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Sustaining Difference requires balancing brand characteristics

Sustaining Difference requires balancing brand characteristics

Consumers expect brands to be creative, but also trustworthy

Brands that score highest in Difference in the BrandZ™ China Top 100 exhibit a balance of characteristics. Unsurprisingly, highly differentiated brands are creative and adventurous, but they are also trustworthy, in control, and wise.

The unicorn brands lack this balance. Compared with other brands in the BrandZ™ China Top 100, consumers view unicorns as more playful and fun, but less trustworthy and straightforward. A reputation for being rebellious and creative helps to build Difference, but sustaining it requires a more balanced brand personality.

The technology brand Huawei illustrates how balance helps sustain Difference over time. Between 2012 and 2019, Huawei increased its scores in being creative and rebellious, while also increasing its scores in characteristics such as trustworthy, assertive, and wise.

During the same time period, Huawei steadily increased in Brand Power, a BrandZ™ measurement of brand equity, from a weak score to a superior score of 282. An average score is 100. Huawei increased sharply in Difference, as well as the other two components of Brand Power, Meaningful and Salient. Difference is not strictly the province of technology brands, of course, and there are myriad ways to be Different.

In the dairy category, Yili is seen as Different. The category leader is rapidly expanding its product offering to meet the consumers’ desire for healthy products. Yili amplifies its Meaningful Difference by driving Salience. In the alcohol category, Moutai scores high in Difference because of its positioning as a premium baijiu. The heritage brand has recently expanded its appeal, and increased Salience, with new packaging and taste variants.

Regardless of how brands achieve Difference, Difference linked with brand experience accelerates value growth. Brands in the BrandZ™ China Top 100 that were low on Difference and Experience increased an average of only 6 percent in value, year-on-year, while brands high in both Difference and Experience increased 31 percent in value.

Brand Implications

  • Times are changing. Consumers continue to be enamored with creative brands that can improve their lives with innovative products and services. But consumers expect more. They respond more positively to brands that deliver their promises safely and responsibly.

  • Being perceived as fun and rebellious defined unicorns as Different and lifted them into the BrandZ China Top 100. To sustain growth and remain in the China Top 100, unicorns need to balance these youthful characteristics with trustworthiness and other characteristics that signal stability.

  • Established brands in the BrandZ China Top 100 need to balance their stability with some of the attitudes of unicorn brands. That balance becomes more necessary to accelerate brand value growth and remain in the China Top 100 now, as the value threshold for eligibility rises.

  • Both unicorns and established brands can grow value faster when they match strong Difference with memorable Brand Experience.

  • Brands can demonstrate their multidimensional personalities with innovative products and communication, as illustrated by the Huawei example.