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By Dick Maggiore and Mark Vandegrift

The Secret Sauce of Differentiation

Differentiation: The Secret Sauce of the Top-Trending Brands

Each year, publications like Vogue, CEO World, and other popular print and online outlets publish their top-trending brands to monitor in the coming year. We decided to take a deep dive on one of the top brand lists to see why the companies and products made the list. To no surprise, differentiation was the key element with each of the relatively new brands that have skyrocketed up the charts.

In the world of positioning, there is rarely a shortage of options in any category. The clutter is crazy, and it gets more cluttered every year. The list we reviewed for this article, from Retail Dive, reinforced the need for companies and their brands to break through this clutter.

“… as the next class of DTC brands try [sic] to break through a market that’s more saturated than ever, finding ways to resonate with consumers is necessary. There’s a lot more competition.” The article continued, “Consumers are seeking innovative products from brands with a story they can relate to themselves.”

Differentiation means a product has developed a unique difference that maximizes its relevance to the customer.

While every brand on Retail Dive’s list seeks to fill a hole in the marketplace, there are three that provide great examples of ways to position a product.

Ways to Position: How a Product is Made

At the top of Retail Dive’s list is Hilma. What hole in the market did founder Brooke Torres find? “Hilma set out to reimagine the experience of buying running shoes for women. The brand offers multi-dimensional sizing, meaning each size offered has three fits, depending on the shape, length, and volume of a consumer’s foot.”

This is one way to position, which we title “how a product is made.” Many marketers believe people don’t care how it is made; they only care what it will do for them. The problem there is that in many categories, most products do the same thing for people. All toothpastes fight cavities. All new cars drive nicely. All detergents clean clothes. It is often how the products are made that makes the difference. That’s why it is often a good idea to focus on the product and locate that virgin space that is the magic ingredient to make the product differently. And, if it’s a technology or ingredient that can be patented, all the better.

Hilma’s difference in the category is strengthened by a related positioning tactic: how a product is bought. The technology Hilma brings to the table leverages many platforms that offer a way to try on the apparel digitally, but Hilma customizes it to women’s running shoes.

In her video, Torres states, “I realized a couple things: One, most running shoes are made for men, and two, there’s no such thing as just one fit of running shoe that works for everyone, including every woman.”

Hilma makes one thing obvious: In a sea of running shoe competitors, there’s still a way to position against the competition while increasing relevance to the target audience. Differentiation is always an option.

Ways to Position: Own an Attribute

What better attribute to own than “fun!” – as in “fun furniture.” Nugget, the seventh brand listed, makes modular furniture for kids because “the idea [is] that furniture isn’t just something to sit on, but a source of creativity, exploration, and fun.”

The better description for this attribute would be “kid-friendly furniture” and that’s the advantage – when you own an attribute no one else can claim, you get a halo effect, meaning once you establish a primary attribute, the customer is likely to award you a lot of other benefits. It’s probably also well-made because it must withstand the onslaught of kid play.

Attribute ownership is probably one of the best ways to achieve differentiation. An attribute is a characteristic, peculiarity, or distinctive feature. Some attributes are more desirable or important than others. You can’t own the same attribute or position that your competitor owns. Too often marketers try to emulate the competition. It is much better, however, to search for an opposing attribute that will allow you to play against the leader.

Ways to Position: Heritage (Location) + How a Product is Made

Fly By Jing is a great example of differentiation by way of heritage. In this case, country affiliation (China) connects with culinary products relatively unfamiliar to the North American consumer (how a product is made).

Founder Jing Gao commented in the article, “I created Fly By Jing because I didn’t see products that spoke to me in the market.”

Basically, she says there’s a hole in the market she wanted to fill. That’s the secret sauce of creating and building a great brand.

She further comments, “Launching Fly By Jing enabled me to reconnect with my own heritage and identity.”

There’s certainly no shortage of Chinese food in the market, so combining that with how a product is made is critical. The heritage is the credential to her new food products.

While heritage typically indicates a long history, differentiating by location heritage is also a great way to position. Over the years, countries have become well known for certain products. A few examples: Japan - autos and electronics; Germany - engineering and beer; Britain - China, fabrics, glassware; and France - wine and perfume.

Psychologically, a location heritage connects a prospect to a trust element that makes buyers secure with their choices. It works much like positioning as a specialist – the trust factor is immediately elevated. The branding and dramatization of Fly By Jing is well done and highlights how the product is made with the heritage credential.

What’s Your Path to Differentiation?

There are thousands of ways to differentiate a company, product, service, and even a person (think political candidates). Understanding the nuances of positioning is a skill that takes years to refine and decades of experience. Innis Maggiore has created a practice to help each of our clients find and focus on their greatest competitive difference. It’s a disciplined path to differentiation.

Innis Maggiore is the nation’s leading positioning ad agency. If you aren’t sure how to differentiate your company, product, or service in the marketplace, give us a call. Our Appreciative Discovery® process will help you discover – or rediscover – your position and help you dramatize it in the marketplace. We can help you get the right idea (strategy) and then get the idea right (marketing and sales execution).