Turn Insights into Distinctiveness

We all have the same reports available. The same consumers to survey. And the same competitors to beat. But when the input is the same, how do we ensure the output is unique?

“Are brands starting to look alike?” design media It’s Nice That asked. Then, it moved on to explore how brands in various categories are beginning the look more and more alike. Still, the question remains: why?

To us, it is, in many cases, linked to a misunderstanding of consumers and input not being interpreted by brands and the organisation behind them. Quotes from consumer interviews are copy-pasted directly into the next brand strategy slide deck without any questions asked because ‘the consumer is God’.

But what happens is exactly what the aforementioned article asked. Everything starts to look, smell, taste and act the same. Innovation stifles among companies, and distinction is built on pricing power, where Goliath always beats David. At the same time, consumers can’t tell brands apart and typically go for the cheapest option, typically private label brands.

So, if you’re looking to win and keep market shares, well, that is not the way to go.

“Outside-In” Is Often Misunderstood

Fresh perspectives are what we live for. Standing on the outside and looking in. It’s what we’ve built an agency around. But sticking with a fresh and innovative idea requires courage and tenacity.

Henry Ford’s famous quote reflects this, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Unfortunately, many companies still end up producing and selling faster horses.

But from our experience, that is rarely the intention from the beginning. We’ve met ambitious, creative and innovative brand managers and CMOs who set out with good intentions and high hopes. However, as the expenses increased, the organisational courage and commitment decreased. The result was that the once innovative project was reduced to a copy-paste of what customers wanted.

What is the problem with that, some might ask? It’s that all your competitors can give exactly what consumers want. Because it doesn’t pave the way for innovations that take the category to a completely new level and exceed consumers’ expectations by miles. Otherwise, we would never have had cars.

To be the one who sells “cars” when others offer horses, you need three things:

  1. Courage to stick to your guts, research, innovation and good intentions.
  2. Acceptance that some projects will fail, but others will exceed your expectations and your consumers’.
  3. Organisational belief in the brand, position and ambition to push.

To make something distinct, memorable and commercially successful, we need to balance outside-in with inside-out.

Branding Is Curating

Curation is about selection, organisation and presentation, typically using expert knowledge. So when you collect gigabytes of ideas, insights and initiatives, it is your job as the CMO to curate all these things.

Curation is also about staying true to a process. The challenge is to avoid suffering from “shiny object syndrome”, where you’re constantly distracted by an ongoing belief that there is something new worth pursuing.

Knowing your brand platform will give you the knowledge to make the right decisions that keep everything on-brand. You’ll know which ideas hit the mark, what needs tweaking and what are way off.

The following questions provide a simple framework for you to check ideas and interpret insights:

  1. What is the underlying need that consumers are asking for?
  2. How are our competitors meeting this need?
  3. How do our brand remain distinct if we work towards this?
  4. What is the lifespan of this insight? For how long will it be relevant?