13 Ways to Differentiate Your Brand from Your Competitors
Differentiation can be a great success driver for your brand.
People gravitate towards things that are unique, quirky, or different. Nobody wants “vanilla” especially in this day and age where so many flavours are available.
But what does that mean in terms of your business?
Think about the following brands and how they make themselves stand out in the market:
- Tiffany & Co
Each of them has a different way of setting themselves apart in the marketplace.
Easyjet is cheap. But also bright orange. So they’re differentiating on price and colour.
Tiffany & Co are expensive. But that blue colour is instantly recognisable, especially in the very monochromatic jewellery world.
And Patagonia is differentiating through content. Watching their YouTube channel is often a better experience than going to the cinema.
People remember something that’s a little bit different.
So what can you do to differentiate your brand from your competitors?
Well, there are certain elements of your brand strategy and brand identity that can really make you stand out from your competition.
Let’s dive in.
Tone of Voice
One of the first ways you can differentiate your brand is through your tone of voice and the language you choose to use.
For example, when you greet someone, do you say:
This is a very basic example, but when you start to construct rules around your tone of voice, you’re giving your brand a personality of its own.
Do you want to be corporate, friendly, fun, conversational?
Look at GaryVee.
He’s the world’s most famous entrepreneur, and he’s out there dropping F-bombs and swear words all over the place.
Whether it’s on YouTube, on stage at a massive conference, or in a Facebook post, he’s always speaking his truth.
If you’re in the personal brand business, my advice is to always be yourself and speak your truth.
If you’re in the business branding world, then you need to choose a tone of voice that aligns with your brand strategy.
Your customer personas come into play here too.
If you’re targeting 18-year-old sneaker heads “wassup” or “hey” are likely completely acceptable greetings.
That’s very different from targeting 40-year-old business executives who likely wouldn’t appreciate a “wassup.” A simple “hello” would suffice in this situation.
Like most things in branding, knowing your target customers inside and out will help your business find its ideal tone of voice.
Diving into the visual side of things, the use of a unique colour can easily help you differentiate your brand.
Look at Tiffany & Co:
They use a monochrome logo, sure. But they’re world-renowned for their famous blue colour.
In a world of black and white jewellery brands, Tiffany has used a bright blue that sets them miles apart from their competition.
Let’s sidestep from jewellery, into chocolate.
Famous chocolate brand Cadbury and purple are so intrinsically linked that they’re trying to trademark a specific shade of “Cadbury purple.”
From jewellery and chocolate to aeroplanes.
Think about Easyjet.
They’re bright orange in the sky of blue. You can spot an Easyjet aeroplane from the ground.
Their bright orange colour has become synonymous with low-cost flights.
Now even if you don’t run a jewellery, chocolate brand, or airline, you can still differentiate with colour.
Look at what others in your sector are doing. Then be brave enough to steer your ship in the opposite direction.
From the spoken word to the written.
Typography is another great way to differentiate your brand.
If you’re in the fashion business, it’ll be especially easy at the minute. Look at the recent branding of:
- Minna Palmqvist
They’ve all done away with any personality whatsoever and opted for a sans-serif rebrand that offers no look at all into their world.
Typography can help businesses stand out a mile.
So much so in fact, that large companies have been investing in their own custom typefaces.
Netflix has created Netflix Sans. Similarly, YouTube has created a YouTube Sans. And Airbnb has made Cereal!
Custom typography can be a great way to differentiate your brand.
However, if you’re looking to go beyond logo design, and design a whole typeface, you could be in for a costly project.
Check out this great article discussing whether creating a custom typeface is worth it.
There are a huge range of different marketing campaigns you can run to help differentiate your business.
As an example:
Because everyone’s going digital with their marketing efforts, why not go back to print?
Recently at Canny Creative, we received a printed mailing campaign through our door that really blew our socks off. Holding and engaging with it really made me sit up and take notice.
Try to think outside of the box with your marketing campaigns.
Dollar Shave Club blew up because of their creative YouTube advert.
Neil Patel’s Quicksprout broke down their success in this blog post.
Marketing is such a vast topic that there’s always someone doing something different.
Recently Basecamp bought Google Ads for their own name and ran a sarcastic “I can’t believe we have to buy our own name” type advert.
Innocent Drinks recently launched a campaign for their new green drink, insisting it was blue.
Both of these campaigns are wildly different, but both had the desired effect, going viral across multiple platforms.
You can differentiate your brand by going against the grain in your marketing.
In the “No Win No Fee” insurance business? Don’t show lawyers talking on camera. Show the gruesome things that went wrong.
Talking about credit cards? Don’t focus on the repayments, but on the lifestyle, people can lead on borrowed money.
