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[Podcast] How to Use Distinctiveness & Differentiation for Brand Growth with Jenni Romaniuk

[Podcast] How to Use Distinctiveness & Differentiation for Brand Growth with Jenni Romaniuk

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Our guest today is the esteemed Professor Jenni Romaniuk, an expert in marketing and consumer behaviour from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science.

In this episode, we explore the significance of distinctiveness in branding and its role in a brand’s success. Jenni shares key elements for building distinctive brands and provides examples of distinctive brand assets.

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We also delve into the concept of differentiation and its importance in establishing a brand’s competitive edge with Jenni offering insights into how distinctiveness and differentiation work together to drive brand growth.

Tune in to this enlightening episode of JUST Branding and gain expert knowledge from Professor Jenni Romaniuk’s extensive experience in the world of marketing science and consumer behaviour.

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding. Today, we’re honored to have Professor Jenni Romaniuk as our guest. Jenni is a renowned expert in marketing and consumer behavior, and she serves as the Associate Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science.

She’s a sought after speaker, consultant, scholar, and the author of several influential books, including Building Distinctive Brand Assets and How Brands Grow, Part 2, co-authored with marketing guru, Professor Byron Sharp. In this episode, we’re going to dive into the fascinating world of branding, consumer behavior and marketing effectiveness with a focus on distinctiveness, differentiation and brand growth. So without further ado, welcome to the show, Jenni.

Thank you. Great to be here.

Just before we dive into the meaty stuff, can you just give a little bit of an introduction to who you are, where you came from, how you got here and anything else you’d like to share?

I kind of got here by accident. A lot of different little accidents along the way. Never planned to be a professor, never planned to be in marketing.

And I originally got into a science degree because I didn’t get into physiotherapy, which was my first option. So I got into science, but then I didn’t know what you do with a science degree. So I changed to occupational therapy, which I actually didn’t really know what they did, but it sounded like physiotherapy.

And I thought, well, I could always transfer. And I knew somebody who was doing this thing called a business degree. And I went, I have no idea what that is, but I’d done economics and quite liked it.

So I went, oh, this business thing seems okay, I’ll do that, but I don’t read instructions. So I didn’t read the thing that said you had to decide what your major was until I was in line and had to decide what my major was. So I had a whole, like literally 20 seconds, because it was only when the person in front of me was asked their major and gave a response, I’m like, what do we do?

They had to answer. And so all that came out of my mouth was, I’ll do marketing, I hear they do that good here. And then I finished my degree and I went, I have no idea what I want to do with this.

All I had this prevailing thought was, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life caring about what dishwashing liquid people used. And then finally went, all right, I have to get a real job. Interviewed in a few places, and most of them went really not well.

And then there was an ad in the paper to do a master’s by research. And I went, oh, okay, yep, maybe I’ll go and I interviewed with Byron and yeah, they let me in.

Just sorry to interrupt. When you say they, I presume you’re talking about the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute?

Well, at that stage, it was the Marketing Science Center. We hadn’t formed the Institute yet. So it was a nascent research center that was just starting up.

But they were willing to give me money to study. And I calculated I could move out of home. I was living at home, which was kind of drawing my head in.

And so I went, yep, this will do. And then I finished my master’s and I went, oh, I actually quite enjoyed that. So they said, do you want to stay and do a PhD?

And I went, okay. Then I finished my PhD and I went, I quite enjoyed that. And so I was going to do a maths PhD, but then Byron convinced me to apply for a senior research fellow position, which I was kind of a bit iffy on.

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You know, I was like, I don’t really want to be an academic. That wasn’t my path. And then I went, oh, all right, all right, I’ll do the senior research fellow.

And then, so yeah, I became an academic and then just kind of slowly moved up through that, but never with any real game pan in mind.

Well, that’s kind of fascinating because if you connect the dots backwards, it’s like, well, that’s how you got there. You explored all these different things and you didn’t know what to do. You’re like, oh, dabbling this, dabbling that.

And it just, the path kind of converged at some point. Once you got into that, the academic side of it, you pretty much stayed there the whole time, right? Now you’re continuing that.

How long have you been doing that now?

I finished my PhD in 2000. Okay, a lot of experience. 23 years as an academic.

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, I don’t think of myself as an academic in the sense that I know people who their objective was, I wanna be a professor and that’s never been my objective. I’m glad I am.

It’s nice, but never was the objective. I just like solving problems and answering questions. And I’m just lucky enough to have a job that pays me to do that.

And people who stimulate me to provide me with good questions when I can’t even come up with them myself and the resources to, you know.

Well, I have a ton of good questions to ask you all about distinctiveness and differentiation and brand growth. So we can get into that. I do want to ask though, how would you describe the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for people that haven’t heard of it before?

Just like you have sort of, you know, big medical research centers that do things into cancer research or vaccine research and things like that. We basically are a group of scientists working together to understand how marketing works. And so we’re predominantly funded by industry.

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We have a range of corporate sponsors around the world. If you go onto the website, you can see the names of companies that support our work. But yeah, it’s basically a lab for marketing research.

Just a quick question on that. So, you know, you mentioned you’ve got these corporate sponsors and they obviously support you. How does it work?

I’m just super interested at a high level. How does it work in terms of the programs that you select in order to research? Just, you know, I don’t know if you can give us a snapshot of how that might work.

Basically, funding model for a corporate sponsorship perspective is a subscription model. They pay an annual fee. We have long standing research programs.

So, and each of, and all of them have streams of research and multiple researchers coming in. So every year into the Institute, we have between six and 10 new researchers coming in who start on a journey in a particular one of those research streams and keep adding to it. Because nothing is usually answered by one project at one time.

We’re asking big, if you ask big questions, you need lots and lots of different ways to tackle it. Some things work better than others. Some things are start that then get built on more and more as time goes on.

