Differentiate or Be Ignored

One of the branding thought-leaders I admire is Kevin Lane Keller. Kevin is the E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College. Previously he was on the faculty of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where he also served as the head of the marketing group. He has served as brand consultant to some of the world’s most successful brands, including Disney, Ford, Intel, Levi Strauss, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Starbucks. I first met Kevin when he gave a presentation on product differentiation at Procter & Gamble, and I have been following his work ever since.

In a lecture Kevin delivered to an audience at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg, he described eight specific characteristics of strong brands. I’ve taken creative license to translate them into economic development terms. Hopefully I’ve stayed true to the spirit of Kevin’s perspective.

8 Characteristics of a Great Community Brand

  • A deep and visceral understanding of what their community promise means to both the business community and citizens, allowing local private and public sector leaders to tell a relevant, competitive and authentic story.
  • Properly positioning their community. As important as any points-of-difference you create to differentiate your community, are the points of parity. Points of difference create a strong, favorable and/or unique association. Points of parity – issues on which your community competes with its competitors – are just as necessary. There are two kinds of points of parity: the first is Category or Necessary types of parity (such as available labor); the second is Competitive points of parity, which involves negating the competitors’ point of difference telling your community’s story. Often the point of difference is well established, but your community’s point of parity needs to be strengthened.
  • Providing superior delivery of desired benefits. This relates primarily to the experience private sector leaders have with public officials at all levels.
  • Maintaining the authenticity of your community’s promise through a proactive development approach to asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform that helps companies in your community be even more susscessful.
  • Establishing credibility for your community’s promise and creating an appropriate personality and imagery when communicating it. There are three key dimensions to credibility: expertise, trustworthiness and likeability. Few communities excel in all three areas, but those that do are very competitive.
  • Communicating your community message with a consistent voice and sufficient volume over time.
  • Employing a full range of complementary branding elements and supporting marketing activities, all of which ought to be integrated to achieve the best blend. But a community’s promise is not captured in just a name, logo, symbol, or slogan. It is also being authentic and delivering an experience consistent with that promise.
  • Strategically design and implement a brand hierarchy, as your community is often part of both a larger MSA and a state. The two main basic principles are those of relevance and differentiation. The principles of relevance argue that equity is created at the highest hierarchical level possible. Differentiation implies that at any level down, your community promise must be sharply defined in order for potential capital investors to understand the differences between the various location options in your area. In short, the key to managing a regional market portfolio is to maximize the value of the regional brand for communities in the region but minimize overlap in the messaging delivered by individual communities. Local community messaging should support regional messaging and explain how the local community uniquely delivers against the regional promise.

What Are Your Thoughts?

How does your community stack up against the 8 characteristics of a great community brand? Which of the characteristics do you find the most challenging to address? How successful has your community been in making improvements in the competitiveness of its promise?

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15 Comments so far

  1. Linda H. DiMario

    November 4, 2011

    The brand promise ought to reflect the framework of the very differentiating charactersitics upon which the brand platform and brand culture are premised. The more definitive the promise, the easier and more likely the private and public sector partners in a community or destination can reflect it in meaningful and distinguishing ways in their words and actions.

  2. Jim Hill

    November 4, 2011

    Great article on understanding the importance of crisp and memorable differentiators for any brand. Very important, but very hard to do for most businesses.

  3. Martin Bull

    November 7, 2011

    Possibly even harder for some sectors.
    Most universities in the UK (we’ll ignore Oxford, Cambridge and a few others at either end of the spectrum) are not the newest, oldest, biggest, smallest, best, (worst), cheapest, most expensive, most successful, etc, etc, etc. Some have a noticeable reputation in a specific subject or two but you can’t market an entire institution on the back of a single, possibly very small department (though it helps with PR). In many cases location is the only differentiator, but even then, most cities have more than one university (and in some instances, the location is a distinct handicap!).
    Meaningful differentiators would be wonderful if they could be identified! Constructive ideas welcome!

  4. Marco De Veglia

    November 7, 2011

    I posted this comment originally on the discussion about this article and the relative question “How important do you feel differentiation of your brand promise is?”. My answer was to a comment about being hard to differentiate UK Universities based on small differences.

    You can definitely market an entire institution on the back of a single possibly very small department.

    If it helps with PR, it helps with brand positioning. If helps with brand positioning it helps with marketing. And if it helps with marketing it helps with sales.
    Moreover, when you compete in a rather “unbranded” market and you apply brand positioning differentiation techniques, you get a more relevant competitive advantage than you would in a heavy branded market. This appears to be the case with UK Universities, from what you say.

    Of course it has to be a rather meaningful difference. If a department has new furniture probably isn’t making a meaningful difference. But if it has a teacher who published a seminal study it can be a meaningful difference.

