Menu Close

The Differentiators vs. Image Sellers. Which Will You Be?

Since Mad Men days there’s been a war for the heart of Branding. Here’s a dispatch from the front:

Recently, we got to see a series of agency pitches at a major corporation. When asked to define “branding,” their executives all gave us variations on the same popular theme:

“Branding is about putting you in touch with an emotional feeling. So good branding should not focus on your product which will bore today’s audience, its job is to make you laugh or make you cry.” Then they show a 30 second commercial where you have no idea what the product is, let alone why to buy it. Their mission is to amuse.

But this is precisely the opposite of what you would hear from the great brand thinkers and writers who invented the most powerful brands of all times, the kind of brands that can become household names and last for decades.

These people are the Differentiators. And they would tell you a simple truth:

A Brand is a Difference

First and foremost, a brand is an idea: the most specific, important difference you stand for in the mind of another person. It’s a factual difference that sets you apart from others in a category. Celebrities, religions and countries can be brands, too, if they stand for something unique. Indeed, they can make you laugh or cry.

But if you are in business, you are only interested in a very special kind of brand: A brand that makes you buy.

This is what we call a selling brand. And it’s different than any other kind.

A selling brand is not about producing emotions, millions of page views or awareness for its own sake. After all, you can get ten million page views of a bear in a tutu dancing on the roof of your house– but it may not cause a single person to buy the house. Awareness is just the first step.

With a selling brand, once you have someone’s attention, you must pull them into the ranks of the persuaded–by making them a unique proposition–a promise to solve a problem better than competitors can by giving them a specific benefit, and a specific reason to believe you. This is the only way you can move them to buy your product amid the thousands of choices they have.

The brand Emotion-ists, on the other hand, believe their job is to create feelings. Thus the spotlight should be on creative department’s clever execution, not on the product.

Differentiators do the opposite. They make the product the star–the most interesting part of the commercial or message they’re purveying. To do it, they lead with the “facts of a difference”–compelling product facts that they knit together into an irresistible story. Then they let the customer connect their own emotions to those facts, based on their own experience in their own lives. They know that such feelings will be more vivid and powerful than any marketer could ever make them.

This is why…

• When Apple introduced their revolutionary ipod, they didn’t need to remind you of the joy of music. Instead, they gave you a startling, revolutionary fact: It’s like having 10,000 songs in your pocket.

• When Boeing offered the 747, they said it’s a “Jumbo Jet” that can carry 450 passengers from New York to Sydney non-stop.

• When Netflix appeared on the scene, they told you the facts of their difference–it was ‘videos in the mail vs. videos at the store.’ Suddenly, no more late fees, no more being told all the hits were all out, and you could keep it as long as you want.

• When Kindle came out with its new Paperwhite reading tablet, it showed you a difference: now you could read comfortably in any light–even on the beach.

• When Chobani created a veritable yogurt revolution for its Greek yogurt, it got straight to the point and told us: It’s super food compared to regular yogurt–it’s twice the protein, half the fat!

Facts first, feelings follow. In every case, the sellers supplied the dramatic facts; the buyers supplied all the emotion necessary and shortly thereafter, their dollars.

This is the philosophy of reality sell vs. emotional sell and it is the core of what we believe. Never has reality sell been more important to practice than it is today.

Unless you are visiting a website like–we believe that no customer shows up looking for an emotional relationship with you. They are looking for a solution to a serious problem which is often the difference between success or failure. Once you’ve showed that you can deliver the results at a fair price in a consistent way– then they will welcome a relationship with open arms.

Simple Formula for the Selling Brand

1. Idea First: A Selling Brand has a big, differentiating, idea at the center. It’s a proposition that says: “buy this product, get this specific benefit.” It promises you are the best at giving the customer something that will make them either happier, healthier, safer, smarter, richer, stronger, more attractive or more successful. We call this a Dominant Selling Idea. Most great brands began with one:
Volvo–safest car. Hertz–#1 Rental Car Company. BMW–Best driving car. Duracell–most dependable battery. Southwest–#1 low cost airline (used to be, anyway).

2. Story: A Selling Brand is a story–one that only you can tell. “People had a problem. A company came to solve it. Here’s what they did. Now life is better.” The story always supports the Dominant Selling Idea at the center.

3. Facts of the Difference: All stories are built on a set of facts–specific facts. So selling brands use dramatic, measurable facts to build their stories. The facts trigger the visualizations, emotions and the feelings in the listener. The Rule is: Facts first, feelings follow.

4. Look & feel, tone & personality are important and need to be consistent in a Selling Brand. However, they must only serve to advance the story and the Dominant Selling Idea, never distract from, confuse or impede it. All execution must emanate from and point back to the strategic idea at the center of the brand.

5. Use Competitive Claims: Selling Brands accept the business reality that for one company to win the sale, another company must come in second. They are in business to give their customers an advantage, and their duty is to communicate it confidently and clearly. If they believe they are better or best, then they must say they are better or best without mincing words. They can not be afraid to put competitive, challenging claims front and center.

At the end of the day, beyond our words and claims, we must know that brands succeed on performance more than anything else. Branding is just an invitation for someone to experience our product. After that, only action counts. The brand happens in the customer’s mind when she feels the car hug the road, gets extra leg room in coach, is answered in one ring or has her headache go away.

We also know that there are exceptions to every rule including the ones above. There are great campaigns that have violated every part of our formula and worked anyway.

But if the objective of our brand is to seek sales, not applause, to put the wind at our backs, to show the customer a better way, not just a better ad or more entertaining video– then the percentages will always be with us if we follow the Brand Differentiators vs. the Emotion-ists and practice the timeless rules of Reality Sell.

Our challenge is, as it always was, to make our branding and execution–from our websites to our sales conversations–stand up to the test of the Selling Brand.


Leave a Reply