Brands’ secret weapon: differentiate

Our Society has moved from an economy of mass production to an economy of mass customization, our purchasing choices have multiplied. We’ve become information-rich and time-poor. As a result, our old method of judging products-by comparing features and benefits- no longer works. The situation is exacerbated by competitors who copy each others’ features as soon as they’re introduced, and by advances in manufacturing that make quality issues moot.

Today we base our choices more one symbolic attributes. What does the product look like? Where is it being sold? What kind of people buy it? Which “tribe” will I be joining if I buy it? What does the cost say about its desirability? What are other people saying about it? And, Finally, who makes it? Because if I can trust the maker, I can buy it now and worry about it later. The degree of trust I feel towards the product, rather than an assessment of its features and benefits, will determine whether I’ll buy this product or that product.

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

It’s different – I like it.

Differentiation works because of the way the human cognitive system works. Our brain acts as a filter to protect us from the vast amount of irrelevant information that surrounds us every day. To keep us from drowning in triviality, it learns to tell things apart. We get data from our senses, compare it to data from earlier experiences, and put it into a category.

Our brain acts as a filter to protect us from the vast amount of irrelevant information that surrounds us every day.

The sense we rely on most is sight. Our visual system hardwired to discern the differences between the things we see, starting with the biggest differences and working down to the smallest. It looks for contrasts. It recognizes the differences between subject and ground, big and small, dark and light, rough and smooth, fat and thin, motionless and moving. The brain takes over and begins to make meaning. It recognizes differences such as those between near and far, old and new, light and heavy, peaceful and aggressive, simple and complex, easy and difficult.

The concerns of our visual system is related to those aesthetics, the study of beauty. Both are about perceiving differences. What’s more, the concerns of aesthetics are similar to those of branding. When we come upon a new product or package- we find it aesthetically pleasing. We like it. The traditional view of design is that it has four possible goals: to identify, to inform, to entertain, or to persuade. But with branding, there’s a fifth: to differentiate. While the four are tactical, the fifth is strategic, with its roots deep in aesthetics- a powerful combination of logic and magic.

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Differentiate – a powerful combination of logic and magic.

This article is taken from the book “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier. Cover photo by Peter Bond on Unsplash