Over the course of facilitating some 50-plus branding exercises, I’ve identified some common obstacles to success.
Watch out for these seven pitfalls when convening a team to uncover and articulate how your brand is different from its competition:
1. The customer’s voice is not at the table.
Too often, workshop participants are company insiders. Being an organizational expert with years of experience does not necessarily translate to understanding current customer perspectives. Make sure to invite some folks to the session who talk to customers every day. To keep perspective, conduct research with both customers and prospects prior to the workshop. Kick off the session by sharing their perceptions.
2. Higher-ups control the discussion.
Insight can come from anyone, even those participants who are perhaps hesitant to speak up in front of their bosses. Be careful that managers don’t predetermine the outcome of the initiative with their own biases. Remember, you’re digging for honest insights, not the party line. Select your team carefully with this in mind.
3. Confusing table stakes for the brand essence.
Caring is not a differentiator for a medical practice, trusted for a funeral home, nor stable for a bank (well, maybe these days it is). Instead, they are requirements for inclusion in the category. When narrowing brand attributes, select those that are truly differentiating from competitors, that is, attributes competitors can’t reasonably and believably claim.
4. Trying to differentiate based upon a tangible attribute.
Every year Apple releases new innovations. Every year its competitors rush to duplicate them. Tangible differences, such as new technological innovations, are easily copied. However, intangibles, such as Apple’s consistent interface friendliness or Harley-Davidson’s advocacy for nonconformity, not so much. To avoid being constantly commoditized, find your brand’s intangible differentiator.
5. Being inauthentic.
There are plenty of luxury cars to pick from, including the Chrysler 200. However, the model’s lavish amenities are just table stakes. Those consumers who buy a 200 will do so because of the brand’s defiant identity, as defined in the recent Super Bowl spot. Detroit’s struggle to come back is real. Pick a differentiator that is genuine. Consumers must believe you can deliver on your promise.
6. Being irrelevant.
In the 1970s, before the widespread availability and acceptance of yogurt and pudding cups, Gerber attempted to sell bottles of pureed baby food to adults as a portable snack. The logic? Bottled baby food is inexpensive, nutritious, and doesn’t require refrigeration. The strategy failed with consumers, however, because the Gerber brand clearly stands for baby food, not adult food. Differentiate from the competition in a way that is both meaningful and perceivable by the audience.
7. Trying to be all things to all prospects.
Most managers are afraid to walk away from potential sales. As a result, most companies present themselves as a “jack of all trades” — a solution for every need for every possible customer. Thus, they dilute any chance they have to dominate a segment and typically must compete on price alone. In order to stand for more (and charge more), focus on the essence of the brand and sacrifice the rest.
Which other pitfalls have you experienced?