In the Face of Stiff Competition, Focus on Differentiation
As companies merge, grow and gain global status, our job as branding experts is to preserve their relevant differentiation, keeping their brand unique.
There is a strong tendency for two competitors engaged in a long-time battle to begin to adopt the other’s tactics, appearance or behavior. This is called the Iron Law of Emulation. Look at Avis and Hertz, Chevron and Shell, Coke and Pepsi, and United and American. Doing competitive analysis is one thing, but doing it so much that you begin to resemble your competitor—that’s when your brand can run into trouble.
Setting Yourself Apart
There are a few questions that we ask as we begin working with clients who fall in this category:
- What is your company’s vision for the future?
- What role does your company want to play in that future?
- What is your company best at?
- What does your company really care about?
- If your company didn’t exist, what would the world lose?
These questions provide ways to help a company focus on its unique identity and purpose. If a company can’t answer these questions clearly, they risk becoming just a commodity that can only compete on price.
When I was just starting out in this business years ago, Edwin Land, the co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation, sat in on a presentation I gave on differentiating yourself in the marketplace. Afterward, Mr. Land said to me that my presentation wasn’t relevant to him or his business, because at that time, Polaroid was the only place that provided instant photography—if you wanted instant photography, you had to choose Polaroid. Polaroid’s differentiator was that it was the only provider of instant photography. Eventually, Mr. Land and I ended up working together on his company’s packaging and display presence around the world. Even though he felt Polaroid didn’t have competition to worry about, he wanted his brand to be presented powerfully and consistently worldwide. He wanted people to understand how his brand was differentiated from all other traditional cameras and film.