    Any difference in branding has to be there and to be somewhat relevant – or easy enough to be made relevant – for the target customers.

  5. Peter Davis

    November 7, 2011

    Brand differentiation is critical in any category; there’s simply too much stuff vying or our attention to not differentiate. The figure I saw was that we’re exposed to 80,000 messages a day. Only the few messages that resonate emotionally are going to get through and have any hope of sticking.

    In terms of communities and other environments, how that environment is planned, how traffic – car, pedestrian and general usage – flows or doesn’t flow plays a critical part in my perception of that environment. Couple that with the messaging within that environment and you either get a strong brand or a weak one.

  6. Mike Keller

    November 8, 2011

    I would like to use Apple, Inc. to support this article. Is Apple first to market with a new product? In most cases the answer is no. Are Apple products built with the highest amount of quality? Many people would answer no. Does Apple sell products that we absolutely need to survive? Most people would answer no.

    So why does Apple sell so many products? Why do so many people who own the iPhone buy iPhone2.iPhone3, iPhone4…etc? The answer in my opinion is that Apple has differentiated themselves buy making cool products that do things we never dreamed they could do.

    I believe that companies that do the same thing they have always done (Kodak is an example of a company that thought their product was so established that they didn’t need to join the digital revolution.) will become obsolete and die.

    Step 1 is innovation.
    Step 2 is branding.
    Step 3 is constantly reinforcing your brand.

  7. Mike Lowe

    November 10, 2011

    Differentiation is definitely important. However, in this day where word of mouth is so easily spread, I think relevance is probably more important. What problem are you solving for consumers? If you’re doing that, they’ll find you.

  8. Steve Richards

    November 10, 2011

    Interesting research came out today regarding meaningful brands – which shows customers are happy to drop 80% of their brands without a 2nd thought. Those that stick have a purpose, they give back – are meaningful to customers in positive, human terms.

    Basically, brands who have moved on from competitive differentiation to focusing on actually making a difference to the customer, to their lives and/or their word.

    That way the customer differentiates rather than the brand. Please read more if you’re interested. http://tinyurl.com/bvejwab

  9. Peter Davis

    November 10, 2011

    Steve, I’d bet that the real figure is higher than 80%. According to Martin Lindstrom (of Buyology fame), the average consumer remembers on 2.1 ads out of the tens of thousands to which they’re exposed.

    To me, it’s always been about differentiation; the key question has always been how a brand distinguishes itself. The best brands have always been meaningful. They’ve always resonated with what I call our Primal Desires – Food, Sex, Survival, Love & Connection, and Meaning & Expression. These are 5 needs people are simply driven to satisfy, and everything we do is aimed to satisfy one of these needs, albeit often indirectly. Any brand – or anything, for that matter – that speaks to one of those desires can make a meaningful difference in someone’s lives

    In my opinion, many brands simply haven’t caught up with the reality that consumers expect more meaning from their brands. And because emerging markets are, well, emerging, it make sense that consumers there will be more receptive to brands. In fact, I did a Google Trends search of brand and brand strategy and, surprisingly, found the majority of searches originated in the EM’s.

  10. Marta Vallejo Arenaz

    November 16, 2011

    To build a successful Place Brand we must design an Strategic Plan and implement it with absolute rigor. All the different aspects of the Country must develop a coral work.

  11. Ed Roach

    November 23, 2011

    I’m with you Ed B.

    The differentiator has to resonate with its customers. As stakeholders, they are why we do any of this. Presuming to know is fool hardy. I also get much of my reconnaissance from sales staff, who listen quite effectively to what customer’s perceptions of our brand is or is not. For me personally, they are my favorite source. Over the years they have provided me awesome perspectives and I enjoy empowering them in the process.

  12. Julia C Carcamo

    November 29, 2011

    Why bother with a promise if every other business is promising the same thing? Doesn’t that just make people tend to gravitate to price?

  13. Aubrey

    December 5, 2011

    Differentiation (aka Uniqueness) is but one of the tests we should consider when developing a brand promise. The others are that the promise should be Meaningful (AKA relevant), Single-minded, Credible, Consistently expressed across the Total Brand Message, and finally Sustainable over time.This 6-way test may be aspirational for many brands, but it does set a standard to aim for.

  14. Marta Vallejo Arenaz

    February 22, 2012

    A country must be aware of its own and unique identityy.

  15. […] focused of identifying a unique benefit for locating in your community. Dr. Kevin Lane Keller’s points-of-difference (POD) and points-of-parity (POP) model suggests your community’s uniqueness may lie in how it delivers the desired benefit rather than […]

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