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How Meaningful Difference Drives Brand Equity

by Ellis Malovany

The biggest challenge that brands face is creating sustainable and profitable growth.

That requires focusing on Meaningful Differentiation: functional, emotional or societal. The Meaningfully Different brand not only sells more - it can sustain a price premium over time. Strong, profitable brands are meaningful to their consumers, perceived as different from the competition and are more salient - they come to mind more quickly and easily than the alternatives. Meaningful Difference is a metric that underlies brand equity, and proper amplification of a brand’s Meaningful Difference is critical if the brand is to achieve its full potential.

Over the last 13 years the BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands with high brand equity scores grew their brands three times more than their competitors. Over and above that, brands that were very Meaningfully Different experienced growth in brand value of up to five times over those who were not, indicating that driving differentiation in your category and ensuring that it is meaningful to consumers, will help put your brand on the fast track to growth.

2018 South African Brand Performance

South African brands generally score well on Meaningful Difference, and although they are, on the whole, successfully connecting with consumers, there is work to be done, as we see that the connections tend to be more functional than emotional.

Woolworths leads the Top 30 in Meaningful Difference which is driven by their great brand experience. Takealot is seen as the most Meaningfully Different brand outside the Top 30. Their Meaningful Difference is also driven by great experience, which sets them up for potential for future growth, especially as eCommerce takes off in South Africa. This highlights the important role brand experience plays in growing brand equity.

What Can Other Brands Learn From This? 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. The differentiation created by the brand needs to be potentially meaningful to the target audience, sustainable and easily appreciated in order to be a valuable asset. Nando’s is a great example, amplifying their Meaningful Difference through a unique and relevant style of communication that resonates with consumers.

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. Capitec Bank's purpose and point of Meaningful Difference is to simplify banking so you can “bank better and live better”. This ties back to innovations like Sunday banking and paperless banking to make

things easier and more accessible for their customers, which 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. Dis-Chem Pharmacy finds their point of differentiation by championing socio-economic causes and bringing affordable healthcare services to people in need.

Ensure You Deliver on Your Promise

Once you have identified what it is that differentiates your brand – functionally or emotionally – the next step is to ensure that the brand delivers on its promise. To build meaning is critical to deliver a positive experience, not just once but on a consistent basis. It is repeated good experiences that build habit and affection. Consistent great quality, over many years, has built a sense of trust and love for KOO, which has now become their Meaningful Difference against competitors.

The flip side is that a single bad experience can undermine years of investment in a matter of moments, unless addressed quickly and effectively.

Do not assume that marketing communications have 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.

First National Bank is a great example of a well-rounded brand with their point of differentiation threaded through purpose, innovation and experience amplified by great communication that brings these characteristics to life. This has built love for the brand and highlights how Meaningful Difference can drive value and preference for the bank.

Actions for Building Meaningful Difference

  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.