Some have parallel streams where they do. So we have all of that. So basically our corporate sponsors buy into, they know what we’re researching and they know that’s what their money is going to.

And we provide them with early access to the results. They get FaceTime with the researchers to interact with them directly. And then we also do contracted research where we do projects in specific areas that are of expertise like measuring distinctive assets, mental availability, category entry points, laws of growth, all of the things that we’re known for.

We actually do contracted research and we do that first for our corporate sponsors, but also for other organizations as well. And so that provides us with the funding that funds our data collection, our researchers, because they get paid obviously to work at the Institute. Fortunately, we haven’t got a model yet where people will just come do it for free.

Yeah, so that’s sort of how it comes in. So we get feedback from our corporate sponsors, particularly about the topics and the questions they have. And that can directly, but often indirectly, fuels where we’re looking to expand our research.

And we also have advisory boards, which are subsets of our sponsors, representatives, that also advise us on how they’re going, how they’re going adopting our information and the challenges. So we are constantly interacting with, so we have one foot in industry, dealing with marketers, their challenges, their things. And then the other foot is in the academic world, trying to do good, strong, robust research, that because we’re a university research center, we publish in academic forums as well.

You come from a science, maths, kind of economics background, which is really unusual for this show, because we often talk about brand and we come from the emotional side, not like the marketing and science side of side. So we’re excited to dive into this. And so our listeners can hear a little bit more about the science behind brand.

Let’s just start the topic. What is distinctiveness in the context? Why is it crucial for a brand success?

Okay, so one of the easiest way I think to describe it is we all have a friend that has a style about them. You know, they have a look and fear where you could look at an outfit and go, yep, they would wear that, or that’s that person’s style of outfit. Yeah, even if they’re not in it, if you just saw it on a thing, you’d go, oh yeah, I could see so-and-so in that.

You know, they just have a way of looking about them that makes it easily identifiable what sort of clothes they wear, what sort of hair cut they would have. You know, you could probably predict the sort of things they’d turn up. And you know, also when they would look a bit odd, if they were wearing something different out of that, you’d know immediately, this is not your usual style.

And it’s not all of our friends, some friends turn up in anything, but they’re just some people you know that just have a style about them. Well, that’s what brands can be like as well, that this is just this characteristics visual or audio, there can be other sensory as well, that just is what makes them look like them. And that can be broken up into the different sorts of sensory components that contribute to that sense of, yeah, that’s that brand and not anybody else.

And that’s really all distinctiveness is.

And why is that crucial for brand success?

Because brands operate in very cluttered marketplaces where they need to stand out and be easily found and recognized. And those kind of marketplaces are, well, those kind of places are in advertising and media. So advertising and media is cluttered in the environment.

So if you’re talking about an online ad, there might be text, other images and stories around it, but also even within an ad, a brand has to compete with other stuff in the ad. It might be a celebrity, it might be a cute dog, it might be some music or something like that, all of which can distract the viewer from the brand. And then when you go into sales environments, there’s often other competitors around as well as the environments.

You walk through a supermarket, even if you’re standing at a shelf, there’s a brand has to break through the physical clutter around them. People jostling, maybe kids are running around and the person’s half-eye looking at what’s going on on the shelf and the other half trying to stop their kid from tearing down something over there or opening up a pack that they shouldn’t. They’ve got mental clutter, because even someone who doesn’t have someone with them is still thinking about their work day.

Plus there’s competitive clutter, because there are other brands on that shelf that they’ve got to stand through. And so distinctiveness gives brands the power to be able to just stand out that little bit more and give it a mental advantage over what’s going on in the environment.

The simplest way is to say it’s distinctiveness is about standing out. So what would be…

It’s about standing out, but it’s also about looking like you, because you can stand out for all the wrong reasons. So your friend could turn up in a garbage bag. And yeah, they’d stand out, but that wouldn’t be them standing out.

Or Matt in a pink suit, for example.

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, some friends wear a pink suit would be perfectly normal for them to turn up in.

So that’s the thing.

I may, I may. You may see me in a pink suit.

The whole flamingo thing, he’s got it going on.

Hey, Barbie, Barbie. We were in the era of Barbie.

Pink is in.

Jacob was there first, I think, with his flamingo color and everything.

No, I even dressed up as Ken back in 2014 for Halloween. And my wife was Barbie.

Brilliant, brilliant. I was just gonna say though, so distinctiveness, what we’re saying then, Jenni, is standing out for the right reasons, looking like you. I’ve got about a shedload of questions about that definition or at least, you know, aspects of that, because how does a brand know, I guess it would be my first question, what they should be like?

Okay, so well, that’s a choice that you make. So the thing about distinctive assets is, and that’s the, so distinctive assets is a word we give for the components that make up the distinctiveness of a brand, breaking it down into actionable, measurable components. So they’re things like colors, shapes, words, images, like audio sounds, all of these things can all contribute to the distinctiveness of a brand.

So the thing about distinctiveness to remember is, it’s not innate. We didn’t all wake up with some as a collective consciousness and go, wow, the swoosh means Nike. Yeah, that wasn’t just a natural thing that we came to.

We have no need to develop distinctive assets for brands. They actually talk to us through brand’s actions over time. So that means you have to make a bit of a conscious decision of what you want your distinctive assets to be.

And so how you do that is a whole range of different questions. So first of all, the thing to remember with distinctive assets is there are tools that you work with. They’re not the goal.

The goal is to be easily and identifiably found as your brand in all sorts of environments. Distinctive assets are your toolkit to do that. So that means it depends on what your environments are.

So if you never communicate in an audio environment, you probably don’t need an audio asset then. That’s not a tool that you’re going to use. If you only ever, for some reason, do everything in black and white, then that’s your color.

You don’t need any other colors because there’s a stuff. So you need the tools that are going to fit. So once you decided what type of tool you want, do you want a color or a word that’s going to work in the environments you’re operating, then it’s about the substance of it.

