Is Your Brand Special?
How to Uncover Your Uniqueness and Why You Must
When clients and I are diving into the brand co-creation process, I’ll ask them to imagine and describe their ideal brand in as much detail as possible.
I’ll ask them to describe their perfect future brand. What does it look like? What does it sound like? How does it connect with people?
More often than not, they’ll grab their laptop, feverishly type away, find something, then turn the laptop around to show me.
“This. I want my brand to look just like this. This company’s branding is so well done. I love the colors, the language they use, the style of the photos, the font, the messaging. I love everything about it. It actually makes me a bit jealous because it’s so good!”
With regret, I tell them, “Sorry, that brand is taken. You’re not going to create a copy of that.”
Most companies and business owners don’t believe they have that special something that sets them apart or makes them envy-worthy. They’re wrong. They have everything they need to make their businesses and themselves stand out. Just like no two people are alike, no two businesses are alike.
You don’t need to copy someone else.
You can appreciate the consistency with which they present the brand. You can be inspired by their clear messaging and their unique voice. But you can’t copy them.
Uniqueness is one of the most challenging parts of the branding process. Big companies will pay tens of thousands, or even millions, to have a branding firm help them carve out their uniqueness. And it’s one of my favorite parts of my work.
There are several ways to find a unique positioning for your brand. Before we get there, what is uniqueness?
Let’s start with what it is not.
Uniqueness is not that you love or care for your customers more than your competition does. It’s not that you’re a lower-priced option, or even that your product or service is the best quality. Those are all important,, but they’re also likely claimed by 95 percent of the players in your industry. Furthermore, you can find yourself mistaken for other businesses in your space or, worse yet, you could get into a price-war race-to-the-bottom with them battling it out on those attributes. The goal is to be so unique that there is no competition.
Uniqueness in branding is something you do so well and often that it’s truly different and has become your asset—so much so that your competition would be unlikely to try to copy your actions without looking like a total rip-off. You’ll be top of mind for your clients and friends. They’ll say things like, “I had a friend who was looking for [exactly what you do in your unique way] and I immediately thought of you.”
Your uniqueness is something your clients identify as very unusual and highly-valued. As a result, you’ll stand out in their over-crowded, over-marketed minds, and they’ll reward you with their business.
Creating a platform of uniqueness requires courage from a business owner. Doing things differently can draw out vocal critics. You might hear or read things from customers, employees, competitors or someone who stumbles across one of your social media posts and questions or even criticizes it.
All of that is to be expected because anything new or different requires the adoption of new thinking. It’s human nature to resist something new and different until it’s widely adopted or accepted. Remember, though, that something truly unique won’t resonate with everyone. Skip the non-constructive criticism, move on and focus on those you can serve exceptionally well.
Have confidence and believe in your uniqueness!
You might be thinking, “Sounds good, but how do I uncover what’s unique about my brand?” Here are five ways to uncover your uniqueness.
1 .Ask your customers or clients what you do differently. Start with people who’ve sorted through the sea of competitors in your space and decided to work with you. Ask them who they were considering before they chose you and your business. Ask them what made you stand out. Ask many follow-up questions to get clear on what they meant. For example, if they said, “You were most convenient,” ask what they meant by, “convenient?” Was is your location? Scheduling availability? Something else? That’s where the true uniqueness lies –- in the deeper meaning of the words your customers use when they talk about you.
2. Look at what others do and find ways to do things differently. If you’ve asked your clients who they consider part of your competition or you know who your competitors are, it’s time to do some research and analysis. Examine the way they do business, how they deliver their products and services, what clients and markets they serve. Look for opportunities to do things differently.
In their book, Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss share an example of how Commerce Bank (acquired by TD Bank in 2007) looked at the banks they competed with to uncover unique features and benefits that customers would like, but are not offered. Most banks are open during the day when customers are at work, so they can’t go to the bank. For people who value the ability to walk into a branch, Commerce offered evening, Saturday and Sunday hours. That uniqueness became a uniqueness for the bank, along with offering terribly low interest rates for depositors. But the unique feature was being able to walk into the bank.
3. Look at your story. You’ve had a unique journey to get to where you are today. Your story is unique. Your journey is unique. Your past work experience is unique. Your point of view is unique. Your interests are unique. And you can incorporate all of that into your brand! Do you have a signature program? What are you incredibly good at doing? What is your learning style? What is your teaching style? What's it like to work with you? Have you combined two usually unrelated things? What could you add to your business to make it more unique?
This isn’t about new ideas. It’s more like remixing two things you already know about. For example, gardening and business strategy. There are probably some unique insights and principles from gardening to apply to biz building. It’s a new way to describe concepts in a crowded space. It doesn't have to be a big differentiator. You can use small things for uniqueness metaphors to describe well-known concepts, your niche, markets you serve, your tone of voice, your own language, a nickname, identifying with your geography.
4. Create a unique process. If you have a process, like a professional services or consulting business, you have steps that you take a client through to achieve a desired result. What parts of the process are unique? What metaphors, language or analogies can you use to separate your process from the competition? Can you come up with a unique name for your process?
My brilliant client Bev Barnes had developed her own transformational coaching program through her work with clients. She knew the steps in the process and had ideas for titles, imagery and metaphors. We worked together to refine the words, visuals, colors and feeling of her approach. The result is this 8’x4’ chart that I created for her. It showcases her process in a powerfully unique way. This map became the inspiration for her visual brand, content and programs.
5. Use senses. Recall that brands create emotional and logical connections with people. The human emotional state is activated by messages the brain gets from our five senses. Martin Lindstrom covers this topic in depth in his best-selling book, Brand Sense. Here’s some insight from Martin’s book, and some opportunities and ideas to consider as you are creating or improving your brand experience with sensory-infused touch points.
Brand builders who leverage all five senses significantly increase the odds of connecting to potential clients. Sight overrides the other senses and has the power to persuade us against all logic. It’s been reported that visual elements can mold 90% of one’s first impression. What unique visual elements can you add to your brand? Think colors, shapes, photos, lines and textures that can become part of your signature style and elicit a feeling about your brand.
Sound creates feelings, emotions and often memories. It’s also considered the second strongest sensory influence in brand building. Sound in your brand can come from a familiar jingle or tagline that you use in advertising, on your website or on your voicemail message. Think about jingles, commercials and songs you can’t get out of your head. Sound is a powerful, memorable way to create uniqueness.
Touch is important because skin is our largest organ and directly sends signals to the brain. If you sell products at a brick-and-mortar business, what textures or environmental elements can you incorporate? Think textures, temperature and anything related to touch.
Uniqueness is a powerful tool in today’s very crowded marketplaces. The internet provides the opportunity for clients to find more options and for businesses to reach new markets. Uniqueness is the best way to make your business stand out and to make it easy for your ideal clients to find you.
Uniqueness is the crystal-clear picture of the features and benefits you provide, how you do so differently, and why there’s value in that difference.
Think about brands that have earned your loyalty. You likely have some favorite brands and products you buy despite being more expensive than others, easier to locate or procure. There are other options that could "beat" your favorite products, but they don't provide the features, benefits, identification or feeling. Yes, we choose brands for emotional reasons like nostalgia or a belief that a product is better. When we are emotional about a brand, there's no competition.
This is something every business and brand can -- and must -- do. If you’re looking for more ideas, you can download this checklist here.