Two Key Components to Marketing Success

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

We’ve been talking a lot about the role of distinctiveness and differentiation in marketing lately. And rightly so, since these two components critically work together to create effective ads and help brands grow. But first, let’s remember that distinctiveness refers to the ability to notice and recognize a brand and differentiation refers to mental associations that we have with a brand that distinguish that brand from competitors’ brands. 

There has been ongoing debate about the role that distinctiveness and differentiation each play in marketing. But a recent study by Kantar sheds some light on the unique contribution of each to making effective ads. The study shows that brands which had strong salience (driven by distinctiveness) AND a strong meaningful difference showed a 2.7% growth in market share compared to 0.9% growth for brands with strong salience but with weak meaningful differentiation.  This result has a few important implications: 

Strong brand distinctiveness is necessary but not sufficient. Being distinctive and salient helps your audience recognize your advertisements and your products, and ultimately helps build trust and affinity. But being distinct and salient doesn’t necessarily help with the mental associations and constructs that your audience has about your brand. 

As a result, marketers need to make sure that not only are they distinctive and salient, but that they also create memorable and meaningful associations with their brand. Burger King may be one of the biggest brands that leans too heavily in salience in the absence of creating meaningful differentiation. This is apparent in their recent Twitter snafu where they tweeted “women belong in the kitchen.” The tweet certainly did a great job in getting people to talk about their brand (building salience), but it completely failed to make us think of anything positive (or anything related to food, frankly) when it came to Burger King. 

Differentiation helps create a clear cohesive message. Research by Millward Brown shows that we do an excellent job communicating a single message when we explicitly set out a goal to communicate a single message. Differentiation often boosts marketing impact because it places an emphasis on having a single-minded focus on what we want to communicate. It helps ensure that we don’t communicate too many messages at once, avoiding confusion. 

A classic example of a brand that recognized a lack of differentiation and changed course is Staples. After some time, they found themselves indistinguishable from Office Depot and OfficeMax, so they elected to change course and focus on how they “make it easy.” They emphasized how they make things easy in their advertising campaigns, created the “that was easy” tagline and the now infamous “easy” button. Their revised position helped them differentiate from competitors and got them back on track. 

Overall, we know that being recognizable and being different are two key components that shouldn’t be overlooked in marketing. We have a lot of experience with this at Intermark Group, and we’d be happy to help solve your marketing challenges by creating memorable and impactful ads for your brand. Give us a call at 833-578-1314 or email us at [email protected] for more info.