These are extreme examples, but hopefully, they give you some food for thought when it comes to differentiating your brand through marketing.
Imagery is a contentious topic.
Because there are so many different approaches, and for the most part, people have hugely contrasting views.
The easy route is using stock photography as part of your brand identity and website design.
One step up from that is bringing in a photographer of your own to shoot custom images for your brand.
Taking a different route entirely could see you using illustrations, or even bringing in a mascot to help you stand out.
MailChimp is a great example of a brand using a mascot to help them stand out.
What do monkeys/chimpanzees have to do with delivering mail? Absolutely nothing.
But it’s memorable as hell!
Toggl has also gone with a similar approach recently, and are utilising 3D modelling to create a unique “Toggl world.”
If you’re in the architecture business, you’ll probably want to use photography of your projects. There’s no getting away from that.
But do you have to use cityscapes and stock photos of penthouses? Definitely not.
The imagery you choose leaves an imprint in the mind of your customer.
Your brand imagery is a good way to differentiate.
You’ll certainly not see many lawyers with animal mascots for a logo!
Distinct Brand Collateral
Your brand collateral and stationery design is another thing you can use to differentiate your brand.
Think about it.
You’re at a networking event, and somebody hands you a business card. It’s the same type of business card you’ve seen hundreds of times over.
85mm x 55mm on a 400gsm matt laminated stock. Yawn.
But then, someone hands you a business card that’s twice as thick and featured a gold foil logo.
You’ll notice it straight away, and then you’ll remember that business for a long time.
There is a huge range of print finishes you can choose from. And they don’t have to break the bank either!
Why not try:
- Spot UV (makes certain colours shiny)
- Neon colours
- Using a different paperweight
- Making your stationery a different shape
- Doing something unique
We’ve seen divorce lawyers cards who come in two halves, one for each party. We’ve seen fitness trainers printing their cards on elastic to represent skin.
Recently, one of our clients, Qworky, shaved off the top right corner of each of their printed materials, just so it’s “not quite the same” as everyone else’s.
Printed materials are a great way to help your business stand out.
What You Stand For
Your brand strategy should clearly define your values.
And your values are a great way to differentiate your brand. Stick to them, and be uncompromising.
Put your values and beliefs to the forefront of your marketing, rather than your sales pitch, and watch how your brand rises above the rest.
If your whole brand is about ethical trading. Then make sure you bring it forward when talking about your business.
There is a range of brands marketing on their ethics:
- TOMS Shoes
- Ben & Jerry’s
By offering up your values, you’re giving potential customers an inside look into your company.
Remember, people do business with people. And you’re more likely to do business with someone similar to you.
By talking about your values openly, you’re aligning yourself with customers, while differentiating from the crowd.
Create Relevant Content
Content is now the backbone of any brand.
From social media content to written, audio, and video content, if you’re not producing content, you’re leaving opportunities on the table.
People are nosy. And if they’re not nosy, they’re interested and inquisitive.
So let people in.
Why not do something unusual in your space?
I recently watched a YouTube show produced by two doctors. It’s not something I’d typically watch, but getting to look behind the scenes of a doctors workday was interesting!
Lately, Wistia has been talking about brand affinity marketing.
Essentially, what that means, is creating unique content that your customers want to binge-watch and grow to love. In turn, they begin to buy into your brand.
Companies like Wistia and Mailchimp are creating their own unique content for that exact purpose.
It’s part of the reason we maintain such a comprehensive blog at Canny.
Our blog is the main source of our leads. Without it, we’d be dead in the water.
Soon, we’re ramping up our video production.
How many design agencies are putting out behind the scenes looks at client projects? Not many (if any at all!)
Content can help set you miles apart from your competition.
Again, it helps align your people, with your customers. Any time you pull back the curtain, you’re generating viewer buy-in.
Quality of Product or Service
This next tip is slightly intangible.
You can differentiate yourself by the quality of product or service. However, everyone always claims they’re the best.
So you have to back it up!
M&S have utilised advertising to create the “It’s not just food, it’s M&S food” tagline.
Even though M&S have always prided themselves on quality, they’re really hammering that message home with their advertising.
You can also opt for the opposing angle.
The food’s average, the service is average, it’s reasonable, and you’re in an out in a jiffy, and you’re not dissatisfied.
There’s nothing wrong with being at the top end, bottom end, or right in the middle of the quality spectrum.
At Canny, you’re not going to get the same experience as going to a 500 person New York City agency with luxury offices.
You’re going to get great quality work, but without all of the “wining and dining.”
We will always have a cup of tea and a biscuit to dunk in it though!
Quality of product and service is so subjective. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be right.
