While publishing various articles on the topic of brand differentiation and positioning I became involved in some very interesting and intensive debates on the merits and even the relevance of this concept with the modern consumers.
The discussions can be summarized into a single question: is brand differentiation still a valid strategy worth pursuing, or just an old school concept that lost its relevance?
Those who think brand differentiation is not worth the effort argue that the modern consumers perceived most products as commodities that offer little or no differentiation. Moreover, with the all the products within a category being offered at a “decent” quality level, any option would satisfy most of one’s needs.
What was even more surprising was some of the questions and comments were posted by fellow marketers, and not just occasional readers of my articles.
My short answer to the question above is that positioning the brand for meaningful differentiation is a must. Moreover, with brands today facing fierce competition, this strategy should be the first step in the branding process.
We all have our brand preferences in categories we care about. When it comes to toothpicks, any brand will do for me, so I buy whatever is available. When it comes to my hobbies, such as my road bike or my camera, I spend a lot of time researching, deciding, and justifying.
The higher the financial and emotional investment, the stronger the consumer involvement in the buying process, the more important brand differentiation becomes.
We often buy emotionally and justify rationally.
The benefits of having a differentiated brand spread beyond the relationship with consumers.
Differentiation is also an important motivational factor for your sales force. A unique or strongly differentiated product is easier to sell, as it generates more interest and opens more doors.
Your independent distribution will also appreciate a differentiated product. Distributors are looking for ways to stay relevant to their customer base, and avoid price wars with their competitor across the street.
If consumers didn’t care about what products they choose, their only shopping criteria would be price and availability. And yet some are willing to drive long distances to buy their favorite brand.
And finally differentiation generates loyalty, which is the key ingredient of a strong brand.