Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are You the One and Only?

There is a commonly cited conventional wisdom in the branding world that your brand promise should emphasize that your company is the ONLY one that does X or provides Y. We’ve had a lot of clients and friends ask us about this recently – should their brand be held to the standard of “Only Us?”

This standard is very difficult to reach in a competitive and commoditized environment. But not only is it a difficult standard, we think it’s an irrelevant one. In our view, competitive differentiation is not absolute – it is not obtained by BEING something ONLY you can be. It is obtained by OWNING something credible that only YOU are claiming.

Consider Volvo. Volvo is widely recognized as the automotive brand that owns the concept of safety. But is Volvo the only safe car? Is it even the safest car? No. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for 2010 the safest large car is the Buick LaCrosse, the safest midsize is the Audi A3 and the safest small car is the Honda Civic 4-door model. That said, Volvo vehicles are credibly safe – they are on all the relevant safe car lists. And they staked their claim on safety before any other brand did. So they own it now. And while other automotive brands emphasize safety as functional benefits, no other company will be able to OWN safety unless Volvo relinquishes its hold on the concept.

Likewise, Las Vegas could credibly be the “city that never sleeps,” but that idea was first claimed, and is now owned, by New York City. New York is not the ONLY city that never sleeps, but it got there first and staked out the territory. So Vegas has to find something else.

So when seeking competitive differentiation for your brand, you don’t necessarily have to hold yourself to the nearly impossible standard of finding something only you can BE. What’s more important is to find something that only you can OWN, and then vigorously stake that claim so that no competitor can credibly threaten it. Then you’ll seem like the One and Only, whether you actually are or not.