Differentiating a brand is near impossible today. Until you do this one thing

Differentiating gives your prospects a clear picture of what makes you unique and why they should do business with you from among all the choices they have. That's important stuff. Mission-critical stuff for most organizations.

A lack of differentiation can put a brand on a path to obsolescence. That's why any savvy organization should be at least a little alarmed at how difficult it has become for brands to create and sustain differentiation today.

A few decades ago, it was easier. You may have been able to introduce a feature or a process that was unique, and then capitalize on it while the competition tried to catch up. Today, technology has made it too easy for a competitor to spin up a similar offer at record speed. Or for entirely new competitors to start up.

Technology has been the great leveler. It has increased anyone's ability to turbo boost their speed to market. And it has reduced the cost barriers to getting into business or launching a new line of business.

There is a real danger here. If anyone can launch a competing offer and there is no significant differentiation that's readily apparent to the prospect, a scary thing happens. We find ourselves suddenly having to compete largely on price. Oh, a few other factors may come into play, like service. But if the primary factor is the price, we'll find ourselves in a race to the bottom as our once unique offering becomes another me-too option in a commodity market.

That sucks. But that's the reality. Differentiating a brand today is tough.


The one thing you absolutely must do with your brand

So what is an organization to do? Will it become a game of who can exploit the latest technology the fastest? With today's ever-increasing pace of change, that sounds like a hamster wheel from hell.

Truth be told, I'm not ready to give up on differentiation. Don't get me wrong. I'm not willing to settle for the current state of how we do positioning to differentiate. I believe it is time for an evolution. It's no longer enough to talk about our attributes (our widget is 40% faster!) and functional benefits (our faster widgets help you get more done!) We're going to have to get to something more meaningful for our prospects.

I'm talking about building positioning on a purpose you embrace. A difference that your brand will make in a life, a community, or even the world (I call it Big Audacious Meaning). That's something that has a profound effect. Something that can cause our prospects to willingly lower the barriers they put up and allow us to enter that magical realm of consideration.

Imagine no longer quibbling with competitors over whose attribute or functional benefit is marginally better. Imagine, instead, telling our prospects how they can be part of something that makes the world around us a little bit better place.

The world isn't slowing down. We have to move past the old ways and evolve our differentiation. It's no longer enough to position ourselves in relation to the environment and the competition. The good news is that with purpose, we can differentiate in spite of those things.

Imagine how different that would feel.

Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at dsalva@willgrail.com.

ProcessDan Salva