The internet is more crowded than the loos at Glastonbury and, for a business, standing out from the crowd can be a pretty tall order. Because of this, most business owners, when first starting out, believe that their brand needs to be the only of its kind for it to be successful. While that may be the case for some, I’ll let you in on a secret, this is not always useful when it comes to branding.
Here’s an example; you’ve got a box of cherries and they’re all shiny, lush and juicy, except for one which is rotten. While the rotten cherry might be the only like it in the box, that isn’t a good thing. For a one-of-a-kind brand to succeed, it needs to be super-innovative and also something of use, otherwise it’s no more than a gimmick – and one which almost certainly won’t last.
What’s that you say? You need an example? OK, here it goes. In 1999, Napster burst onto the market with what was considered to be a pretty darn groundbreaking music service. In fact, it seemed too good to be true – and it was. Fast forward to 2001 and Napster had gone off to the big tech dump in the sky amid numerous legal and reputational problems. While Napster may have been a one-of-a-kind brand, it wasn’t a good one.
So, we’re agreed that your brand doesn’t necessarily need to be the only of its kind then what, I hear you ask, should you be doing? What your business needs is one of two things – or both if you’re going to get fancy – a unique proposition, and to offer value.
A unique proposition
Common thinking is that a unique brand proposition means that your product or offering is the only one of its kind (hence the unique bit). In essence, this means that you’re offering a product which is not similar to any other on the market. An example of this might be Amazon – while there are many sites which encompass a part of Amazon’s offering, there’s nothing else that quite matches it.
While this may be the holy grail of unique brand propositions, it’s not the only kind. A unique brand proposition can also encompass those brands whose products or services are so successful that the brand name becomes the description of the product. A good example of this is the Hoover brand. Launched in 1908, the Hoover brand produced a residential vacuum cleaner which became an instant hit with the company’s customers.
Although there are now hundreds of vacuum cleaner brands worldwide, the word ‘Hoover’ is still synonymous with these devices and has even become an adjective. For example, ‘I’m just going to do the hoovering’ or ‘I need to buy a new hoover’. Modern examples of this kind of unique proposition would include Lego, iPhone and Coca Cola due to the fact that these are all widely considered to be superior, even though similar products are available.
The recipe for a unique proposition
Creating a unique proposition is no easy task – and it’s not a quick one either. However, to set yourself on the right path, your product or service should:
- Offer a real solution to a problem
- Offer a superior alternative to existing brands
- Offer something that nobody else has
- Come from a place of integrity and customer-centric thinking
Without these things, your offering is set to be just one of many inside an increasingly congested and competitive marketplace. Ideally, you should be able to sum up your unique proposition in just one snappy line in order to communicate what you’re about to your audience.
Your value proposition is a little different from your unique proposition as it, essentially, exists to articulate to your audience the ‘value’ of your product or service – i.e. how it can improve your customer’s life. An example of this might be Slack with its slick value proposition of ‘Be more productive at work with less effort’.
In just one line, Slack tells the customer precisely how their life might be improved by using the product. With a value proposition, you don’t necessarily have to stick to one line – particularly if your product’s value is a bit more complicated – but you do have to communicate the value clearly and simply without trying to be too clever.
Flipping this on its head, we’ll look at an example of a bad value proposition courtesy of browser, Opera. Opera went with ‘fast, secure and easy to use’. While this might sound like a good value proposition, it’s not – these are just features of the product and don’t actually communicate the value of the product to the customer’s life in a way that speaks to them personally.
Value added facts
When you Google the word branding, you’ll be rewarded with around 1,420,000,000 hits, most of which aren’t worth a click. This is because business success is really a lot simpler than a lot of people try to make it.
When it comes to making a business work, the secret sauce is simple, create a product or service which is better than anyone else’s and which offers value to the customer’s life. While this sounds easy in principle, you do need to be able to put your money where your mouth is and make sure that your offering lives up to expectations.