How Advertisers Can Regain the Brand Differentiation They Lost in 2017

January 31, 2018

By Jeri Smith

The most imperative issue threatening brands this year isn't particularly new. In fact, it's been with us for a while.

An almost complete lack of differentiation is threatening the very existence of many brands. Of course, brand equity has, for various reasons, been in steady decline for some time. But changing consumer behaviors and a shifting media landscape make it more crucial than ever that brands focus their marketing communications efforts on stemming this loss.

To some extent, the blurring of brands in consumers's minds can be attributed to the most active marketplace in the history of humanity. We have more choices than we can handle in most areas of commerce. This makes it hard for any one brand to stand out or to have a meaningful position in the mind of the consumer, especially if it's in a product category considered dull (like toilet cleaners) or dreadful (like insurance). Even the best marketers in the world struggle with this.

Unfortunately, this is made worse by the fear of missing out among advertisers and ad agency types that comes from a world where advertising is viewed as largely dependent on emerging technology. It's an assumption not often questioned by advertising decision makers, which leads to decisions that can hamper results.

Digital and social media can play a key role in amplifying a brand's messaging and motivating purchase. But, as wielded by many brands, digital and social media are not helping to build perceived differentiation or brand equity.

When one focuses on media platform exposures or tactics that are close-in to the sale rather than an effort to build the brand, the brand suffers. Now, with a disproportionate fixation on tactics, trends, and possible sources of FOMO, a focus on brand-building is as scarce as ever. This is happening at a time when that focus is needed more desperately than ever.

So what's a marketer to do?

It's imperative for a brand to diagnose if each aspect of its advertising — be it ads run on TV, digital, social, outdoor, or other platforms — is pulling its weight or can realistically do so. For starters, here are some questions marketers can ask themselves:

  • How does our overall marketing strategy and execution drive differentiation of our brand?
  • How is the distinctiveness of our brand illuminated by our creative across all its media platforms?
  • How is our advertising helping to improve perceptions of our brand? Is it creating the kind of mental availability for the brand that will result in it being chosen over other alternatives?
  • How is each element of our advertising and media arsenal working within our existing marketing strategy? How is each element elevating our brand distinctiveness?
  • How is each element amplifying the impact of the dollars we're investing in other media? Is that amplification helping us gain a foothold in consumers' minds?
  • Should we divert time and money from one element of our advertising in order to improve the strategy (and, most likely, custom content) for another that can contribute more to our brand equity?
  • Are our investments in new platforms/technologies driven by FOMO or compelling data that they can help build our brand in the minds' of consumers?

If the answer to any of these questions is "We don't know," you're not alone. The good news is, the answers are knowable and can help marketers regain (or create in the first place) the differentiation every brand needs to survive.

By measuring the right things, establishing distinctive brand assets, and focusing intensely on brand-building, advertisers can make massive gains in 2018. If they don't, their competition just might take the moves that leave them in the dust.


"How Advertisers Can Regain the Brand Differentiation They Lost in 2017." MediaPost, 1/31/18.

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