If a brand is defined by how people feel, or believe they will feel, when they buy, use or interact with that brand, it’s important to understand unique differentiation in order to have unique value. Every product has both real benefits (shoes that protect my feet while hiking) and perceived intangible benefits (feeling good about the brands I buy from). When your brand can communicate believable intangible benefits beyond any other competitor, you have achieved differentiation. Congratulations, you can stand out from the pack.
Let’s look at coffee. Some people are addicted. Others believe they need the caffeine benefits that coffee delivers to make it through the day. Some actually enjoy the beverage. But let’s not forget that coffee is a commodity. Right?
Starbucks fans and Portland coffee‐lovers would argue on this point. Starbucks delivers a coffee experience that transcends the actual coffee. In fact, many people who carry the Starbucks app on their phone, visit daily and are often seen with a siren up on their desk are likely to claim that they really don’t even like the taste of their coffee. But they still make a conscious choice to go there every day…for the brand experience.
Portland’s Stumptown doesn’t care whether you carry their white cups around. By the comfort level of their wooden benches and chairs, and the music volume, I’d guess they don’t encourage patrons to “work” there often or schedule coffee meetups there. Nonetheless, startup and tech company’s offices across town have employees demanding Stumptown grounds in the ever‐flowing coffee pots simply because they believe it’s the best coffee available.
Starbucks, Stumptown and many other coffee purveyors have been able to differentiate themselves from the commodity mindset and each other by attaching perceived and intangible benefits to their brand, similar to water bottlers of previous decades. How are you differentiating your brand and product experience? Doing so not only builds loyalty but brings competitive advantages. People don’t blink twice at a $4.50 cup of coffee but wouldn’t pay that at the gas station for a cup of coffee to go.
If your product or service doesn’t have real, tangible advantages, you may need to work harder to deliver perceived benefits.