Differentiate or die. A values-based discussion.

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Background briefing: a category is a type of good or service; say canned soup. Within the canned soup category are brands or products, say Campbell’s Soup.

selecting brand values

This soup is like no other. Truly.

Here’s a thought: corporates spend their whole life offering extremely similar brands within a category but claiming that their brand is vastly different and preferable. Think of categories such as toothpaste, credit cards, three door hatchbacks, air travel, funeral insurance, butter, professional sporting clubs or trainers. Most brands within each of these categories are very similar, especially if you compare similarly priced brands. 

Each brand in each category has very few tangible qualities or values to differentiate itself with its competitors. Thus these brands spend millions giving the impression that they have unique values or attributes. They mainly point to insubstantiated claims – this brand will make you happy, sexy, respected, close to your family. These brand values are rubbish of course but they work.

Differentiation means that each brand stands out in the marketplace and can attract its share of punters. Punters often fall for this and develop strong affiliations based on little more than spurious advertising claims. Suckers!

Nonprofits are largely the opposite. Many work hard to develop tangibly different approaches to similar problems such as youth homelessness, disability employment or providing foster care to children. Yet few nonprofit brands concern themselves with differentiating themselves from other brands in the same category. (Forgive the marketing jargon.)

Does this hurt nonprofits? Yes. Too many brands which deserve to be leaders in their category market in ways that promote the category as a whole. It also hurts consumers because they deserve to understand that one mental health brand or service is different to another and how – but they assume that they are all more or less the same.

When ruminating over your brand’s values consider that the wisest brand values:

  • differentiate you from others in your category.
  • aren’t generic or obvious – few airlines boast about being safe – that is a given. Unless maybe you’re a Russian airline.
  • are based in reality – don’t claim to be something you are not.
  • can be displayed in everything you do – the tone of your copywriting to the names of your programs.
  • resonate with your audience.

These are not the same as your mission, vision and values – they are something else entirely; we don’t what.

selecting brand values

The whiskey, behind the man, behind the bar.

A long time ago whiskey Johnny Walker recognised that differentiation was a problem for them and adopted the tag line: “Ask for it by name.” Smart move. They didn’t want to waste their money encouraging people to drink whiskey. They wanted their brand drunk. You should too. 

Maybe it’s time for a Marketing Savvy 101. Ask for it by name.


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