Which color, which phrase, which symbol. That’s a challenge of counter programming because you want to be able to own it. So you can’t have anything that evokes competitors.

So we have two key metrics that identify if you’ve got a strong distinctive asset and they call fame and uniqueness. Uniqueness is, I’ll talk about first because that’s about the degree to which you own the asset. If that asset is present and the brand is not there or not noticed, are you the only brand that comes to mind or do you share it with competitors?

The more you share it with competitors, the more problematic it is because when you use it, you could potentially be marketing for your competitors. And then fame is how widespread that knowledge is. So how many people, when they see or experience that asset, think of your brand?

And a strong asset has both fame and uniqueness. You’re the only brand thought of it and pretty much anybody who’s in the category thinks of your brand. Those two metrics affect selection, but then they’re also the vanguards of how you know when you’ve achieved a strong asset.

So could you provide some examples of some strong, distinctive brand assets?

Yeah, I can. I thought about this a bit because often there’s some, there’s common examples that I bring out that, everyone knows, but they usually, I’ve been around for so long, it can be a bit defeatist where you go, oh, you know, unless you’ve been around for a hundred years, you can’t have a strong, distinctive asset. So there’s a couple of newer ones out that I think are really quite cool and in unusual market.

So I once did work for a financial institution that had a cartoonish character that was really well known, but they refused to use because they felt it wouldn’t make them look like a serious financial institution. And the reason I’m saying that story is one of my favorite distinctive assets, new distinctive assets is Astro from Salesforce. It’s a cute little character sort of stuff, but it just shows that a company like Salesforce, which is a very serious institution in terms of what it offers, can still temper that with a cartoonish character that is really easy to communicate and share in that environment.

And it’s on the back of others that have done that in those sorts of serious products like the Geico Gecko and things like that. The other one I quite like that’s relatively new, but an evolution of an old asset, one of my favorite assets used to be HSBC’s Red Borders that they used around their ads. And the reason I liked it is that combination of color and design because red is a relatively common color in financial services.

Lots of banks use it. But actually incorporating it as a border on their advertising meant their ads were easily identifiable as HSBC even when you saw them in a long distance away. And so that ability to get the brand across, even when someone can’t even read the words on the ad, is a really powerful device.

And of course, as soon as I put that in the book, what did they do but abandon it? And so it’s like, oh, great. So this is why I’m always cautious about praising distinctive assets because I’m a bit worried that someone’s going, oh, right, well, we’re going to get rid of that.

But I do notice that they’ve now evolved that border and incorporated in their hexagon design, but using it as a border element. And I hope they persist with that because I think it’s an evolution of the prior one, which I liked, but it’s something again that is ownable for them and has a lot of advantages in the spaces in which they particularly use, which tend to be things like in an airport as you walk onto a plane and things at an airport and stuff that you’re seeing often at a big distance or in the distance away.

Some other ones that come to mind, for me, at least, Matt, you can probably share yours, the Heinz shape on the tomato sauce bottle, the Coca-Cola shape of the bottle, the red color, obviously, the swirl, the McDonald’s arches, the absolute vodka shape of the bottle. These are pretty iconic assets. But I’m curious, how can a brand measure, I know you use the uniqueness and fame, but is that just a subjective tool?

How do you actually measure that with science, I guess?

Yeah, well, so, yeah, I mean, we do it with a, it’s a survey of consumers, category buyers, and you can design questions that capture uniqueness and that allow you to extract uniqueness and fame metrics. And the key thing is to utilize it, to measure it in the way that reflects how the assets are going to be used. So we did some testing when we first started out of different approaches.

Do you cue the brand or the asset? Do you do it prompted or unprompted? And what we found is the best way was actually to cue the asset.

So you take all the branding off of it. All right, so if it’s a Coca-Cola bottle, you would just have the silhouette of it. And then you just put it there, you recruit people who buy, you give them a category frame, and you need to do that because otherwise it’s too hard to extract from memory.

If you just say what any brand that associates with this, particularly when you get two categories that are less well known than soft drinks, but then you just ask them which brands do they link to that and let them, you usually type it in because we don’t provide names. And then you code it afterwards to work out, and you give people the opportunity to have multiple options so that you can capture if they’re thinking of more than one brand when they see that. And there are some structural things you have to put in to reduce things like inhibition and priming effects where the response to one question affects the response to the next question.

That’s a challenge when you’re doing things unprompted. But we found if you prompt for brands, you got an inflated score, and it was up to 20 percentage points, which means you will think your asset is stronger than what it really is. And that’s actually quite dangerous.

If you’re thinking of to think of assets, it’s much better to underestimate its strength than it is to overestimate its strength if you’re using it as a replacement for the brand. So, you know, so we, our approach is deliberately hard because we think it should be a hard test if you’re wanting to replace your perfectly good brand name with something else that’s not the brand name, but you want to evoke the brand name.

Okay, nice, I’ve got a little follow up question if I may. So you measure the distinctiveness, you know, based on audience response. I mean, there’s a shedload of questions I could ask you about that, but I just wanted to ask this simple one, I think.

Do you find or has it been found, and this is a genuine question, I’m really interested, that the distinctive, the more distinctive the brand, the more, you know, recognized in the category, the more successful the brand in terms of revenue? Is there a correlation between, you know, money making and distinctiveness?

Not directly, because remember, this is a tool. It’s not the destination. So the goal is excellent branding.

You can do that through distinctive assets. You can also do it through your brand name as well. And often, one of the reasons that we started instinctive assets because…

So stepping back, we know how brands grow. There are two levers that marketers have, mental availability and physical availability. Mental availability is about being easily thought of in buying situations, and physical availability is about being easy to find and buy.

So dealing on the mental availability side, which is where I do a lot of my work, I would go, yeah, okay, to build mental availability, you need good branding. And everyone would agree and nod and go, yep, yes, good branding, excellent branding, of course, that’s obvious. And then they would show me their good branded ad.

