Is it different because you say it is?

Is it different because you say it is?

As a brand strategist, I work with clients to help them identify what makes their company, or their product, truly different from others in their industry.

It is not an easy process for clients – because from an internal perspective, what we think makes us different may not be the same as what the target audience perceives as the difference. Or worse yet, the target audience may not actually believe what you are telling them is different.

The process of articulating key company differences is part of the brand development process. And while it represents only one element in the final brand solution for a company – it is sometimes the most visible element.

Each day we are inundated by companies with tag lines and messages telling us what is different about them and why we should choose them. But I sometimes wonder – how do these companies come up with these claims? Are they provable? And most importantly, are they relevant to the audience?

Lazy Tag lines

Just this afternoon, on a quiet walk to the bank, I was passed by a company van. The logo and the message was plastered on 60% of the van, and it screamed at me that this company was the “largest provider of x service (names withheld to protect the guilty) in the world“. I sat there, looking at this local van, providing a local service to a local company, and wondered “maybe they are the largest in the world (not even getting into the question of how we define largest), but quite seriously, how is that relevant to the customer here in Winnipeg”?

Perhaps because this company is the largest in the world (if that is true), they can provide the service in a different way; or they have technology that is different or better than the competitor; or they have access to a broader set of resources that helps them at point-of-sale; or they have volume which enables them to provide the service at a lower cost.

If any of these are the case (again, speculating), then the differentiation that is relevant to the end-user isn’t that the company is the largest. The most relevant answers to a consumer’s WIFM question are the benefits and advantages that being large provides to this company, and in turn, to the end-user. On the same level in another industry, does being the largest law firm in a city make that firm more relevant to a client? Of course it doesn’t – but size may provide peripheral benefits that could actually be relevant to their clients.

Being the “largest” isn’t the only vague and ineffective term that is used on a regular basis by businesses. One of my favourites (and it is used a lot in Winnipeg) is the claim that “we are the best”. Based on what criteria? How has this been evaluated? Who provided the rating? Is the criteria a fair comparison? Can you prove the statement? Is the statement based on more than testimonials from satisfied customers?

I am sure you can add your own set of vague statements to the list as well – fastest, oldest (in this environment who cares how old your business is – that may actually be a detractor), most experienced, most skilled…. the list goes on.

Finding True Differentiation

The focus should be on defining an actual differentiation that provides a specific benefit to the target audience; not on creating vague, generic statements that have no basis in fact or context. Take a look at the ads and the signs you see in the next few days. How many of these companies are making statements that are vague, misleading, or that have no relevance to you as a consumer?

Then take a look at your own company messages. Is what you are saying really a difference – and is that difference even relevant to the audience you are trying to reach? If it isn’t, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate your current positioning.