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Being meaningfully different can command a premium 

But many salient brands miss miss this major opportunity 

The Top 100 brands are all big and salient, but in many categories they struggle to be seen as meaningfully different. This works to their detriment because brands that are perceived as meaningfully different possess some important properties:

  • Theygrowfasterinresponsetomarketingsupport;
    • Theyaremoreresilienttocompetitiveaction;and
    • They can command a price premium over close alternatives.
  • These are all very desirable qualities so why do so many of the Top 100 struggle to be perceived as meaningfully different? Part of the challenge is that brands only become truly meaningful through personal experience. In the documentary “Objectified,” Bill Moggridge, co-founder of the design firm IDEO, suggests that our appreciation of well-designed objects develops over time, they wear in not out. The same is true of brands.

    Potential buyers may understand how a brand could make their lives better but ultimately it will be their own experience that confirms whether the brand truly does meet their needs. A potential buyer may find a brand more appealing than others but only the passage of time will deepen that affection. However, this process can be shaped and guided by marketing communication that focuses attention on positive aspects of the brand experience.

    The power of difference

    Being meaningful is a powerful brand asset, but the power of that asset is strengthened if your brand is perceived to be different from the alternatives. Why? Because difference serves these three important roles:

    1. Difference helps people make a choice between close alternatives; 

    2. Difference justifies paying a price premium; and

    3. Difference makes people feel more satisfied with their choice.

    When it comes to choosing between alternatives a difference might be trivial in nature; in the absence of more knowledge an attractive design may be enough to clinch the deal. However, when it comes to justifying a price premium, all the evidence suggests that better differentiated brands can command higher prices. And particularly when people do pay a premium, an easily available rationale justifying the choice helps stave off buyer’s remorse.

    One of the biggest marketing myths of the modern day is that differentiation is hard to sustain. In part, this is because marketers tend to think in terms of product differentiation, not perceived differentiation. Marketers are intimately familiar with how their product stacks up against its competition; consumers are not.

    Consumers’ assessment of product differentiation is partial and just as susceptible to influence as is their brand experience. Besides, there is huge scope for differentiating brands in terms of ideals, values, tone of voice, personality and design. Perceived differentiation is about creating the feeling of difference and, once established, it will be very difficult for competitors to displace the idea from consumers’ minds.

    Start with what differentiates your brand

    The starting point for creating meaningful difference lies in defining what could make your brand be seen as different. To be a valuable asset, the differentiation created by the brand needs to be potentially meaningful to the target audience, sustainable and easily appreciated. Trivial line extensions or facelifts may be easily appreciated but they are unlikely to be meaningful or sustainable.

    To identify a more fundamental meaningful differentiation many brands take a step back and examine their purpose. What difference is the brand going to make in people’s lives? The power of purpose lies in creating something unique that your brand champions. It is inherently differentiating. While the true motivational power of purpose may lie more with people working for the company than consumers, a strong sense of purpose helps align innovation and marketing efforts to best effect.

    Ensure you deliver on your promise

    Once you have identified something that differentiates your brand – functionally or emotionally – the next step is to ensure the brand delivers on its promise. To build meaning it is critical to deliver a positive experience, not just once but on a repeated basis. It is repeated good experiences that build habit and affection. The flip side is that a single bad experience can undermine years of investment in a matter of moments, unless addressed quickly and effectively.

    Lastly, do not assume that marketing communication has no role in creating meaning through experience. Marketing communication has a huge role in framing the brand experience – modeling what it is going to be like to use the brand and how that experience might be different. Marketing communication does not just make a brand salient, it has a powerful influence on what aspects of a brand people notice and experience. 


    1. Identify what will differentiate the brand and then make the difference as meaningful and salient to as many people as possible.
    2. Create deeper meaning with positive and repeated brand experience. Focus attention on the positive aspects of brand experience.
    3. Deliver on the expectations created by brand marketing.
    4. Depend on marketing communication to build meaningful difference as well as salience.