And I would look at it and go, hmm, you know, it would have nothing in it. And then this big branding splash at the end. And I’d be like, so what about this ad do you think makes it well branded?

And they would go, well, see, we’ve got the brand at the end there. And we’ve done the pre-testing and everyone notices that brand at the end. And I’d be like, yeah, but in the real world, people don’t sit and watch the whole thing.

So I realized that there was this whole conversation that had to be had about what constitutes good branding. And then in that conversation, there was a lot of pushback, particularly from a creative side of, well, we can’t put the brand name everywhere. It’s going to ruin our creative idea, you know, sort of stuff.

And so distinctive assets are kind of a surreptitious way to get branding into creative so that the brand can stand out and compete more from there. To that end, it’s a tool that you use to get good branding. Now, I don’t care how you believe advertising works because there’s not agreement on that.

But the one is one thing that I’ve yet to have anyone disagree with me and it still could happen. But that is that you have to know who it was who was advertising for it to work. So no matter how you believe it works, you still have to know the brand that was actually advertising for it to work.

And so that’s where distinctive assets come in. They can more easily make it easier for the brand to know and potentially can allow more creative options. So if you think about M&M’s and they’re create, they have great creative, but they build in their distinctive assets, their characters with that.

And so that becomes a very strongly linked relationship between the creative and the distinctive assets. If you take something like Geico, only about a third of their ads use the Geico. And they suffer in branding when they don’t use the Geico.

So this is where these things come into play. So there’s not a direct relationship between distinctive assets and success. They’re tools that help you build the things you need for success to build mental and then physical availability, which I haven’t talked about, but that ability to stand out in shopping environments is absolutely vital because we know people are repertoire shoppers in most categories.

They have multiple brands they could buy. If you don’t stand out, if you’re that little bit harder to find, you’re not likely to be one of those that’s chosen. So these aren’t necessary but not sufficient conditions for success because you can have the best distinctive assets, but if you say have a poor portfolio, so you don’t have the right products, so people are not going to buy you, if you’re not distributed well, if you don’t have presence and you’re not easy to buy in some way, shape or form, so you’re not in the supermarket where someone’s there or in the online marketplace when someone’s shopping there, then you still won’t get bought despite your distinctive assets.

So there’s no… That simple correlation that strong distinctive assets equals success, we don’t have that and you’re never going to get that because that’s just not how marketing works.

I think that’s a fair point. It’s too a simplistica way of looking at it. Is that even a word?

But it also forgets that there are… We’re always working through this lens of building mental and physical availability and distinctive assets are one way to brand, which is one part of how you build those two elements. So, to find a direct relationship with everything else, to be able to control everything else, to make it equal, to be able to clear that relationship, I would put it this way, if someone said to me they had found a direct relationship, I would really question the modeling that they had done because I’d be going, either it’s so experimental that we can’t, that it’s hard, it’s difficult to generalize or you’ve missed something in it.

Because you do see some correlation because bigger brands tend to have bigger budgets, so they tend to be able to build assets more quickly because they have wider reach, can have wider reach in their marketing. But it’s not a perfect correlation because bigger brands also have more people with fingers in the pie and makes it easier for them to lose the consistency that they need to keep building assets. So often they have quite messy big portfolios where they’re not contributing to the overall distinctiveness of the brand.

So bigger brands have the potential to have stronger distinctive assets, but often the marketing efforts, basically, they shoot themselves in the foot.

Yeah, they dilute the distinctive nature of what they’re doing. Particularly, I find this particularly across regions as well. It’s very hard for brands when they go into a new, a whole new continent, for example, with different cultures, different ways of…

And then you’ve got different teams, different communication methods. So just internally trying to communicate out and trying to manage that is a nightmare. So you see that happen quite a bit.

I was going to say, I was going to throw it… Jacob, you said throw a few into the mix. So there’s a brand over here.

It’s called… It’s like an insurance comparison website. And it took everybody by storm.

I don’t know, about 10 years ago. It’s called Compare the Meerkat. Have you seen that?

Is that over in Australia? Across the world. It’s just that the little meerkats, they’re just so powerful, right?

Do you know how that came about?

Somebody was having a joke about a Russian accent or something I heard in a pub.

It was just some creatives went to the pub after a few beers. They realized if you said market with a Russian accent, it sounded like meerkat. And that’s how Alexander Belov was born.

Yeah. A lot of people talk about, oh, you have to have deep insights to come up with. The Geico Gecko came about because it was a campaign they were doing during the last actors strike and they couldn’t use any human talent.

So they had to come up with a cartoon character and someone was supposed to go on Geico, Gecko, yeah, let’s do a Gecko. And so that’s how you think about how these famous things came out. A lot of them were happy accidents.

I think we’re hearing everybody, everybody who’s creative listening in is hearing permission to go to the pub. A couple of other ones that I really love, like the male chimp, that’s quite a distinctive asset, you know, the little chimp. Also, you talked about borders and when you were talking about it, I was thinking, oh, you know, the most famous border that comes to my mind as a distinctive asset is the National Geographic, the yellow border around their magazines and how they took that concept throughout a lot of their comms, you know, genius.

I had one curve ball, right, to throw at you, Jenni, because this is what we do on this show, you know, Jacob’s worried now, what the heck is Matt going to say? What do you think, right, about the new Twitter rebrand by Mr. Musk of the black, well, it’s a white X on black, completely throwing all the distinctive equity that was in Twitter to one side, introducing something completely shocking and bizarre, and everyone’s like, like, what is going on? I like, one part of me likes to think he’s an absolute mad genius and it will really pull it off.

Another part of me thinks he’s just ruining our profession. But I don’t know, what are your thoughts, Jenni, on that?

