As humans, we are conditioned to value sameness, rather than celebrate differences. The number one rule in branding is we need to decide when it is right to be the same and when we need to embrace difference.
In business-to-business sectors the brand default position seems to be a natural tendency to identify with the characteristics of our sector; perhaps due to a primeval urge to gather into tribes. But in doing so, we are no longer unique in the eyes of the customer. We become an invisible part of a homogenous group.
Complete sectors align themselves with each other and end up sharing a similar brand language, behaviour, artefacts etc. While this perhaps gives an individual business the comfort of being part of a group, it is the wrong group! And so this is a false comfort.
In order to break through, clearly we have to look and sound different to our competitors. In retail, one company that does this extremely well, despite fierce competition, is Whole Foods. Where the competition, Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Waitrose, Lidl, Aldi has large stores with aisles of products, Whole Foods is more of a market place showing off the produce at its best as a celebration of fresh produce rather than obsessing about ROI per square foot.
The weekly supermarket shop is dreaded in most households as a means to an end, whereas Whole Foods has made grocery shopping a pleasurable experience, one to be enjoyed by food lovers, the food curious and food conscious. Something you want to do again, and soon! They have aligned their business and brand with their customers, not their competition.
Celebrating our differences is for the brave, not the faint hearted. We habitually aspire to being the same, we believe that everyone should be the same as us, and we judge others on their sameness – sameness is deeply attractive. We seek strength in sameness and judge difference as a weakness or threat. We feel most comfortable when we are in the same company. This desire for sameness fuels the cult of celebrity where the marketing of image feeds the desire to be just like them – to be a piece of a bigger picture – a little celebrity pixel.
Even in a game of pairs – the card game, where the object of the game is to collect similar pairs (two kings, or two aces etc) – the person with the most pairs at the end of the game wins. We are trained to value and identify with the similar. The same gives us comfort and at times of war or conflict it is our similarities that are essential to our very survival. Valuing sameness runs to our emotional core and touches our deepest instincts.
It can lead to blinkered thinking, bigotry, onesidedness and narrowness. We need to establish the lines of sameness and difference and embrace both. Being aware of the value of difference brings balance to business. It is managing the different things that oppose each other that bring harmony to a business. Being one-sided weakens the business’ ability to maximise its value.
We are attracted to the things that are most like us… Choose to be similar to your organisation’s customers, not your competitors.
Emberson runs regular free seminars that help companies on their journey to differentiation.