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Brand Distinction vs Brand Differentiation


May 26, 2022 By Inge Hofstad Kjeilen, Innovation Director, dentsu X Norway

It is well known and established that building brand strength is an important part of the task of marketing and communication, and that we as an industry are dependent on working with both short-term sales triggering measures as well as long-term brand building activities.

The challenge, on the other hand, arises quickly when defining brand strength. What makes one brand stronger than the other, and thus results in someone choosing X over Y?

Here there is a wide variety of concepts, from so-called Top-of-Mind, unaided / assisted knowledge, preference, and the like. The big question is therefore which is the one that has the largest correlation with sales and thus should be the goal for marketing?

We at dentsu X Norway often run into a lot of talk about campaigns "raising the Top-of-Mind x%" or "increasing preference by x%." The simple reason why these are the stats we talk about and use is they are available, often in brand trackers of various kinds along with a set of associations and feelings related to the brand. There is no doubt that this is important and can help drive sales, but is it most important? In our opinion, No. 

What is difficult and demanding about these is that, for example, increased top of mind is expensive to realise and something you only buy temporarily because of increased investments, while the proportion of the population that is in the market for your product there and then often only constitutes a fraction. Are we really going to use marketing and branding to optimise for such a small group of people? The same applies to associations and feelings related to the brand, which for large and established brands do not change significantly regardless of what you do or how much you invest. Are these, then, good proxies for sales or brand strength? No, and this is where Category Entry Points come into play. 

What triggers a brand?

The most important thing marketing and investing in brand strength can do is to ensure that your brand is only triggered in situations when the need arises. By measuring what triggers a brand in a given category, we can better understand the situations where brands are relevant in our lives.

It is as simple as the brands that are triggered first in the situations that happen most often and with the most people, are the ones that will sell the most. This is precisely what we have worked on a lot and have hence developed analyses and methods both to uncover situations as well as to analyse which ones are most important for brands to focus on. This may sound logical and simple, but how do you really go about succeeding with this? 

Unfortunately, the answer is that it is much more difficult than it may sound because this approach requires that communication and media buys are centred around the most important situation / situations for a category. The only problem is they are not brand specific, but rather about what triggers the need for an entire category. Therefore, the danger of building category and competitors as much as your own brand is both great and very real, especially when you are not a market leader and want to grow. This is where so-called Distinctive Brand Assets come into the picture as a tool to maximise the percentage of marketing that is attributed back to your brand and minimise what either goes to competitors or to completely distinct categories. In short, to stand out in the crowd. 


Why does brand distinctiveness matter?

That differentiation has received far too much attention in marketing, partly undeserved, while distinction has simply been forgotten - until now. This is the smartest way to ensure that a brand is recognized, noticed and stands out, which has only become more important in the digital economy where time and attention are in short supply. 

Distinctive brand assets can be anything from colour, logo, slogans, symbols, characters, to advertising styles and are intended to make it easy for the public to recognize the brand. And this is important: if a brand has a media budget of 5 million and an average sender identity in communication of 30%, it means that only 1.5 million strengthens the brand and sales.

If, on the other hand, we actively work with distinctive assets and manage to raise this to 40%, it amounts to as much as 0,5 million more, just through smarter use of the existing funds. There is hardly a CFO in the world who does not love his CMO if someone comes and shows him this. At the same time, this is the best way to ensure that as much of the situation related communication as possible is attributed back to your brand. 



This is something we can easily do by analysing all the elements related to the brand across image and sound. The goal is to uncover which ones are both unique, in the form that they are not largely attributed to other brands, and which at the same time are known enough that they can drive the sender identity for your brand. Then everyone is categorized based on four groups: ignore or test, avoid, use or lose, and invest to strengthen. This makes it possible to develop a proven strategy to maximise the return on investment in marketing as well as to ensure that your brand is triggered first in the most important situations. 


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