Brand Differentiation: The What,The Why and The How

I admit it.
I am so guilty of this big mistake.

This past weekend I was walking around the East Village of New York City stopping by some of my favorite independent bookstores. You know the ones, poorly lit, creaky old wooden floors and that wonderful aroma of musk and mystery.

A far cry from the giant book chain establishments with blaring LED lighting, halfwit employees you can never find when you need them, and a computerized inventory of “safe” mainstream books. These are the kinds of places you’d likely be able to buy a Mogwai gremlin if they existed; and if the owner knew you well enough they’d show you the really rare stuff tucked away in the back. These are the places I can and have disappeared into for hours.

In a spirit of giving back, I was donating a few copies of my new book Marketing For Supervillains (available on Amazon) to some of my favorite shops in the hope one day a fellow malleable mind might wander in to kill some time and happen upon my book the same way I had done many times and begin down a literary rabbit hole of differentiation training.

Happily, I was very well received by the shopkeepers. As I was signing a copy for the owner he looked at the title and asked what the book was about to which I spit out my elevator pitch about differentiators and my process of achieving brand differentiation detailed in the chapters within.



I screwed up again! The owner had no idea what a differentiator was. In my attempts to go 10 levels deep on a topic and achieve unparalleled levels of expertise, I had forgotten to account for the knowledge level of my audience.

Like an ace relief pitcher who spends his life honing a 100+ mph fastball that he can place on any part of home plate when faced with catching a ground ball and tossing it over to first base for an easy out I botched it.

The Easy Stuff Is Now The Hard Stuff!

For anyone who has ever given a killer presentation or finished a perfect, thought-provoking sales pitch only to be asked the most basic, elementary questions, let’s take a few steps back together.

What is a differentiator? A differentiator is something about your brand, product, or service that allows it to stand head and shoulders above other offerings in the marketplace.

WAIT: That Sounds Like A USP (Unique Sales Proposition) 

Well yes and no. 

In marketing, the unique selling proposition—also called the unique selling point or the unique value proposition—is the marketing strategy of informing customers about how your brand or product is superior to its competitors.

A strong USP can indeed be a differentiator. A strong differentiator however can blow away the strongest USP and help a brand dominate their marketplace.

So What Is A Differentiator?

Let’s take a look at Liquid Death.

Simply put, Liquid Death sells water. They do not claim their water is better, cheaper, or can get to you in a more convenient manner like most USP’s would claim. Instead, the geniuses at Liquid Death decided to carve out an underserved part of the audience and create a lifestyle brand that speaks directly to their demographic.

While most would see alienating a large part of the population as marketing no-no, Liquid Death has created an audience of devout followers and a market valuation over 10x their annual sales.

Their Differentiation Strategy To Success?
Niching Down + Creating a Lifestyle Brand

Do I have to be outrageous to be differentiated?

Absolutely not! A common misconception is in order to be properly differentiated you need to be…simply put: Different. In most people’s minds different means out of the norm. Ditch the suit and tie, cast off the safe, corporate lingo and throw caution to the wind in hopes your off-kilter attitude vibes with a big enough audience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As illustrated in one of our differentiation process documents called The Universe of Differentiation we list the top 12 differentiation opportunities that big brands have utilized to decommoditize themselves with great success including the likes of Sotheby’s, Steinway, Rolex, and more prestigious brands you may not associate with differentiation.

In Closing

To sum it up, a meaningful differentiator can essentially make you the final boss of your industry. An undeniable, undefeatable factor that can make a competitor with a solid USP disappear overnight.

Meaningful differentiation is the gold standard of the business of branding. Great differentiators will allow businesses on the brink of commoditization to rise above the pack and instead of cutting prices to remain competitive, a differentiated brand can charge a premium and remain or claim the leadership position of the industry.

Lastly, don’t make my mistake! When you achieve your meaningful differentiator do not be afraid to tell the audience, in the most basic of terms, why different is better!

Jesse James Wroblewski

Differentiation Consultant

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