics, not unique selling propositions.
Distinctiveness alone cannot motivate a customer to buy a brand, but the more distinctive a brand the more likelihood that your brand can be recalled by your customer.
About the Author
Sheree Tebyanian is founder of Reinvent Firm, Adelaide based business consulting firm helping small business grow efficiently within restricted budget. She often conducts seminars on Small business marketing and sales training for small businesses in Australia. You can follow her @Twitter
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