13 Key Brand Differentiation Strategies

Rangan Das

January 18, 2023

As your brand grows, you will inevitably face established competitors with loyal customers. In this blog, we explore how you can set your brand apart and grab a larger share of the market.

A brand marketing strategy must include brand differentiation. It enables businesses to showcase their advantageous traits that support the creation of a unique selling proposition. They recognize their competitive advantage and distinguish themselves from rivals in this manner.

While many businesses use cost leadership as a competitive advantage strategy, others want to stand out from the competition by offering something special that sets them apart. Naturally, implementing this strategy successfully isn't exactly simple, especially when dealing with highly competitive industries.

Here are ten differentiation strategy examples you can use to set your brand apart.

1. Offer premium products

Your products serve as the physical representation of your brand for your clients. Thus, emphasizing the quality of your products will help you stand out from the competition. For products that are not physical, such as software, this includes the user experience and the user interface, the design language, the ecosystem of software, and more. 

A great example in this context is Apple. While Apple relies on manufacturing from brands like Samsung, Qualcomm, and Foxconn, the products Apple offers still manages to feel a lot more premium than that of its competitors. 

One of the first things that set Apple apart from its rivals is the iconic, refined, and minimalist design of all its products. Their products not only have unique visual styles that are aesthetically pleasing but are also well-designed to make using each device simpler. Apple also wanted to set its products apart from those of its rivals by developing an operating system that improved user experience even further. Another element that contributes to the company's differentiation strategy is pricing. While Apple still maintains high-profit margins, the prices for most of its products are markedly higher than those of rivals, set with the idea of being proportionate to the level of quality.

iPhone and Apple Watch
Photo by Cezar Sampaio on Unsplash

2. Create exclusivity

You can make your brand appeal to the masses by telling them that it is not for the masses. Exclusivity can seem like a generic word, but multiple brands use them to stand out from the crowd. These brands ensure that not only are their products difficult to get, but they are also extremely high-value and premium in nature. This nature of the products often piques the interest of consumers who cannot afford the product. This results in word-of-mouth marketing, which essentially generates a lot of buzz regarding the brand. 

There are multiple examples in this regard. For instance, the German camera brand Leica now markets itself as a luxury company . While brands like Canon, Nikon, and Sony created state-of-the-art devices, Leica kept the vintage camera design and modernized certain parts. Leica exclusively catered to those who are a fan of analog photography. In this day and age, Leica’s cameras are some of the most expensive cameras and come with the instantly recognizable “red dot” logo. Moreover, in multiple regions across the world, you cannot just walk into the store. You need to schedule an appointment with the store beforehand.

Leica Store New York Soho
Source: https://leicacamerausa.com/pages/world-of-leica/leica-store-new-york-soho.html

Similarly, Hermès Paris sells purses that cost almost 300,000 USD or more. Hermes' marketing strategy places a strong emphasis on its 1837-era heritage, exclusivity, and craftsmanship. They also employ an "Anti-Marketing" strategy, which involves spending little to no money on advertisements in favor of concentrating on creating enduring bonds with their clients.

3. Create unforgettable marketing campaigns

Marketing campaigns can help brands stand out from the crowd. Even if you are already in a saturated market with little to say in terms of USP, creating a unique marketing campaign can help you increase market share. Often such marketing campaigns require a lot of planning and effort to be successful. 

A great example is the Share-a-Coke campaign run by Coca-Cola. The campaign ran for months across multiple countries, with several departments all over the globe collaborating. With their marketing campaign, Coca-cola put the spotlight on individual customers rather than the entire customer base #ShareACoke became a trending topic and raised sales in the U.S. by 2.5% after continuously declining for a decade. 

Editorial photograph
Source: https://thedieline.com/blog/2013/5/29/a-coke-by-any-other-name.html

4. Establish a unique visual identity

Your products, messaging, advertisements, and other content can stand out in a crowded market with the help of your brand's voice and visual identity. A unique visual identity is one way to set your products apart from those of your rivals and increase brand recognition.

Physical products must have a strong visual identity to stand out on retail store shelves where they will be displayed next to other products. Bold colors or an eye-catching illustration can also help. Customers will be more likely to recognize your advertisements, emails, and social media posts if you have a distinct brand identity online, even if they don't specifically mention your products.

Inside the marketing brilliance of No Name
Source: https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/news/pivot-magazine/2020-02-25-no-name-ad-campaign

A unique example, in this case, is the Canadian brand called No Name. The company was started in 1978 by Canada's largest grocery chain, Loblaw, and is well-known for its packaging, which features the Helvetica font in the colors yellow and black. No Name claims that its high-quality goods and low prices are the reasons for its popularity, but the brand's cult-like following is unquestionably centered on its packaging.

When it comes to advertising, No Name hasn't exactly been known for spending a lot of money. This is probably because almost every Canadian is already familiar with the brand's bright yellow boxes, lowercase black font style, and ubiquitous presence. “Just look for the yellow packs. They’re hard to miss,” says the company.

5. Focus on transparency and ethics

The majority of brands are now focusing a lot on ethics and transparency to promote their products and services. The demand for transparency, particularly in the case of influencer marketing has increased drastically. Brands are setting themselves apart by being radically transparent about their products. This shows the customers how strongly the brands believe in their offerings. 

An example of this is LUSH cosmetics. LUSH started late in an already-saturated sector – the beauty industry.  The brand has expanded to operate in 49 countries  and is making headway in the fiercely competitive sector.

Transparency is Lush's first point of differentiation, not just in terms of the ingredients used, but also in the process of creating the finished product. The majority of Lush products—85% of which are vegan and all of which are vegetarian—include fruits and vegetables like grapefruit juice, fresh papaya, vanilla beans, avocado butter, and aloe vera. Additionally, they use handmade products, which their customers value.

Moreover, before releasing its products to the public, the company conducts tests on human volunteers rather than animals. Additionally, they participate in numerous donations and charitable campaigns, including the Charity Pot campaign. Since its inception in 2007, the campaign has made over 33 million USD in profits, all of which have been donated to small groups working to advance the rights of people, animals, and the environment.

Lush launches first Lush Naked store in the UK
Source: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/beauty/a25884825/lush-manchester-package-free-shop/

6. Create values that align with your customer base

Shared values might influence a customer to pick your business over a rival. Customers will consider you a better option if your business shares its values and champions causes that are important to them. Customers may also be more likely to purchase from you in the first place and remember your brand if you have strong brand values.

Start by internally defining your brand's values if you want to stand out based on your values. Make sure the brand values you select reflect your personal beliefs and the goals of your business. Customers will be able to tell if you adopt a set of values that aren't true to your brand. Inauthentic brand values will turn customers away and make you stand out for all the wrong reasons, whereas authentic brand values can help you connect with customers. Since 73% of customers prefer to do business with companies that share their values, having strong values can help differentiate your brand from competitors in your industry. This is also known as Movement Marketing.

adidas and Parley Collection | adidas India
Source: https://www.adidas.co.in/parley

An example here would be Adidas which is fighting against pollution by creating a shoe from ocean plastic. Adidas Parley products have been made with recycled plastic since the first collection debuted in 2015, which reduces the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean. Adidas created a new version of the Adidas Originals shoe in addition to recreating three versions of the UltraBoost shoe.

Note that such marketing strategies can backfire if not done correctly. A notable example is Gillette's "The Best Men Can Be" campaign which failed because of prior planning. The campaign created a lot of conversation but also received highly polarized responses. 

7. Hold CSR programs

The next logical step is supporting a cause. You can do this as a part of your CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility programs. Many businesses claim to support various social causes, but far fewer do anything about it by allocating their hard-earned funds to charitable causes. As your relationship will be based on a shared sense of purpose rather than just a business transaction, supporting a charity will enable you to forge stronger bonds with both current and potential clients.

