Friday, May 02, 2014

What will be your differentiator?

By: Sarah Larson

My 13-year-old son needed socks. So I found myself standing in front of row after row of packages of socks at the local get-everything-in-one-place big box store.

Some were crew socks. Some socks were cut to end at the top of the ankle. Some had reinforced toes.

Each style was made by at least two major brand manufacturers. The socks themselves looked much the same, and the packages all had the same number of pairs. The price was different by no more than about 50 cents.

In the end, I reached for the package of Hanes white crew socks.

Why? What made me choose Hanes instead of its competitor?

The Hanes package had a little pink logo at the top that read “Box Tops for Education.”

Like many other schools across the country, my daughter’s elementary school collects those ubiquitous pink labels. Students are encouraged to send in box tops and labels throughout the year. During special competition periods, the classroom that turns in the most labels wins some prize.

My daughter is in first grade. While she may get a kick out of opposing everything I say or do at home, her greatest wish in the world right now is to please her teacher and her school. As such, she took up the “Box Tops” challenge with the zeal of the newly converted.

That package of Hanes crew socks ended up in my cart because that choice accomplished two goals: meeting my son's need for warm feet while also helping my daughter fulfill a goal of collecting labels to help her school.

That little pink logo was a differentiator.

When a business – whether it’s a law firm or a clothing manufacturer – sets out to make itself different from its competitors, marketers call that brand differentiation. And with brand differentiation, there’s no such thing as a small decision.

“Every ‘small’ decision that positions a brand is critical,” explains Laura Powers, our Chief Marketing Officer.

As humans, we are emotionally influenced by many external factors, some subtle and some conspicuous, says Powers. A brand manager understands that all these factors help guide a buyer's purchasing decision. This is true whether a customer is choosing a divorce attorney, an accountant or a package of socks.

“Each choice in positioning the brand plays a part in influencing target audiences – the colors on a logomark, the font on a website, the company's tagline, the paper stock on a business card,” says Powers. “These choices include strategic partnerships with B2B affiliations such as a partnership with a niche publication to sponsor an event that attracts the target audience, and B2C affiliates such as Box Tops for Education.”

Next time you stop to think about your organization’s brand, spare a moment to define what it is that makes you different from your competitors. Whatever it is, it needs to be a vital part of all your strategic messaging.

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