Differentiation: It’s in the Detail


As a consequence of our learning more about the Internet — what works and what doesn’t — we’re reaching a point at which more and more Web sites are looking more and more alike. Visit Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and Borders. Remove the logos, and you’ll have difficulty recognizing which site belongs to which brand.

So, how do you secure strong Internet branding in such an environment? Have we reached a point at which it no longer matters how a site looks? Is a standard site design with your own logo the best solution?

Reinventing the navigation panels is disastrous — analogous to surprising a driver by putting the steering wheel on the side opposite to its usual position. Reinventing the purchasing process leads to as many difficulties and has limited consumer value, if any. And the same is the case when it comes to the way you structure the content on your site.

The Internet freedoms enjoyed by most brand and marketing people a few years ago may seem to be evaporating as quickly as norms are being set. A set of navigational standards has evolved on the Net — standards approved and accepted by consumers. So it simply doesn’t help to introduce changes just for the sake of strengthening consumer brand awareness.

Let’s extend that parallel with the steering wheel position. Drivers have come to expect a car to take a certain shape. All vehicles depend on common capacities, functions, and features. You wouldn’t, therefore, alter the number of wheels on a car, change the necessary elements on the dashboard, adjust the seating, or remove headlights and taillights. Drivers all over the world expect and accept the shape and functionality of vehicles at this point in their evolutionary development. But does that mean the freedoms of vehicle designers have dissipated? Almost all of us would agree that there are major differences between the VW Beetle, the Rolls-Royce, and the Toyota Corolla. They are all based on the same functional structure, but design freedoms within that structure define the models’ differences.

Web sites, too, share functional limitations and design parameters, but the potential for differentiation is infinite. The key to online brand differentiation and the savior of Internet brand-building freedoms is detail.

Yes, difference is in the detail. And this is how you need to think about your site. Forget about changing elements the consumer already accepts. This will only harm your brand. Concentrate on details that will add value to the consumer’s visit to your site. These details can be found in everything, from your graphics to your language. And, crucially, in your ability to reflect the fact that you know your consumer well. Aim to add value to the consumer experience by offering well-defined, service-oriented support. Inspire your customers; inform them; surprise them. Your site’s capacity to add value to the consumer’s experience of it lies in the way you follow up and engage in dialogue with users. It lies in the site’s communication — its language as well as visuals, its policies and promises. It lies in the details that no other site is offering. It does not lie in a new navigation panel that nobody’s seen before, in some creative purchasing process, or in a new approach to security — that is, unless you’ve manufactured these revolutions with the customer truly in mind.

But, honestly, we’re at a point where major inventions have already been created. It’s not every day you see true revolutions within the car industry. Sure, it happens, but only after tough fights, many of which quietly end in failure.

The secret to online branding success is thoughtful, consumer-oriented detail, not general system differences that challenge your customer’s confidence and experience. Your freedom as an online brand-builder remains, but there are plenty of development jobs that should be ticked off on your to-do list. Do me a favor: Don’t try reinventing the wheel. Too many have tried and failed, and I’d hate for you to do the same. If you want help with your online branding process, contact a great company such as SMA to advise you on how to build your way to success.

Successful Brand Name Marketing

How Trademarks Are Used to Appeal to a Person’s Sense of Power

Successful brands cultivate an aurora of elitism and luxury around their product, appealing to a person’s vain “sense of power” as defined by sociologist Max Weber.

A diva in the automotive industry, Maserati lays claim to some fabulous cars, including the Gran Turismo and Quattro Porte (Maserati). An examination of the Maserati showroom, located in Manhattan, New York, shows dazzling cars and an array of pricey merchandise. Care for a Jacquard Regimental tie? $75. Cotton beach towels run cheap: $82.

With the exception of extra aesthetics, ergonomics, and jounce, a Maserati automobile makes little difference to the casual driver. Why would somebody pay an inordinate price for a Maserati car or beach towel? Simply put – it is a Maserati, and Maserati is a brand name.

The Concept of Brand Names in Marketing

Few concepts are as powerful in marketing as “brand names.” The goal of a brand name is to create a brand essence which “creates a relationship with the consumer, making an emotional connection” (BrandWerks). A prominent brand name equals more cash revenue. In 2001, the gargantuan diamond monopoly De Beers announced the end of their century-old cartel and a switch to a “Supplier of Choice” marketing philosophy.

Nicholas Stein, a writer for Fortunesardonically noted that “De Beers has set in motion a formula for making the diamonds under its control more valuable – simply because they have the company’s imprimatur.” Rather than controlling the majority of the world’s diamond supply, De Beers chose to use brand name marketing. Marc Globe, an author of Emotional Building, noted, “Brands are always taking advantage of the emotional need for a social experience” (qt. in Brandweek’s). By using attractive models and slogans about eternal love, De Beers insinuates that a diamond ring can offer a satisfying emotional experience.

The Concept of Brand Names in Sociology

Sociologically speaking, brand names not only appeal to a social experience but a person’s sense of power. Sociologist Max Weber (1864 – 1920) thought power is “the ability to accomplish your goals even when others are acting in opposition” (Witt, 80). He divided power into three sections: class, status, and party. The class has two subsections: economic resources and workplace skills. Status is about who you know and what people think of you. Party is the “capacity to organize to accomplish some specific goal” (Witt, 87-89). Successful brand names appeal to a person’s wish for class and status.

Brand Names Present an Image of Luxury and Wealth

Buying into luxury goods presents the visage of wealth. By donning Oakley sunglasses, the wearer sends an important message: I have money to spend on opulent items that are expensive. One of the most popular fashion companies, Gucci, depends on this principle for its success. “Gucci understood the importance of building a reputation … products were a hit and quickly became status symbols synonymous with luxury” (Manning-Shaffel). Without the Gucci emblem, a purse is just a handbag, but with that symbol, a purse is transformed into a representation of wealth.

Brand Names Give Consumers a Feeling of Importance

John Dewey, a famed American philosopher, commented that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important” (qt. in Carnegie, 18). Luxury brand marketers know this. The automotive company, Ferrari, has among the most expensive and sought-after cars on the planet. The burgeoning number of Ferrari-drooling millionaires has extended the waiting list time to two years in some countries.

Despite this incredible demand, Ferrari refuses to drastically increase its output (Frank). Why? Because, “As more and more people get rich, they can’t all have the same luxury goods. Or if they can, they’re no longer luxury goods” (Frank). Jens Baumgarten, head of financial services at Simon Kucher & Partners, said that luxury corporations “are not selling goods, they are selling an emotion” (Lindner). The Ferrari consumer, as part of a small group, believes he is respected and elite.

Robert Blanchard, former P&G executive, wrote that “As a person, you can respect, like and even love a brand.” (“Parting Essay, 1999). Brand names make people feel richer, wealthier, more elite and more important. With all those attributes, who wouldn’t buy a Maserati beach towel, eighty-two dollars or not?