There are numerous ways to use charitable support to differentiate your brand, even though some businesses may have the resources to annually donate a portion of their profits to charity. For instance, you could collaborate with charities on campaigns (or on a long-term basis). As an alternative, you could establish recurring donations to local charities or causes or participate in team volunteer outings to foster relationships in your community. 

For five years, M&S and Breast Cancer Now have collaborated on charitable projects. Through sales of post-surgery bras, swimwear, and other items, M&S met its target of raising £13 million for the breast cancer charity this year.

In addition, the money raised helped fund 330,000 hours of a ground-breaking study into the causes of breast cancer. In addition, M&S has supported women, including its current customers, who underwent a mastectomy because of breast cancer by selling post-surgery lingerie and swimwear.

The partners' campaign makes use of photos of actual people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and even shares their narratives on the M&S website to help spread critical awareness of the condition. 

Source: https://corporate.marksandspencer.com/media/press-releases/ms-partners-breast-cancer-now-and-seven-inspiring-women-breast-cancer

8. Make customer service a priority

When a customer receives excellent customer service, their interaction with the business can be positively impacted, and they are more likely to recommend the business to their friends and family. Offering exceptional customer service helps you retain more customers while also setting you apart from your rivals.

Amazon is a big name when it comes to customer service. Businesses realized that customers needed to feel secure about the security of their health and transactions when the pandemic hit in 2020. So, to provide excellent customer service, businesses needed to be proactive and creative.

Amazon created a list of frequently asked questions about general shipping, delivery, refunds, and other topics to help customers feel confident in their purchases even in tumultuous times. This was done to streamline the purchasing process. All the pertinent details regarding the COVID-19 crisis and how Amazon would operate during the pandemic were put on a separate FAQ page that was created.

Amazon- best customer service companies
Source: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GH9DCNZCNBCCNUQC

9. Reposition your brand

By creating a new product category, you can stand out much more easily. Category creation helps to distinguish your brand  by removing yourself from a crowded market and entering your niche. The objective of category creation is to distinguish yourself as the industry pioneer rather than a distant second in your primary market.

Creating categories is a lengthy project, much like building your brand. Often, it can be completely discarding your current business model and rebuilding a new one. As there are quicker and simpler options for brand differentiation, it won't be the best choice for all businesses looking to differentiate their brand. Similar to brand building, category creation necessitates the dedication, engagement, and consistency of your entire organization because it takes time to carve out your niche in the market. Sometimes, creating a new product category can completely change the brand’s direction. 

Blackberry is an excellent example in this regard. The Canadian company was one of the top names in the mobile industry before the iPhone completely changed its head. However, in the 2010s, BlackBerry had to catch up to Samsung and iPhone as both companies innovated and introduced fresh concepts to the market.

Even today, BlackBerry is still going large. The brand now specializes in cybersecurity and creates operating systems for automobiles, "air-traffic control," and medical devices. While the company's obstinate focus on enterprise clients may have sped up its exit from the mobile device market, it also made it possible for BlackBerry to easily switch to being a brand that caters to businesses. 

It's interesting to note that despite a complete overhaul of its business strategy, BlackBerry decided against rebranding, keeping the same appearance and logo it had when it dominated the mobile market. This serves as a potent reminder that rebranding is not always necessary. And even if you're changing as drastically as BlackBerry did, you don't necessarily need to completely give up your old brand if you're still hoping to capitalize on the same brand associations and emotional connections.

Source: BlackBerry – Intelligent Security. Everywhere.

10. Reconsider your pricing

Your pricing strategy is an opportunity to behave differently that is frequently overlooked. The relationship you have with your customer changes when you move from one-time purchases to a subscription or recurring payment model, and you may even be able to surprise them with your innovation.

