Be distinct rather than different  

Aoife Murphy suggest a new year resolution for Irish marketers – try and make sure your brand stands out as unmistakeable

A new year does not have to mean a radical new strategy. 2021 provides Irish marketers with a chance to make their brand distinct in the hearts and minds of consumers. Looking at a brand critically and identifying what you are known for rather than what makes you different can be the key to unlocking memorable and successful brand communications when brand overload is everywhere.

In reference to ITV’s successful rebrand, Lucy Jameson, head of strategy at Uncommon, said: “It’s not always about being different, sometimes it’s about knowing what you can claim.” Jameson’s quote hints at the nuanced difference between being differentiated and being distinct. When defining a brand, oftentimes the first thing we ask ourselves is what is different about us and what we do.

The ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP) coined in the 1940s is extolled worldwide. But there are many interpretations… it is the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors; it highlights product benefits meaningful to consumers; it makes explicit claims of uniqueness involving an objectively verifiable product attribute or benefit-in-use.

The common word is benefit.

Pursuit of uniqueness is tricky unless you are in an emerging ‘new’ category like medicinal cannabis or rely on product innovation. Perhaps that is why the USP approach first appeared during the 1940’s – the years after saw new inventions popular with a liberated society. More mature, established categories struggle to find unique ground because competitors sell very similar, if not the same, product.


Take utilities. It can be hard to convince people that the data you sell is different to the data others sell when (sssshhh) it is the same data. Brands that adopt a distinct strategy as opposed to a differentiated one are those that are clear on the rules of the category they operate in but even clearer on what section of it they own. Aside from distinction strategies, look at brands that take an alternative approach.

These brands know the category rules and seek to break them. Often called challengers, there is something inherently different in their product or their point of view that means they stick out in the category. Brands like Brewdog, Oatly, Glossier and AllBirds.

Distinction is down to ownership: Choosing to be distinct is about deciding what your brand owns. With Snickers, starting with a product benefit is essential, but the success of Mars’s satiating chocolate bar rests on how the benefit is communicated and the brand’s behaviour around it. It is what makes the benefit ownable and, more importantly, interesting to its audience, resulting in the superb brand tagline of ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’.

Just because the category is generic, does not mean the benefit has to be. In his book Lemon, Orlando Wood writes about how advertising has become indistinct, more dull and bland. Brand communications are lacking insight, a fresh point of view. He specially called out the decline in the use of characters, sense of context, distinctive accents, ambiguity, wordplay, double meaning and metaphor.

Maltesers is about light female fun among friends. More recently, it has gone with ads showing people with disabilities in a distinct way, anchored by the brand benefit. It is a strategy that helps drive saliency – so important in confectionery. Such stand-out promotes brand fame. As Binet and Field assure us, such campaigns deliver 3.5 times more share of voice and boosts market share.

Fame lends itself to a distinction strategy as it goes beyond brand awareness – it builds word of mouth advocacy. It creates authority and gives the impression that the brand is important and interesting in its category. Another way to pursue a distinction strategy is through fluent devices. Many decisions are instinctual and are made quicker and with a lot less thought that many marketers might admit.

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has long stressed the importance of stand-out assets. Research by System1 in the UK says the ongoing use of character and taglines are distinct strategies. Kellogg created popular cartoon characters around Snap!, Crackle! and Pop! and the Sugar Puff Monster. More recent examples are harder to find, with the meerkats for Comparethemarket being a delightful outlier.

Getting back to ITV’s new brand strategy, it should be noted that the broadcaster operates in a category that is often indistinguishable. It is more about product (programmes) than brand. ITV went for a distinction strategy, with ‘Great Characters’ homing in on the power of TV dramas. While ITV’s rivals also produce excellent dramas, distinction is not about being different, it is about owning it.

Check out Comparethemarket’s meerkats campaign at

Aoife Murphy is executive strategy director at Boys+Girls



Share with friends:

Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy