What Great Brands Do That Yours Doesn’t (But Should)

Think of a great brand – one that you love and might aspire to. Think Apple, Nike or even IBM. They didn’t begin as big companies with millions to spend on marketing and advertising. No, they began with something quite different – a great idea. One that was innovative, different and perhaps even better than the competition. At the core of every great brand lies a great product or service. One that propels, and ultimately helps define the customer experience. One that personifies how a brand is constructed, perceived, consumed and valued by its customers.

What’s Your UVP (Unique Value Proposition)?

One of the leading questions we ask our clients is… what is your UVP? The answer is always enlightening and generally falls into one of two categories: those who have a clear idea of what really makes them unique and valuable; and those who think they know but don’t. There is sometimes a third answer: those who can clearly articulate their UVP, but don’t have the product that actually delivers it. We won’t waste your time on this one.

The ones who know (and can deliver it) are able to effortlessly tell you without hesitation what makes them unique and the value they provide. Seems pretty simple, right? It’s not, because having a truly great UVP means delivering on its promise. And while each company is unique, we believe there are three main principles that make up a great UVP:


Focus on a Specific Target Audience

Successful companies have a clear understanding of the core target audience that represents their most ardent and passionate group of customers. Brands can’t be all things to all people. Focusing on a core target audience as defined by demographics, psychographics, buying history and a finite number of other data attributes allows a company to create a unique customer experience specific to what the target desires.

Think Target versus Walmart. While both are large, successful retailers offering a mix of brand and non-branded products, the companies focus on different audiences. Wal-Mart’s target audience is generally lower-income, cost-conscious consumers; while Target focuses on more affluent, but price-conscious consumers. Understanding their core target audience determines virtually everything about their business, including products/services, pricing, store layout and design, store location as well as marketing and advertising.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that we see smaller, less mature companies make is the inability to focus on a specific target audience. Or, they select a target that is too big and generic. Often, they are afraid to focus because they think they’ll miss other opportunities. The reality is, by staying broad and generic, you have nothing that truly differentiates you from the pack.

Need more convincing? Listen to what Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO at HubSpot, has to say on the topic:

“Here is a list of problems associated with a broad/horizontal strategy:

  1. It is difficult to figure out exactly what you need to build into your product because your potential customers are likely very different, and there are so many of them.
  2. Large markets are interesting to a larger number of competitors (because it’s a potentially lucrative market). These opportunities are particularly interesting to the really big players (like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo!). They’re also tempting to the smaller players, because broad/horizontal markets are more fun and glamorous.
  3. In a horizontal market, it’s relatively difficult to actually differentiate your product from your competitors. If you try to make your product different in meaningful ways (that are hard to replicate), you end up reducing the size of your market.”

He goes on to say: “Any one of the above points on its own would likely make horizontal markets a somewhat risky approach. All of them combined result in a situation whereby picking a horizontal strategy will almost always end in failure.”


Leverage One Key Differentiator

What’s the most motivating and irresistible benefit your brand can call its own, that is both true and connects with consumers emotionally? Great brands know exactly what that is, and build their entire company around this differentiator. Think Starbucks. People don’t go to Starbucks for coffee, they go to Starbucks for an experience. According to Stanley Hainsworth, Starbucks Vice President of Global Creative, during its high growth years:

“There are hundreds of other companies that can make great coffee. So what’s the great differentiator? The answer is the distinction that most great brands create. There are other companies that make great running shoes or great toys or great detergent or soap, but what is the real differentiator that people keep coming back for? For Starbucks, it was creating a community, a ‘third place.’ It was a very conscious attribute of the brand all along and impacted every decision about the experience: who the furniture was chosen for, what artwork would be on the walls, what music was going to be played, and how it would be played.”

Many companies suffer from not being able to communicate a true UVP because they don’t really have one. Having great customer service is not a key differentiator – it’s table stakes. Older companies often fail to stay relevant because they are complacent, lack innovation or leadership doesn’t have a true vision. This can be disastrous for company.

This doesn’t have to be the case. New companies often see great success in crowded markets simply by adding a new twist that resonates with a target audience. Think TOMS, who donates a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. Here’s how they communicate their message: “With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One.®” This one differentiator is what the entire company strategy is built on and marketed to consumers who come in contact with the brand. Warby Parker is another company taking on the bigger companies by changing the way consumers purchase prescription eyeglasses.

Like TOMS, Warby Parker gives away a pair of glasses for every pair purchased. Both TOMS and Warby Parker leverage a single message that begins with an idea. Not only is it unique, it touches the consumer at an emotional level. It’s also authentic. Perhaps just as important, the actual products they produce are good quality. I can attest personally to Warby Parker’s quality; I’ve been wearing their glasses for two years now, and they are the best eye glasses I’ve owned. Oh, and the price is right.


Use Story Telling

Other than a direct brand experience, the most compelling way to touch consumers is story telling. Great brands tell stories that inspire consumers. Stories that paint a picture that the consumer can somehow place themselves in and readily identify with, thereby creating a connection that leads to deeper relationships and more sales.

Nike began by producing high-performance running shoes. The brand now leads the world in athletic equipment sales. According to Forbes, “With a value of $10.7 billion, the Nike brand is the most valuable among sports businesses. The growth and profitability generated by Nike’s intangible assets, like its globally recognizable swoosh logo and Just do it slogan are reflected in its price-to-book ratio of 3.4, which is 50% better than the overall market.” Ah, the swoosh and Just do it slogan. For athletes, ex-athletes, pro, amateur or recreational, who doesn’t relate with this slogan? Yes, Nike makes great products. But, they connect with consumers through stories. The Just do it slogan was used to propel the brand through story telling. Their commercials are inspirational, hip, fun and different. They make you want to get up and move. And it works. Nike has one of the most loyal brands in the world. From the top athletes to everyday people, the brand connects with its consumers and delivers quality products that ultimately support their promise of high-performance sporting equipment.

I know what you’re thinking. Nike is an easy one. What if you’re brand is a little less glamorous; a commodity, like a stodgy financial services company? Prudential’s “Day One” campaign uses real people facing the fears of retirement to connect with those preparing for retirement without directly pitching a product. According to Executive Creative Director, Ted Royer, who produced the ads, “It is a very dry category, and also absolutely terrifying. And you don’t want either one of those. There’s got to be a way, we thought, to find a middle ground where you can have an open conversation about what that period of your life is, what it can be, what you think it is now, and the potential of it.”

Take a look at this Day One video:

Powerful, right? Now it’s your turn. If you could create a story for your brand, what would it be? Not sure where to begin? According to Christopher Booker, author of the book, Seven Basic Plots, there are seven archetypal themes that recur in every kind of story telling.

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rebirth
  3. Quest
  4. Journey and Return
  5. Rags to Riches
  6. Tragedy
  7. Comedy


Know Your Brand’s Unique Value Proposition and Leverage It

You’re not Starbucks or Nike, I get it. You can’t hire an expense Madison Ave agency to create a story and video (or, maybe you can). But, the take away is that your UVP needs to extend to every facet of your business and brand. If you don’t know it or can’t easily communicate what makes your brand unique and valuable, in one sentence, this is where you need to start. Focus on a specific target audience, one key differentiator, and story telling. Leverage these three principles that great brands rely on every day to transform your brand into the next great company.



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