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Why ‘meaningful difference’ matters for brand growth


Marcus Isherwood's avatar
Marcus Isherwood
Business Development

In Kantar’s 2024 BrandZ Report, it came as no surprise to learn that once again, Apple came out on top as the world’s most valuable brand, worth over £1 trillion USD.

Then again, maybe this IS somewhat surprising given that we live in precarious financial times, where inflation outpaces wage increases by a country mile and the cost of everything, from fuel to food, is pushing more and more people into debt.

In many ways, it seems like Apple and the other brands on Kantar’s list of MVPs have managed to economy-proof themselves, so they continue to attract new and existing customers even when the price of goods goes up (and discretionary spending goes down).

This pricing power – the ability to raise prices without incurring a significantloss in demand – is increasingly linked to something Kantar calls ‘meaningful difference’, or the idea that people choose brands because of what they MEAN, rather than what they cost.

Apple logo Think Different

Find your difference

Apple have been the masters of meaningful difference since their meteoric rise to fame began in the 1980s. Their advertising slogan ‘Think Different’ was a rallying cry to every creative, hipster and blue-sky thinker, making Apple synonymous with the road less travelled, even as it became the highway.

Of course, the world is different now. The revolutionary pace of technological change has slowed and the digital wave has crested, leaving many brands lost at sea, struggling to stand out in noisy markets where it’s almost impossible to actually be different, at least in terms of product offering.

But aside from your actual business offering, there are lots of ways to differentiate in almost any market – and identifying the ways in which your brand is meaningfully different from your competitors can be a powerful driver of brand engagement, loyalty and growth.

Screenshot 2022 09 15 at 09.08.48

The search for meaning

This is particularly important as a future-proofing strategy, since research shows that the consumer behaviour of younger generations is increasingly motivated by their social and emotional connections to a brand.  

These consumers resonate with brands that stand for something – think Patagonia, given away in 2022 by founder Yvon Chouinard to a trust, with all profits now directed to tackling climate change; or ice cream firm Ben & Jerry’s with their activism around refugee and LGBTQ+ rights.

The majority of businesses, particularly in the B2B space, will never venture to these extremes – but the same principles apply no matter what sector you’re in or how big your customer base is. There’s always an opportunity to grow by demonstrating meaningful difference. Let’s take a look at some common ways you can make your brand stand out. 

Four ways to demonstrate difference

1. Develop a unique voice

Innocent Drinks is routinely trotted out as a pioneer of brand voice, and for good reason. They blazed a trail for the likes of Oatly and Duolingo to follow, and inspired countless businesses to think harder about the way they speak to their customers. 

Duolingo.png

For B2B companies, however, this kind of bold approach to voice is confronting – and truthfully, not always appropriate, especially for more professional audiences. But it IS possible to develop a unique tone of voice that doesn’t sound like yet more dull corporate speak – just look at the likes of Slack, Salesforce and HubSpot. These are all successful B2B brands that manage to sound distinctive (and cut through the noise) on a daily basis.

2. Lean into uncomfortable truths

Unless you’re already at the top of your industry, there are going to be competitors out there who do things better than you, or more cheaply than you. One way to develop a meaningful difference is to not go down the old-school marketing route of never acknowledging your shortcomings, and just owning them instead.

If you’re more expensive than your competitor, admit it – but use this as an opportunity to show why your brand is worth the extra spend. Some world-famous brands have gained incredible traction online by leaning into uncomfortable truths, especially on platforms like TikTok and Instagram where younger audiences value authenticity above all else – look at Ryanair’s TikTok strategy, where they practically troll customers with the audacity to complain about the lack of frills on a low-cost airline.

Burger King vs McDonald’s is another classic example of the underdog, in this case Burger King, taking unapologetic swipes at the market leader, most famously in their ‘mouldy Whopper’ campaign.

'Mouldy Whopper' campaign by Ogilvy for Burger King
‘Mouldy Whopper’ campaign by Ogilvy for Burger King

3. Live your values

The values your brand is built upon shouldn’t just be a list of fancy words in a brand handbook – they should be verbs you live and breathe each day. If you value teamwork, show your customer teamwork – whether it’s people working together on the job, or pulling together on a charity challenge.

If innovation is what drives you, show people how you innovate – get nerdy with it, unpick your processes, interview your most knowledgeable people, tell your product’s origin story.

Lego bowls of bricks are dotted around everywhere to encourage creativity.
At Lego, bowls of bricks are dotted around everywhere to encourage creativity.

If honesty, integrity and classic family values have shaped your company, then show your customer what this really means – how you collaborate together, and support each other; how ideas get progressed; how success is rewarded.

Remember always that no matter if your product or service offering is the best, the most advanced, the cheapest – people buy from people. They buy into YOU and what you stand for. So show them.

4. The benefit of a benefit

There’s an old cliché in marketing that says: “People don’t want quarter inch drills, they want quarter inch holes.” 

This basically means that in order to sell your brand or product, you need to understand the benefit of the benefit – why your customer REALLY wants your product. 

Let’s say you manufacture the most comfortable beds in the world. You could probably talk all day about the flexibility of springs, the softness of the padding, the luxurious tufting on the mattresses – those are the benefits. But the benefit of the benefits are things like a great night’s sleep, an end to back pain, maybe even fewer arguments in your marriage – and it’s when you start talking about those things that your brand becomes truly meaningful to your customer. 

jensen beds cover
Jensen Beds campaign

This is what will set you apart, and the more thoughtful and creative you can be about selling the benefit of the benefit, the more memorable your message will be.


Need help finding your difference?

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