It just puzzles me because I think, here’s someone who paid $44 billion for a company and he so far decimated the product, gotten rid of the distinctive asset. I just wonder what he bought. Why didn’t he just start from scratch?

Because, you know, it just seems to me a very expensive exercise of dismantling something. Yeah, I mean, I’m not a Twitter person. I’ve never been on Twitter.

It always struck me as a hyper people.

You’ll never get on it now because it’s not called Twitter anymore.

Yeah, I know, but that’s the thing. I feel like I missed that thing, but I didn’t actually even that. But you know, but the thing about it is, so this is the interesting thing that just puzzles me is, you know, the people, because I’ve seen on LinkedIn people talking about, oh, he’s a mad genius and just wait, you’ll see, or if you’re wrong.

But I just go, wow, this is a really expensive thing that he could have spent 44 billion just creating X, which is, seems to be what he always wanted to do. So I know, it just struck me as interesting. I’m always sad when distinctive assets for no reason of their own get retired.

And, you know, there’s a graveyard somewhere of distinctive assets that have had that over the years where there’s no real reason why they were stopped using, they just were. So, yeah, so, you know, so to me, I go, I understand why he might feel like he had. I just think that it just kind of like, if this is where you were going, you kind of took a weird route to get there.

And there’s probably other routes that could have, because he has such a strong following. If he had launched his own ex, those people would have come to him. So, so this is, yeah, I just find it a really puzzling decision from a business perspective of why you would go this route to create something new.

That even if it’s successful, what he creates is new, the path to get there has been one of destruction when it really didn’t seem to need to be. He didn’t have to destroy Twitter to create X, but that’s what he seems to have wanted to do. Maybe there’s some agenda that’s separate to what I don’t claim to know.

I like to think there is Jenni, as I say, I worry that there isn’t. In terms of distinctiveness, I look at that category of social media as a category, and you look at Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Twitter was already relatively distinctive in that section of the market. It’s strange.

To put X in, from my personal view, it is quite distinctive, very unusual, very different jars massively.

Yeah, definitely kind of programmed to what other brands look like.

In that category, but I guess the issue is, as you said, is it showing up with the wrong clothes on, right? And is that going to have a detrimental effect for the wrong reasons?

I mean, it depends on if you think of it as is this Twitter or is this something different? So if this is something different, then it’s creating its own wardrobe, essentially, rather than it’s the bird putting on a new outfit that doesn’t quite suit it. So, I mean, I think the bird is dead.

So that’s what I’m saying. It’s like, it just seems weird that I don’t know. It seems like he’s trying to create something, but I don’t know why he had to destroy Twitter to do it.

Yeah, it just seemed odd to me. But from a, I don’t, I’m not a designer, so I don’t comment from a design perspective. From a distinctiveness perspective, that’s the challenge of, and so there’s separate brand name challenges, which I understand there’s few issues with copyright, things like that, that maybe still need to be sorted out.

And then there’s the design of it, and it depends on what else is going on with it.

Yeah, I don’t know enough to kind of judge other than to sort of be a bit perplexed about, it seems like going the hard way to, hard and expensive way to achieve something that was always going to be hard and expensive to achieve.

Perplexed, you’re not the only one.

It’s kind of like you decide to climb Mount Everest and you give yourself an extra backpack full of bricks just for the hell of it.

Climbing Mount Everest is hard enough. Don’t need to make it harder for yourself. Yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s the only comment I have.

Well, Jenni, we’ve talked about distinctiveness on the other side of the fence. Some say it’s differentiation. You know, this is often emphasized like a key strategy for brand success.

Could you just share or explain the concept and how it differs from distinctiveness?

Yeah, so differentiation comes from classic economic theory. That is this idea that in order for someone to buy your brand and keep buying a brand, they have to see some value in it that other brands don’t provide. And that value can be something you have that is unique.

So your brand offers something other brands do not, or you can offer it better than other brands. So yeah, so they’re the two roots to providing this value to consumers. And the idea is if you lock consumers in because you offer something other brands do not, then they will stay with you longer, they will be disproportionately loyal, and they’ll be immune to what competitors are doing because you’ve locked in those people, because you’ve got what they offer.

So there’s two elements to differentiation. Different from other brands and value, that difference provides value. So it’s actually not about differentiation versus distinctiveness, even though I particularly recently, the argument has become that.

It’s actually about breaking differentiation down and saying, those two elements have different roles to play. They don’t have to be put together. So, for example, I can be different in a way that doesn’t ostensibly offer value to people.

I can have a different color. So Coca-Cola is a different color can to Pepsi. Would you agree with that?

That’s different. They’re not the same. They’re different colors.

But do you value the red of Coca-Cola versus the blue, red and white of Pepsi? No, you don’t go, gee whiz, I really want a red soft drink today. I’m going for that Coke.

Today, I’m feeling a bit blue. I’m going to go for the blue one. No.

But it is how they are different from each other. So that element is distinctiveness. And that you choose your distinctiveness because you do want it to stand out from other brands.

And you want to be able to own it. You want to own that so that you don’t inadvertently market to competitors. But then there’s the value proposition because brands have a reason for being.

There is a reason why you buy Coke. In fact, there are many reasons why you buy Coke. And this is what we call category entry points.

So these are things like you might refresh it. You might want something to wake you up. You might want something to go into the movies with to go with your popcorn.

You might want something to mix with a scotch at the end of the day. You know, there’s all of these different reasons why you come into the category. So differentiation would say you need to offer that more or better than competitors.

And so you have to be the best Coke to mix with a scotch or have a unique taste that it’s the only thing that goes well with popcorn. You have to do something that’s better or different or unique or superior to others. Whereas when we talk about mental availability, we say no, we know that there are multiple soft drinks you can have with, mix with a mix with scotch or have with your popcorn or will refresh you on a hot day or wake you up.

