I was watching TV the other night when a commercial for Hanes t-shirts with Michael Jordan came on. It’s one in a series, but the premise is always the same: the ‘tag’ on the t-shirt is a noisy nuisance. The problem is solved with Michael rips the tag off, and demonstrates the product ‘solution’ – a t-shirt with no tag.
Now honestly, when was the last time you thought your t-shirts would be better without tags? For me, that answer would be a very simple… never.
But Hanes needed a product differentiator, and they decided this was the path. It’s smart business. If your brand hasn’t come up with a way to separate your identity from competitors, you need to do it, too.
It’s obvious that Pharrell Williams (or at least his agent) has this figured out as well. The hat that became famous on the Grammy’s was still perched on his head on Saturday Night Live last weekend. Keep in mind, this is a pop singer using a hat to stand out from the crowd. Twerking was already taken by Miley Cyrus.
There are countless examples of essentially ‘made up’ product differentiators: beechwood aged Budweiser, the choice of a new generation, flame-broiled whopper, the computer for the rest of us, the ultimate driving machine, etc. The truth about marketing is that it’s often a matter of taking something very small about your product and making it appear more important in the mind of your target. Occasionally, it’s created out of thin air.
If you repeat something often enough (in other words if your ad budget is large enough) it will be perceived as true.
When they introduced Fire TV, Amazon was smart enough to focus the one thing that makes it different (it’s voice searchable). This spot is also much edgier than anything from Google or Facebook to date.
Now on the flip side, these are the most common tactics brands try to differentiate themselves: low price, customer service, best selection, more convenient, easy of use. While these can all be important, none of them will serve to truly differentiate your brand because competitors can offer them as well.
Finding a way to be different, and then sticking with it is not an easy task. It takes a commitment from management and a very savvy, integrated marketing campaign. But the alternative is to have a brand that’s just regarded as ‘more of the same’. And that’s simply not a feasible business plan today.