Have you ever heard the expression “same same, but different”?
Yeh, this saying is perfect to describe how the business world and companies are running nowadays. The truth is: there is nothing new under the sun.
I believe that there is still a lot to come and that we are far from our development potential as a society. The matter is, we have reached a point where information is there for anyone, anywhere on the planet earth. There is no more “secret skill”, “secret sauce”, or “secret information”. That is super positive from the perspective which it levels up the quality of services and products that companies offer all around the world, but it also points out to companies the need to approach other aspects of the brand than just product differentiation. And those other aspects start with “human” and finish with “connection”.
Notice Apple, for example, every year re-launching the same product with slight changes just to provide the novelty feeling to customers. And like apple, you will see almost every company in the world doing that, from a range of industries.
The power of meaning
So, if you can’t rely only on the product to be different, what can you?
Meaning. Touching the emotional and psychic spectrum of your audience to build associations and insert meaning that connects with them and makes them choose you over others.
As humans, we have needs like being liked by others and feeling we belong to a group, but at the same time, we want to be unique and have our distinguished path from everyone else. At the same time, we want stability, we also want to take risks and leave our mark in the world.
These desires seem to be conflicting, and they are. Because we are humans. The role of your brand is to understand how you can help your ideal public to fulfill their emotional needs through the market you are qualified to act on.
The meaning and associations you create around the brand are not about what it means to you. It is about what do your offers mean to your audience. Try to perceive your product or service as a tool besides its functional value, think about your brand as a path that will help your customers fulfill their psychological needs.
Most of the stories and journeys happen again and again moved by these primary human motivations and needs. That is the reason why global brands invest millions in campaigns, videos, and narratives, telling the same story in different ways so they can reflect the audience’s desire. The scenarios change, the characters change, but the essence is of the story is the same. The key motivation is the same, and the plot is always similar.
Which are those “internal needs” after all?
Carol Person, Ph.D. in Archetypal Narrative Intelligence presents a graphic that shows four main groups of driven motivations and desires:
Independence → Finding your unique mission and pursue of identity
Belonging → Creating the feeling of community.
Risk → Get the job done.
Stability → Have stable structures and safety.
These are just the first thin layer from many deeper layers, but for now, it will help us to get to the point for you to understand how to use meaning to build differentiation and make your brand stand out in the market.
How does it help you to differentiate in the market? See how Nike and Adidas co-exist and thrive.
A brand’s meaning, how it resonates in the public heart and mind, is a company’s most valuable competitive advantage.
As I said in the beginning:
Same same, but different. Similar products, but different stories.
I want to invite you to think along with me. Please watch these two videos from Adidas campaigns:
- Adidas videos
Then watch these two videos from Nike:
- Nike videos
Now let’s recap these stories using an analytical look.
Adidas tells stories that activate dreams. Stories about group and support, about inspiring each other, that connect with the need of group and belonging. Most of the videos and campaigns from Adidas involve groups, people together even when they are different from each other they are connected through the same motivation of expressing themselves and of empowering achievement. It calls to be part of a community that leaves a mark in the world because of who you are. Adidas inspires and says that because you are unique, you belong.
Nike, on the other hand, has a narrative focused on the hero. It talks about performance, conquest, empowerment of the individual. It says that you can do it, you can do more, it inspires hustling and willpower. Nike’s narrative is built on the competition with yourself. It focuses mainly on the individual, even when the context is about team and group, the camera is always focusing on the performance of a specific individual. He/she faces challenges alone, he/she overcome them, and he/she is cheered in the end.
That’s why the emotional needs that Nike meets as brand meaning is of mastery and independence, recognition for their achievements.
While Nike talks about how you can do it, Adidas talks about how we can inspire each other.
Understanding your brand narrative is key to build associations on a deeper level.
Why positioning using narratives driven by human motivations is so powerful
..we don’t think through data, we think through stories.
The world doesn’t exist inherently from our perception. For example, even if tech nerds prove to present data that HP computers are better in performance and power than Apple computers, people who connect from their hearts with the Apple brand will still perceive it as the best option. Because we don’t think through data, we think through stories. We don’t perceive things as they are, we perceive things through our lenses: the filters made by the associations we build on our mind about things.
Think about your favorite brand. Sometimes it is hard to tell why we like it so much. There is this feeling, deep inside us, that says “that one is the best option among brands that offer similar products”.
It happens because of the connection we develop with that brand when it fulfills some of our deepest emotional desires.
To build meaning around a brand is crucial to first understand who is your ideal audience, their pains, challenges, joys, needs, and what drives them. Detailed characteristics like how are their way of thinking and how is it their way of living related to certain aspects.
This is how big brands that offer similar products can co-exist and grow in the same market. They connect with different groups. When we analyze deeper layers, we see that they don’t compete with each other, they stand out from each other.
What is your perspective on this topic? Share your insights in the comments 🙂