What I’m battling for is to be salient in your mind so that when you think I want something refreshment, you think Coke and then that gives you a better chance of choosing a Coke. Now, not every time you’ll choose a Coke because sometimes you might think Coke and Sprite and 7Up on Fanta and you might go, oh, today I feel a bit like Fanta. I feel like something orangey.

I’ll go for that. I haven’t had that for a while. All these things can go between thinking of it and choice.

But the idea is that you want to be known for it. You want to have fresh networks for it. You don’t have to be better or superior to be chosen.

And we know this because big brands tend to not be better or superior on the things they offer to the category. They’re just more widely known.

So are you saying differentiation is about being better or…

Yeah, that’s it. Or unique. That’s the definition.

By bringing value in a certain way.

Yeah, I mean, I noticed there’s been some efforts to recast the definition. That’s like me saying, well, I don’t like cooked vegetables, so I’m going to change the definition of health to not include cooked vegetables. It doesn’t work that way, does it?

There’s a definition of health that includes foods that are healthier and foods that are less healthy. Just because my personal preference of things doesn’t mean I can’t change it. But that is the classic definition of it.

It has two components. You need to be better or unique, so offer something other brands do not or better, and that thing has to be of value to buyers.

Could you share some examples of some successful brands that are differentiated, I guess?

Yeah, I mean, the thing about differentiation, and one of the reasons is that it’s often linked to innovation, but then there’s the sustainability aspect of it. So often when an innovation is successful, so during a time when a brand launches an innovation, like Nespresso, when they launched their pods, there was a short period of time where they were the only one in the market with these pods, and that was differentiation. But what’s happened to that market now?

Saturation.

There’s lots of other pods, there’s lots of people who offer Nespresso-compatible pods. So you don’t even have a lock-in in the type of pods that they produce. And that’s normally what happens in competitive markets.

So yes, for a brief period of time, they were differentiated, they were the only ones who offered the pods. But over time, competitors copy and it comes in. Now, when you get genuine differentiation, it’s usually when there’s a patent involved.

So Viagra, when that was launched, that was genuine differentiation. They had a patent for it. They were the only ones who could produce it.

They were offering value that other brands do not. And so they reached the financial benefits of that until the patent expires or someone else comes up with a similar solution in using a different formula, et cetera, because that’s the nature of technology. But there is a period of time when you, so if you’ve got a patent, you can do that.

Tesla’s another example of in the period of time when electric car technology was new, they had superior technology and so were able to corner that market. That’s an interesting conversation because I’ve heard a lot of people go, oh, they don’t advertise. And so they succeeded without advertising.

It’s like, no, they succeeded because they had more demand than supply. If you have more demand than supply, you don’t need to advertise. But what’s happening to the electric car market now?

A lot more competition coming in. What is Tesla saying? We will be advertising.

Of course they will, because they’ll be competing in a market with everybody else. And the innovation playing feed will be equal until someone makes the next step in there. So differentiation can exist.

It’s often not sustainable. Whereas distinctive assets, the reason why they’re often contrasted is distinctive assets, you do them right, they can last forever. They will outlast us.

And you think about some of the ones we know now for brands that have had long legacies. How long has that crap, has Heinz had that label? How long has Coca-Cola had that bottle shape?

Even Nike and that swoosh, that will outlast all of us. But the technology Nike uses in its shoes, that won’t because that will continually evolve and then will be copied by competitors. Sometimes Nike will copy technology from other competitors to keep up in the marketplace as well.

And so that’s the nature of how that works. Yeah.

Okay, so how important would you say differentiation is and innovation as well, right? If you’re just gonna be copied in X amount of years.

It’s important because that’s how the category evolves. Just think where we would be now if we all were only drinking instant coffee. It’d be a sad place, wouldn’t it?

I mean, maybe not about to drink a beer, but I like the fact that I could have a decent coffee in my house as soon as I finished this. I don’t have to go out to a coffee shop, wait for someone to make it sort of stuff. So this is about evolution in a category and everyone should be innovating to do that.

But reality is if you’re good, even if you’re not good, I’ve seen innovations be copied. Even the bad ones tend to be copied just in case they might be successful. One of my colleagues, Dr. Kirsten Victory, she does a lot of work in the innovation space, looking at failures and how that works and sort of thing.

And you see things that, you wonder how anyone thought this was going to succeed, not succeeding, but still people will copy it. So yeah, so it’s important to innovate. And when you do it successfully, you will for a period of time have a differentiation advantage, but it just won’t stay there for the long term.

So it’s interesting to hear that put out like that. I often think about it. I work a lot in B2B and what I find fascinating, and this question always comes up, is a new CEO comes in or a new leadership team takes the boardroom by storm.

And of course, they want to signal to the world that things are different and are going to change. And they have a new strategy and a new commercial plan and all this stuff. And the next thing that usually happens is they think, right, we’re going to re-brand, as in the identity of the business, in order to signal to the market that, hey, we’re different now.

What I always think is an interesting conversation is it’s like, well, okay, but if we throw everything out, AKA Elon Musk, is that actually going to serve our longer term interests better because we become less recognizable in the market? And then you play that off strategically because the answer sometimes comes back, well, yeah, it is better because we want to disown some of the stuff we’ve been doing. We want to become known to go into the future as something different, right?

And that’s great. So that is always a very interesting tension there, I find, in terms of the distinctive side. Where I find people really struggle, you know, and businesses, at least I work with in B2B, is in that kind of differentiation sort of space because it’s kind of like, okay, you know, I always ask, well, where are we different?

Like, you know, is it in how we do it? Is it in what we offer? Is it in the experience that we create?

Is it in, you know, what is it? Where are we different? And if there is no where that we’re really different, I know that business has to go to work because otherwise it can’t just rely on its reputation in the long term because as you say, competitors are going to come in.

