Differentiating your brand may prove quite a challenge. When we work with our clients on determining their differentiating idea we put them through our proprietary Appreciative Discovery®.

As part of the Appreciative Discovery, the following differentiating filter was developed. It is a three-part filter, a proof, for validating the positioning or differentiating idea. Only ideas that score 100 percent pass. We call it the 3-Cs test:

1. Competition: Is the differentiating idea available?

The filter for obvious newness.
Positioning is essentially a competitive strategy. Two companies cannot own the same differentiating idea in the mind of the prospect. If a competitor already owns a differentiating idea in the mind of the prospect, you are better off finding a new differentiating idea you can own. It is easier to displace a competitor with a new differentiating idea than dislodge one with a "me-too" idea. This approach also costs less.

2. Customer: Is the differentiating idea desirable (meaningful and relevant) to the prospect? How?

The filter for customer relevance.
The differentiating idea not only has to be available, but it has to offer an obvious benefit to the customer. They have to find the differentiating idea naturally attractive. Otherwise, what you have is meaningless difference.

3. Company: Is the position credible? Can and will your organization commit to it?

The filter for authentic commitment.
The differentiating idea has to be true to you and who you are, what you value, and where you want to go (vision). It must be something the market can trust in you to deliver. The company must be passionate about this difference. Volvo is passionate about safety. Domino's Pizza is passionate about pizza delivery.

The differentiating idea provides the organizing principle. Positioning directs the execution of all marketing communications as well as every other touch point with prospects and customers. Positioning goes beyond the marketing communications. Positioning is prescriptive and pervasive throughout the organization.

Consider Volvo. Its differentiating idea or position is safety. Accordingly, its advertising and all its communications are directed by the positioning strategy. You may recall the use of test dummies in its television advertising, which dramatized the superior safety of the Volvo automobiles. But just as important, for example, is the message that its R&D department is charged with developing an even safer automobile with more safety features and benefits for its automobiles and its customers.

Companies that advertise without a clear notion of the organization's differentiating strategy are, essentially, putting lipstick on a pig. It does not look right and it embarrasses the pig. This can be avoided by getting the "idea right," which is what advertising execution is truly about. Getting the "idea right" will consume 99 percent of the company's time, attention, activity, and money. However, positioning strategy begins with getting the right idea. The right idea is the differentiating idea that gives your company, product, or service a distinct advantage over the competition.

According to Jack Trout, the man who coined the term positioning in his book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, the objective is the prospect's mind. The enemy is the competition. Without a motivating, differentiated idea people will stick with what they know. Unless your advertising positions your product in relationship to the competition, it is doomed to failure.

The majority of businesses focus on driving the demand curve by seeking ubiquitous appeal and striving for volume growth from a broader audience. Positioning requires sacrifice. You cannot stand for everything, and you absolutely cannot go after everybody. When prospects know who you are and what you stand for, they seek you out.

At the heart of any great brand lies differentiation. As long as the brand is differentiated in a relevant way with tangible differences, a distinctive personality and a unique aura will encourage selection resulting in premium pricing. If the delivery and experience are aligned with expectations, then loyalty will follow along with higher profitability.

Dick Maggiore is Innis Maggiore's President & CEO.