In today’s increasingly competitive and complex marketplaces, having a great product is no longer enough to win.
That’s not to say great products and services don’t matter – they do, because no-one would willingly buy a bad product twice.
Rather, the challenge is that there are so many great products out there.
In most categories, functional differences have become so marginal that product differentiation alone no longer offers a sustainable advantage.
As a result, brand differentiation is more important than ever: people increasingly rely on intangible, emotional elements to inform and guide their choices, rather than on rational performance comparisons.
Consequently, the rules of the marketing ‘beauty pageant’ have changed.
In order to succeed today, brands can’t rely on good looks alone; they need depth and soul too.
Above all, brands need a higher-‐order ‘purpose’.
But what does a ‘brand purpose’ look like?
A purpose inspires hearts and heads
Given the choice between two similar choices, people will invariably choose the one that makes them feel good.
Making people feel good isn’t just about hedonism though; brands that make a meaningful contribution to society, or that help people to reduce their impact on the environment, are also highly compelling.
At the same time, a brand’s purpose doesn’t need to be about saving the world either; brands that offer people hope, or inspire them to improve themselves, are also well placed to earn a place in people’s hearts.
Tip #1: A great purpose engages people’s hearts, not just their heads.
A purpose goes beyond money
Ask business people why their organisation exists, and almost all of them will reply with something along the lines of 'to make a profit.'
However, if all businesses exist for the same reason – to make a profit – then there’s no differentiation there either.
More importantly, unless they’re shareholders, none of your audience cares whether your organisation makes a profit. Indeed, making too much profit can actively turn people against you.
If you want to compel people to choose your brand, you need to stand for something more meaningful than simply ‘selling stuff to make money’.
Critically, you need to show people how you help them succeed, not just how you will succeed with their money
Tip #2: Make sure your brand’s purpose articulates the value to the consumer, as well as to the brand.
A purpose builds faith
People don’t buy what brands make; they buy what brands make happen for them.
Think of it this way: people don’t pay for shampoo; they pay for clean, beautiful hair – and the psychological and emotional benefits that beautiful hair brings (e.g. self-‐confidence).
Moreover, for your customers, products and services are simply means to an end, and brands are increasingly at risk from leftfield alternatives that can destroy entire industries overnight (think Kodak).
By building a brand around the benefits you promise, you not only elevate the brand beyond product-centric comparison; you also make it easier to extend the brand beyond a specific product category (think TOMS, who have credibly extended from shoes into eyewear and coffee).
Tip #3: A brand purpose articulates what people can buy into, not just what they can buy.
Making it different vs making a difference
When it comes to differentiation, too many brands rely on novelty and distraction to make their brand stand out.
However, this approach is very difficult to sustain; it may bring in the first sale, but over time the novelty wears off, and the brand must resort to increasingly impressive spectacle to keep people interested.
There’s an easy way round this though: by focusing on how your brand makes people’s lives better, or how it makes the world a better place, you stand a much greater chance that people will come back for more.
The Essential Tip: Strive to make things better, not just to make better things.
Simon Kemp is Regional Managing Partner for We Are Social in Asia. He’d love it if you shared your thoughts on this piece -‐ you’ll find him across the web as @eskimon