So I love the way that both of those tensions kind of come to play. What are your thoughts on the idea, though, of what I’ve just said about businesses sort of rebranding to signal the new? Do you think that does them longer term harm?

I mean, I guess in consumer goods it does because, you know, at the point of buying somebody now doesn’t recognize the product that they used to purchase all the time. But in B2B, do you think it’s less of an issue out of interest from the research? Or I don’t know if you do research.

Well, there was a lot in that. Let me break it down into a couple of points. The first thing is changing distinctive assets to signal we’re improving, we’re on the up, we’re changing, et cetera.

That’s a classic case of often solving the wrong problem. It usually wasn’t your distinctive assets that caused you the problem and why the old CEO got fired and the new one is in. If that’s the case, why there’s a field this need to rejuvenate, usually there’s a problem.

Solve the problem, don’t blame your distinctive assets for it because chances are you’ll just be exacerbating the problem because they might have been the one thing that were working for you.

The other thing I’ll say at the risk of sounding a bit pretentious, but I love the quote from Thoreau, which is, beware of activities that only require new clothes and not the new wearer of clothes. And yes, it’s probably got it slightly wrong, but this idea that if it’s just window dressing you’re doing and not actually changing the fundamentals, what’s the point? Going down to the question, so what you’re grappling with, and this is the challenge that I think marketers need to get their heads around, is that it seems, and there’s this feeling that buyers can’t choose unless they’ve got a reason, okay?

That I have to give people a reason to buy. Just like, you know, when I chose my partner, I had a reason why this is the person I love and why I didn’t marry any of these other people that I probably could have married, but I didn’t. There’s a reason why I chose this particular person.

Brands aren’t like that. Brands aren’t commitments for life. They’re often simple, transitory things that we want to get to us.

We don’t… We have many ways that we can solve something. And often the thing will be, I chose that one because it was on the shelf I could reach.

It was three steps instead of five steps away from where I was. We can make these decisions based on quite trivial things. I don’t need a deep, heartfelt reason to choose everything I buy.

Even things like I bought an electric bike. I just chose based on a little bit of information. I went, yeah, that will do.

And that was, you know, over a thousand dollars in there. But I wanted an electric bike. Which of those electric bikes I had was less of an issue.

They were all pretty good brands through a reputable retailer. I knew if I had a problem with any of them, I could take it back, you know. Those sorts of things were less of a concern.

I actually was just a bit disappointed. I couldn’t choose the bright color that I wanted because there was a purple one, a blue one, and I ended up with a rather austere, bluish gray color sort of stuff. So this is where we often think that, but we actually don’t.

In the moment, we will often make decisions based on things like physical availability, not just what we know about the brands. So when the CEO comes in, so often the question is, how are we differentiated? When the question actually should be, because that is a proxy for, what is the reason why people buy us?

When actually it should be, why do people buy us? And the answer is typically, because we offer a range of things that are suitable in the category and they know that this is the different needs that people come into the category for, and we cover really well five out of eight and the other three we’re working on. But there are also other brands that also do that and just sometimes we just get lucky.

And B2B, you think about why do people choose that. Often people think there’s a more detailed involved process. No, B2B are people too with the same brains, the same imperfect information, the same time pressures on having to make a decision.

I have three data collection suppliers that I choose when we do research. And sometimes my decision will be, I haven’t used them for a while. Sure, I’ll give them for a quote.

I’d like to think every single time I make a concerted of who is best for what. But the reality is there’s a lot of my studies where they’re all equally fine and they’ll all get me a good sample in a timely manner in the way that I want. And so, you know, it’s just part of me having a repertoire is risk mitigation that I spread it out so that I’m not reliant on anyone.

So often, you know, we kind of think that there has to be a deep-seated reason for making a choice. No, there doesn’t. Never has been, never will be.

Now, we will remember those occasions when there are, and there are sometimes really good reasons for choosing something, but those reasons can be, are still going to be based often on imperfect information. And if you really pushed and researched all the brands in the category, you’d probably find, you know, five others that could have done the job perfectly well. You just didn’t realize it at the time.

So you’re talking about consumer behavior and how they make decisions. So what power as marketers or branders do we have to actually, like, I guess, point them in a direction that we can make them buy? Like, what power do we have?

Think of it as a probability game rather than a certainty game. You know, we’re always up in the odds. So the more you can increase mental availability, the more you…

So if you think about people’s brains, people don’t want to think about a category until they actually have to buy it. You know, we don’t sit here… I don’t sit here daydreaming about soft drinks when I’m not thirsty.

I don’t sit here and, you know, think… Most categories, we don’t think about them. A few sometimes maybe we might, like when we’ve got particular passions for it.

So I love travel. So, yeah, I do think about travel outside of actually traveling, but usually I’m thinking about where am I going to travel next, and I’ve already started that process. So a lot of the role of the things we do in marketing is encouraging people to think about the category and our brand outside of that purchase cycle to give us a slight advantage the next time someone comes into the category.

So that’s the thing. And then once they’re in there and we’ve given ourselves that mental advantage, then we want to make sure the environment is set up to make it easy for them to act on that. We don’t put any road bumps in the way by not being where they’re buying, by not having the right shape or the right size or the right features on a product compared to what they’re looking for.

It’s easy to grab them. They’re not in a sea of sameness. These are all things that can create barriers to people purchasing, and we want to make sure that that is as frictionless as possible once we’ve created that mental advantage.

But it’s always ever going to be just a probability game upping those odds.

Okay, but if we’re increasing the mental availability, the more we increase it, the better the odds, right? So is it about being noisiest? What methods can we use?

It’s about reach branding and building useful mental structures. So reach is about trying to get to as many category bias as possible. So rather than me constantly going to you, back to you over and over again, I want to make sure I’m widening my things in a time period so that I’m trying to hit as many different, because I can only affect the brains I reach.

