Is differentiation still possible in today’s marketplace and how long can it last for any one brand? I believe most marketers today would answer yes to the first part and ‘it depends’ to the second. As far as being possible, in today’s competitive (even cut-throat) business environment, many would argue that differentiation is key to survival. The difficulty occurs when your competitors hear what you say (easier and faster thanks to WOM channels), decide to follow your lead (again, easier now than ever) and begin claiming that aspect of difference as their own.  Of course some things are more difficult to copy—proprietary or patented processes and products. But many claims of differentiation are built around softer issues—often harder to quantify. “We have the most talented (dedicated, smartest, etc.) team.” “Our customer service is second to none.” “The corporate culture here is unique.” “We truly listen to our clients.” “We have deep industry experience.” Etc. Etc.

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So what do you do? The answer may lie in the second part of that question. Staying distinct in the minds of your target audience more and more requires staying fresh and new. That doesn’t mean your messaging and brand is all over the board, but that you find fresh ways to present and package your brand. Your brand promise and essence remain constant. But your marketing messaging and creative strategy must evolve and stay ahead of the pack. Face it, ‘same old same old’ is just that. The big consumer names know this—look at Target, Coke, Starbucks, Apple. We are actually trained to wonder what’s next.

So freshen up that ‘trade dress’ and tell a new story­—your clients will respond and your competition may copy!

by Frank Kurland

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