Differentiation and Distinctiveness applied

Is Differentiation more important or is Distinctiveness the key to a brand’s succcess?

The key to differentiation is positioning. It refers to the relative position of the brand when compared to the different players in the market using various attributes. Basic (and common) approach uses two attributes (eg, affordability and perceived quality) to create a perceptual map with two axes. More complicated models involve Spidergrams or multidimensional perceptual maps.

At the heart though is the question: how is your brand meaningfully different from the others? Meaningful denotes perception (hence perceptual maps) and the need to be valued by the customer. Since perception is very much an emotive factor, physical differentiation must be packaged with intangible attributes that creates emotional connections for differentiation to be truly successful. Without the emotive level, mere physical differentiation is easily copied and also less memorable.

Blue Ocean Strategy (Renée Mauborgne, W.Chan Kim) requires the brand to look at the business with different perspectives. It can be achieved by differently defining the way a product is produced, served and/or consumed. It can even redefine the product itself (amalgamate with other product/service or stripped down to a utilitarian level). Blue Ocean strategies by definition therefore, create differentiation on the physical level. Branding strategies must then come in, leveraging on content and narrative marketing, to create emotional connection and to solidify the brand differentiation.

Profitable businesses attract competition like ants to candy. Copycats and passing off are only the “followers”. We can also expect big players to have “upgrades” with similar functionalities (eg, Instagram launching “Stories” in response to Snapchat and “Reels” in response to TikTok). What’s left to a brand’s differentiation are the intangible benefits.

But intangible assets require tangible representation for identification. This is where Distinctive Brand Assets come in. It is crucial for brands to have memorable and unique brand elements to be tied to the intangible assets. For example, many people love and enjoy Thai advertisements that portray touching stories that make us tear each time. If you are one, can you remember the brands that are associated with the ads?

Chances are slim because the ads seldom (if ever) contain distinctive brand assets for us to anchor those emotions to. Brand assets refer to logos, slogans, typeface, colours, shapes etc that are used to “brand” the business. Based on Professor Jenni Romaniuk’s Distinctive Assets Grid, we should target to develop and use assets that are unique and well-known.

Distinctive Assets Grid

Essentially, when establishing the brand differentiation with your blue ocean strategy, Brand Storytelling creates the emotional connections. CONCURRENTLY, Brand Assets must be established so that there are emotional anchors. Only then, when competition comes in to erode away the brand’s physical differentiation, the distinctiveness of the brand assets will make the brand memorable and these memories will be tagged to the emotions that makes the customer more loyal.

Differentiation makes a brand Stand Out.

Distinctiveness makes a brand Memorable.

In the previous article, I touched on how veteran celebrities in Singapore are shortlisted year in year out on the Most Popular Artiste Award despite not having relatively less social media promotions than the young new talents. Using Richard Low (刘谦益) as an example, compared to the young talents,

  1. He is more well known (Fame) having acted and continues to act in many different and memorable roles. Each drama allows the viewers to create emotional connections to him via the character he portrays.
  2. He stands out (differentiation) through his uncouth bad guy roles (almost the go-to actor for baddie characters!)
  3. “Lim peh” (Hokkien dialect for “your father”) became his distinctive brand asset (even scoring him advertising deals!) 


Richard finally has his own Facebook page in June 2020 and how did he introduce himself? By establishing himself as the “Real Limpeh” of course!

Therefore, it is of no surprise that Richard enjoys strong brand salience and is more memorable in a “brand recall” survey (the first part of the Most Popular Artistes Award that shortlists the nominees).