But I still need to have good branding in there because you have to know it was me that was… So think of reach as I’m throwing a ball in your direction and you have noticed it and gone, oh, there is a ball. So then you look and you go, who threw that ball?

You want to know it’s me. That’s the branding aspect of it. So you had ball game from Jenni.

Cool. And you’ve remembered, oh, that’s right, Jenni. She throws balls at me.

And then next time… And then it’s about, well, then you need to know when you… Then I need to communicate to you when I might want you to think of me again.

So that’s about building, well, memory structures, but those memory structures should be things you’re going to use when you’re entering into a category and you’re working within a category. So it shouldn’t be about me. It should be about you.

Jenni, she’s a great podcast guest. We should have her again sort of thing. Whereas if you’re thinking about, oh, Jenni, she wore a nice top that day, that’s not going to help me next time you’re thinking of podcast guest next year.

Whereas if you think, oh yeah, this thing, she said some smart stuff or she made us laugh or whatever. So that’s about, it’s a really bad analogy, but it is the morning and I’ve only had two stories.

I totally get it. So Jenni, I was just going to ask, how often are you going to throw this ball then? That’s the next question.

So it’s about reach.

Yeah. Meantime she can, but spread out. So there’s been lots of research showing that you do better to enhance memory when you have spaced out exposures rather than all crammed together.

So if I reminded you I exist tomorrow, the day after and the day after that, you’d be like, oh yeah, her again. Gee whiz, I’m going to send her to junk. Whereas if I was in three months’ time, went honey, it was great podcast, how’s everything going?

And then in three months’ time after that, did it, distributing it out. Each time you’d go, oh, that was nice to hear from her again. And advertising is like that.

When we see it in close succession, our brain just switches off. Even if we don’t actually get over it, our brain just naturally goes familiar stimuli, recently seen, not worth my attention and so downplayed, so to say. So that’s the thing.

And that will vary with budgets, which is why I was talking about why bigger brands with bigger budgets have an advantage in this because they can reach many more people. Smaller brands with smaller budgets need to get smarter about how they do their marketing and make sure that they’re not wasting it by hitting the same people multiple times in quick succession.

And does it matter where it’s happening? Like how often? So let’s say you’re doing a digital online, for example, versus a print ad or whatever it is.

No, I mean, different media have different ability to cut through, but no, it’s about going where your audience is and trying to maximise that. And often a mix is the best way to make sure you get reach because you’re reaching people in different medium, and if they’re different people or at different times, that’s opportunity. That’s the kind of the challenge of media with so much fragmented media is how do you achieve reach and minimal duplication.

But yeah, that’s the difficulty in the online environment is everything is so fragmented, it’s hard to get a consumer or category biocentric view of how your reach is going.

All right. So we’ve talked about distinctiveness and differentiation. The last thing I want to tackle is brand growth.

You’ve written the book on how brands grow in part two with Professor Brian Sharp. So as a professor, research professor, what would you say are the key principles or strategies that truly drive a brand’s growth?

Yeah. Well, mental and physical availability, being easily thought of and being easy to buy. They seem to be the two big levers.

And underneath that is a lot to happen. It’s about, think of it more like a systems based approach rather than a pick your winner approach. Because under mental availability, we have reach branding and building useful mental structures.

And under physical availability, we have presence, prominence and portfolio. And each of those has to work because if one of them doesn’t work, all of the others don’t work nearly as well. So you can’t go, well, I’m doing everything right, but my branding is rubbish.

Because if your branding is not rubbish, you’re not going to effectively build the mental structures that you need. And so you’re not going to build the mental availability, even if you’ve got the reach right. And even if the message you are trying to build is a useful one, you’re just not going to do that well, which then is not going to make your physical availability be disadvantaged because you haven’t built the mental availability.

But similarly, say you do a great job of building mental availability, but you can’t get distribution, it’s going to be difficult to buy. And therefore, you’re not going to reap the rewards of successful mental availability building. So it’s all about working all of these different things and then keeping them up and keeping them better, keeping them as best as they can given advances in technology.

So the fact that we have different media coming out, so you’ve got to experiment and work out, is this good for me to use? The fact we have different channels now, when is it a good time to take on a new sales channel? Because that’s a big commitment to take.

You don’t want to be too early because then you can be easily diverting resources and over-investing in something, as in maybe a lot of brands that rushed to the metaverse might have found out. But you don’t want to be too late either because then you miss the boat. If you’re not being able to work effectively in an online supermarket as a packaged goods brand right now, you’re losing sales because that’s a competitive playing field and where there is increases.

There’s still more grocery shopping happening offline, but that’s still a growth area. So actually working out those sorts of things and keeping all of those six elements up to date, that’s a really important and big challenge. We’re learning a lot about how marketing works, so that’s a really exciting time.

So understand that however you think marketing might work now, you’re probably wrong in a lot of things, but that’s okay. That’s the essence of nature of being in a new science. We’ve only been doing serious marketing research for less than 100 years essentially since about the 1950s in a rapidly changing world.

So don’t be afraid to challenge your own assumptions. Ask for evidence and look for evidence. Don’t take anything just because some famous person or some consultant says it.

It’s actually about going, what is the evidence for this? We’re trying to do our bit to put evidence out there into the world and make it transparent how we came to the conclusions. And we’re trying to encourage everyone to do the same.

So don’t be afraid to challenge your own assumptions on how marketing work because you end up stronger as a result of it and better as a result of it.

Lovely closing words. Thank you, Jenni. And last question, where can people connect with you?

LinkedIn is the best way for me. Yeah, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. So yeah, just connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can follow me and if you’re connected in some way, connect with me. But yeah, no, that’s the best way to reach me.

Jenni, it’s been an absolute honor. It really has having you on the show. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and knowledge.

And yeah, I love the way you just dropped the mic at the end there about the challenge of how marketing works. I found your book very challenging. So thank you so much for all the work that you do.

We really appreciate it.

It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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