Spirit airline is an awesome example of alternative pricing strategies. In a market that has long been thought to have many brand options, Spirit stands out. Spirit Airlines created the term "bare fare" and built its entire brand around this innovative, cost-effective method of flying. Instead of purchasing a package that includes a seat, Wi-Fi, snacks, drinks, luggage, and a little bit of legroom, Spirit charges its customers essentially just for the space and gas to get from point A to point B, significantly lowering the cost of flights.

Although some might consider this to be too low of a standard for travel, those people are likely choosing fancier airlines for a reason: this brand caters to budget-conscious travelers who prioritize saving money over comfort and style. This is a crucial differentiation strategy—instead of attempting to grudgingly persuade the many, Spirit is doing something noticeably different to win the fervent loyalty of the particular few.

We're going to hug the haters” as Spirit Airlines unveils its “Less Money,  More Go” and its “Bare Fare” ad campaign | World Airline News
Source: https://worldairlinenews.com/2014/05/07/were-going-to-hug-the-haters-as-spirit-airlines-unveils-its-less-money-more-go-and-its-bare-fare-ad-campaign/

11. Tell a story

People relate to stories more than numbers and facts, so creating a distinctive, genuine, and memorable brand story can help clients remember your business and forge a deeper emotional bond with your brand. Effective storytelling connects with consumers, resonates with them, and finally helps you sell well. 

Nike has recognized and utilized the power of great storytelling even before the internet was a thing. The company released a one-minute "commercial" in 1999 to honor Michael Jordan's career. Despite being paid for by Nike, the company was not mentioned until the final seconds of the video, when the phrase "Just Do It" and the iconic Nike logo appeared over a picture of Michael taken in school. 

This was a sharp contrast to most advertisements at the time, which tended to follow the "sell, sell, sell" maxim. TV ads were quite expensive back then and it still is. However, Nike was wise enough to avoid shoving its brand down customers' throats. It recognized that an authentic story was what would leave a lasting impression, help build the brand, and enable the business to sell more goods in the long run.

12. Become a thought leader

If people perceive you as an authority figure in your field, you can set yourself apart from rivals who are viewed as having less skill or knowledge. As customers see your company name in more places, such as conference line-ups, press coverage, podcast guests, and article bylines, it also helps to develop brand recognition. Find ways to utilize and highlight the wealth of internal expertise that your company has. By representing the company at events and writing articles or making videos, every member of your team has the chance to establish themselves as an authority in their field.

One example is a brand called Influence & Co. To support businesses' executive branding and content marketing initiatives, Influence & Co. specializes in knowledge extraction, content creation, and distribution. Influence & Co. is a good choice to consider for businesses that struggle to obtain content from key employees or distribute it to the appropriate audiences. As a content marketing agency that dominates the market and was named one of Forbes' "Most Promising Companies in America," this business transforms content marketing into a cutting-edge form of public relations.

Source: Influence & Co. | Content Marketing Agency (influenceandco.com)

13. Make the brand experience consistent 

Customers who interact with your business through reading content, receiving emails, making purchases, or contacting support can expect a consistent brand experience. Consistency fosters trust because customers perceive you as dependable and won't encounter any unpleasant surprises. As time passes, this can help your brand stand out because loyal customers value your consistent brand experience over that of your less dependable rivals.

A great example is Starbucks. Since the very beginning, Starbucks has maintained a consistent logo design. The evolution of their logo has been minimal. Every iteration went through minor changes. Moreover, since the last few iterations, their color palette has remained the same. Starbucks uses the same branding globally even when its stores are operated by other businesses. This consistency makes Starbucks an instantly recognizable brand. Even after dropping its name from the latest logo, Starbucks remains a recognizable brand.

Starbucks is dropping its name from its logo
Source: https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna40928490

Wrapping Up

The right brand differentiation strategy can have a strong positive impact on your company, both in terms of finances and customer perception. But it also calls for several calculated risks. You should explore a differentiation strategy that gives you a competitive advantage in a market that is dominated by bigger, more established companies, regardless of the size of your business or the industry you are in. By using the appropriate differentiation strategy, along with proper artwork management tools, can significantly increase your ROI.

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