Tell Your (Own, Realistic) Story
Whether it’s through content, PR, or something else entirely, you must tell your story.
But it must be your own, realistic story.
Don’t fake it.
Authenticity and transparency are often lost in the digital age. So pull back the curtain, and let people see you being you.
We’ve already mentioned Gary Vee earlier the post, but he does a great job of it.
He’s a business leader, but he also loves the New York Jets, and he doesn’t hide that away in his content.
He’s always as real as can be.
Many brands fail to tell their story because they’re trying to construct a story that people want to hear.
But here’s the thing:
Most stories are interesting.
You don’t need to create one. You just need to tell yours.
By doing that, you’re offering yourself up on a plate, which admittedly, can make you feel a little vulnerable.
But, if you can get over that, you’re breaking down barriers and again, helping people buy into your business through authenticity.
Understanding of Customers Needs
A lot of brands talk about themselves and what they can do.
What they should be doing, is showing understanding and compassion.
Rather than saying “We build widgets” you should be saying “We solve X problem, by building widgets that do Y.”
“I’m a divorce lawyer” tells people what you do.
“Making divorce as pain-free as possible” sells the benefit of what you do.
People buy things that solve their problems.
Show you understand your problems, and then show them the benefits of engaging with your business.
Recently, I’ve been reading Donald Miller’s Storybrand.
He breaks down problems into three categories:
- External – what they need.
- Internal – why they need it.
- Philosophical – what the world sees.
By tapping into problems on multiple levels, you’re showing care and compassion for your customers.
Where most other brands are selling tools, you’re selling solutions. A perfect way to differentiate your brand.
Price is a bit of a sticky wicket.
Some people hate competing on price, others love it.
Either way, it’s an easy way to differentiate yourself from your competition.
Are you high cost, mid-range, or low cost?
Looking at car brands is an easy way to explain cost:
Rolls Royce is firmly up in the high ticket section. Audi sits in the mid-range. Ford are typically at the low end.
You can get even more granular by looking at German car brand BMW and the brands they own.
- BMW – high end
- Volkswagen – mid-range
- Mini – affordable.
They’re all made in the same factory, but have different badges, that speak to different audiences.
BMW’s are typically aimed at executive roles. Volkswagen at families. Mini’s at younger drivers.
When it comes to business, there’s no shame in any of the approaches. Your pricing should be in line with your brand strategy and customer personas.
You can probably create services or products within your brand hierarchy, that speak to each price point.
Low cost, high return is probably the best way to look at your pricing model.
Want investment bankers and city slickers on board?
Create luxury and status with a high ticket pricing model.
Where you can really win, is if you’re able to deliver a high-end product, for a low-end price. Or buy a whole load of cheap low end products, brand them up, and sell them at a high cost.
One of our values at Canny Creative is to never negotiate on price. Simply because we feel our work is worth a certain amount of investment.
We’re not the cheapest, but we will get you results. Choose your price, and stick to it. Don’t be ashamed!
Niche Down/Become an Expert
The final way you can differentiate your brand is by becoming an expert in one particular field.
By targeting one very specific sector, you become known as the “go-to” for that particular industry.
Recently we stumbled on a branding agency who only create work for clients in the aerospace industry.
Very niche indeed!
But by doing that, they’ve managed to secure several massive clients, and boast an impressive array of work.
Depending on the sector you work in, this might not be an option.
But if it is, you should give it a try!
Imagine becoming the Personal Trainer for C-Suite Level Executives.
Sounds ludicrous. But it’s doable.
If you can identify a sector or type of client you love working with, then you should target them exclusively.
Too many businesses are generalists that would benefit from gaining some focus around their target customers.
By being selective about who you work with, not only are you narrowing your marketing focus, but also creating exclusivity.
And when people feel like they’re missing out, they want to buy in even more.
Conclusion: 13 Ways to Differentiate Your Brand from Your Competitors
Creating brand differentiation isn’t an easy task. And it’s not the only good way to build a better brand. It’s one of many ways.
However, in crowded sectors or geographical locations, it can definitely help!
If you choose to follow the tips in the post, you should easily be able to make your business stand out from the crowd.
One of my favourite tips I’ve picked up along the way is “document, don’t create.”
So if you’re a bakery, show the bread baking, don’t create a story about the bread. Tell people how to have a great afternoon tea. Document, don’t create.
Show people the reality behind your business, and it’ll draw people in. Authenticity and transparency are often lost in marketing. Document, don’t create.
Remember, people do business with people, and differentiation can help get people to notice you and your business.
What do you think? Has differentiation worked for you? Or are you struggling to stand out? Let us know in the comments below.
16 min read