Two Questions on Brand Differentiation.

I have read a really interesting article dealing with the question if it might actually be more important for a brand to be interesting than being different. If I got it right, the author argues that research shows that people don’t really make differences between particular brands, marking the whole process of positioning and differentiating at least, let’s say, overrated.

The article sparked to different questions in my head that I’ll try to bring together in the following paragraphs.


#1 What if it is a methodical problem?

Without having access to the underlying data or the research design used in the quoted studies I started wondering: What if people can’t differ between brands and their products when asked the survey questions? What if people, the moment they are asked about a brand’s personality or about differences between brands, take a shortcut for the “easy way” and make reference to a brand’s product rather than the brand itself?

A brand’s product is arguably something way more tangible than a brand’s personality. Just imagine how hard it is to explain the difference between Pepsi’s Coke and Coca Cola’s Coke (I’m talking about the product now). Or the difference between the savings accounts of two big banks. So if you’d ask me now about differences, I’d most certainly only find differences because you ask me for them. The products just are too similar. Yet they are more tangible than brands’ personalities – and therefore they might serve as a point of reference when it comes to questions about differences.


#2 What if big brands can’t be different?

Probably more interesting than the methodical question is the cultural question. What if brands can’t be so different, just because of their huge customer bases? The bigger the customer base a brand is catering to, the harder it might be to actually differentiate itself from its competitors. Why? Because you have to please such a diverse audience that ultimately you can’t be that particular anymore. The moment you start selling your product on a global level, you have to consider so many different aspects, that your brands perceived differences maybe wear off. On a global level it sounds almost logical that brands’ perceived characteristics only differ marginaly. 

On the opposite, the smaller a brand, the smaller its niche market, the easier it might be for a brand to hold up a clear brand personality, the easier it might be for people to actually make a difference between those brands. Furthermore, the smaller the market, the more different the offered products might be. Which, in result, would maybe lead to bigger perceived differences between the brands – if people answer survey questions in regard to a brand’s product (see #1).


I am well aware that those questions need more elaboration and ultimately deserve to be answered. Which I can’t do now. Still, I’m happy to hear your opinion on it since it is not so unlikely that I’m completely wrong and missed an important point. Nevertheless, if you haven’t done it yet, read Martin’s article here.


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