December 17, 2009

Brand differentiation: be true to yourself

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Three companies recently caught my attention with their direct mail, email newsletters and a blog. It's clear they are trying to be something that they're not.

The envelope I received reads "INSIDE: Branding Strategies to Help Differentiate Your Business."

The email and direct mail newsletter promised to teach me about "Social Media Benefits for Designers and Creative Professionals"

amexsquareThe blog wanted to teach me about "Altering the Basics of Modern Marketing (with a mnemonic based on the letter ‘P,' with a photo of peas for emphasis (in case I didn't get it).

Was it expert advice from a branding firm, a social media expert, or a marketing agency? Not at all. The "expertise" was offered by American Express, a local printer, and a national printer supplies company. It's as if they all stayed in a Holiday Inn Express...

Last time I checked, American Express has diluted its primary brand by offering cards in several colors (Blue, Plum) and in different metals (Gold, Platinum, and now ZyncTM, a rather dull-looking ore). The selection includes 12 small business cards, 16 personal cards and other options. their newsletter claimed to offer tips for differentiation, but focused on the tactical, rather on true differentiation, or positioning.

The printer's newsletter didn't include any expertise, but was a summary of the obvious: "One advantage to most of the social media sites is that they are free," and "Social media are an increasing part of today's marketing mix and should be on your radar" were just two of the nuggets that were shared.

The blog was well-intentioned, but I think a business owner who looks to implement marketing expertise from a printer supply company should buy his supplies there, and find marketing expertise elsewhere.

Your audience seeks out your organization for its specific expertise, products or services. If you find that you have to offer expertise on other subjects, then perhaps your own organization isn't focused enough on its own unique characteristics. Just because social media is popular, and you started tweeting, doesn't mean you need to write about it – perhaps more one-on-one sales call are in order.

Claiming expertise outside of your business area is a desperate attempt to be all things to all people. It's best to leave the expertise on other topics to the experts, and become the expert at what you're best at. Get people to love your brand for the experience it offers: simple clear choices in business or personal credit, outstanding customer service, cost-effective commodity products delivered quickly. Be true to yourself – your customers will reward your honesty.

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