If you don’t break away from parity in your category, your innovation will be invisible in the marketplace. Here are four tips on how to break away from sameness and drive differentiation for better business results.
1. Break away from the conventions in your category: Gather all of the primary products in your category and place them on a table to examine and identify the conventions they follow. Are they all pills in a bottle, or all pictures of food on boxes? Think about which of these rules you could change to create standout.
Here is both a good and a bad example of breaking conventions. Vicks cough syrup broke category conventions in the extremely cluttered cough and cold segment when they moved to a unique V-shaped bottle and eliminated the carton. The V shape means the consumer literally holds the brand letter in their hand, creating a memorable tactile experience. Wonderful!
Yet when they launched their Nature Fusion line under the Vicks banner, they switched to a different bottle packed in a carton (Why?). In doing so, they shifted the product back into category conformity joining the retail blur of cough syrup offerings. I am sure P&G’s market research told them there would more sales volume in a stand-alone product, rather than in another Vicks line extension. Trading their iconic Vicks bottle for another bottle design meant they lost the emotional connection that customers experience when they hold that familiar V-shaped bottle.
Consumers have an emotional connection to products that stimulate a “touch”. It creates a powerful branding moment as well as a link to familiar past product experiences. By conforming to the conventions of the cough/cold segment, where most products are sold as a bottle in a box, Vicks Nature Fusion is invisible on the cluttered store shelf.
2. Own a brand symbol and mean it: The power of brand iconography is that it transmits meaning without words. Some great examples probably come to mind such as golden arches, a polo pony or mouse ears. Symbols are telegraphic and they can be leveraged to stimulate consumer connections and inspire emotion in a bite-sized way.
A symbol is not a brand logo; it is something that stands for the brand beyond the name. Research has shown that consumers interpret logos as a signpost of selling, whereas symbols seem to bypass that sales filter and connect in a social way. Importantly, if all of the products in your category seem to be the same, an iconic symbol is an important vehicle to stand apart to express your equity and build meaning with customers.
3. Change the conversation: Consider the language and references commonly used in your category. You can easily do this by assessing all of the current messaging in the category. Start to use language that is fresh and contemporary as a way of framing the problem or desire your innovation is based on. Tell customers something they don’t know as a way to surprise and attract attention. Perhaps this is what Chanel has in mind this holiday season by using Brad Pitt as the first male spokesperson for Chanel No. 5. Having a man endorse a woman’s perfume will create fresh references and language for Chanel.
4. Give ‘em a thrill: Find out what your best customers want and give it to them. It’s advice I received from Martha Stewart when discussing product parity. Instead of hunting endlessly for insights at focus groups, discover what thrills your customers and give it to them. The thrill can be offered in the form of product, content, stories, surprises, causes, communities or information. Thrill packs an emotional surge that energizes customers to become evangelists and pass the experience along to others. If you don’t know where to begin to find thrill, consider an immersion for a deep discovery of customers’ interests and motivations.
image credit: vicks & cutcaster
Donna Sturgess is the President and Co-founder of Buyology Inc and former Global Head of Innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Her latest book is Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive. Follow on Twitter: @donnasturgess