Not Just Different but Meaningfully Different
By Nigel Hollis, Millward Brown
For many years, a smooth green stone has sat on my desk. It’s a piece of serpentine that I was given when, as a small child, I visited an artist’s workshop in Scotland. Truthfully, it’s a pretty unremarkable rock, and I doubt that anyone else would find it interesting, but it means something to me.
You may have some trinket or memento on your desk as well—something that doesn’t have any practical purpose and appears insignificant to others, but is meaningful to you. Your unique history with the object makes it special.
I think the fact that we can form such attachments with relatively inconsequential objects illustrates a too-often-overlooked concept that is important for brands and brand marketing: the concept of meaningful difference. A presentation I saw recently, created by the agency BBH, also focuses on the concept of difference. The presentation proclaimed that the “classic” communications model, in which communication that is relevant, different, and motivating leads to behavioral change, has given way to the “insight” model, in which changes in behavior are effected by communication that is simply relevant and motivating.
|"Many marketers today value relevance to the exclusion of difference — and to the detriment of their brands."|
“We have forgotten the power of difference,” BBH asserted. I am afraid that they are right—and that this amnesia applies to both communication and branding. Many marketers today value relevance to the exclusion of difference—and to the detriment of their brands.
Yet those who first demoted “difference” from its place of honor in communications may have done so for the right reasons. They may have realized that being different for the sake of being different was of little value. But the mistake they made was to throw out difference altogether and switch their emphasis to relevance. Successful brands are both relevant and different—but they are also more than that. Successful brands are meaningfully different.
So what’s a meaningful difference? I think of it this way. We humans find it impossible to judge anything in isolation. We tend to compare things to very close alternatives. So a difference, a factor that distinguishes one item from another, gets our attention. And while a difference may be apparent to most people, it won’t seem important to everyone. A meaningful difference is one that is considered to be important—one that provides a brand with a meaning that is likely to have an influence on a person’s brand choice.
Brand meaning can originate from a multitude of sources.
It could come from your personal history with a brand;
for example, you might use the same brand of detergent
that your mother used. Or it could come from functional
characteristics; you might really like the intuitive interface
of that tablet computer. You might be attached to your car
because you think it looks hot or because it is economical
and saves you money. Or a brand’s meaning for you might
simply be that it is familiar when others are not. Meaning can
be functional and tangible or emotional and intangible or all
of the above. Meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
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