Many marketers strongly believe that a brand has to be unique to survive and succeed. And when marketers think ‘unique’, they draw on concepts like unique selling propositions and differentiation. In other words, the product has to be unique – better, faster, bigger. This is a narrow view of what unique can mean. Unique can also simply mean the brand is distinctive.
Being distinctive has nothing to do with functional differences, or unique selling propositions. Coca-Cola is not a better product because it has the colour red, Ronald McDonald does not make McDonald’s taste any better and the Nike ‘Swoosh’ does not make you run faster. Yet all of these brand elements are extremely important for their respective brands.
Part of distinctiveness is about continually building these brand elements, such as logos, colours, typefaces, taglines, music, characters, celebrities, taste, smell, shape and advertising style. When these are strongly linked to a single brand, they can be called distinctive assets, and are a vital part of brand equity.
The distinctive asset grid developed by Jenni Romaniuk at the Ehrenberg- Bass Institute measures these brand elements on two key criteria, prevalence and uniqueness. Prevalence is how many people know the link and uniqueness is how many brands are linked to the element.
Uniqueness is arguably more important than prevalence. Prevalence can be controlled through prominent and consistent use in marketing communications and packaging. Uniqueness can not be controlled by marketers, as it is affected by competitor activity. Without first examining uniqueness, marketers may be wasting money by inadvertently helping their competitors. Correct brand identification for advertisements are often below 50%. If a brand element that shares associations with a competitor is used, you are essentially handing over your advertising budget to your rivals.
A broad range of elements exist to choose from, so it is important for marketers to examine what elements they can more easily turn into strong, unique distinctive assets. Research has shown that out of colours, logos and taglines, logos are the most likely to be uniquely linked to a single brand, followed by colours and slogans.
Logos often act as visual substitutes for the brand name themselves, with all brands having one, and generally displaying it prominently. Colours are often strong visual elements of brands, but their uniqueness suffers from a limited palette from which marketers can choose and from which consumers can distinguish. There is anecdotal evidence that slogans are changed from campaign to campaign, and their verbal nature puts them at a disadvantage to more visual elements.
However, there are strong individual distinctive assets for each brand element. So whilst certain elements may be easier to make unique, any element can be developed well, or poorly. Consistency is the key for marketers. Nike recently celebrated 25 years of their ‘Just Do It’ slogan. Whilst few marketers would suggest changing such a successful slogan, many brands get stuck in cycles of ‘rebrands’ and ‘refreshes’. Strong distinctive assets are often the victims – effectively throwing away decades of marketing investment and consumer memory structures. Building a unique, distinctive brand is impossible when change is the only constant in branding.
Five tips for effective use of distinctive assets
1. Test prevalence and uniqueness of distinctive assets with consumers and do not rely on marketer’s opinions, which are often biased.
2. Consistently use your distinctive assets: do not change from campaign to campaign, and be wary of ‘refreshing’ elements.
3. Prominently use your key distinctive assets in advertising and on pack.
4. Before creating a new brand element, check if any competitors have associations with it.
5. If your brand element is not well known, use it with conjunction with the brand name as much as possible.
Julian Major is a research associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute