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Brand Development: Defining Your Claim of Distinction


Key Takeaways

"Branding is only art direction until the brand's claim of distinction is established."

"Brand development is the discovery of a brand’s distinction and the development of a communication of that distinction."


About the Author

As founder and CEO of BrandSavants, Russ provides uncommonly strategic business and brand development capabilities. He is also a managing partner of The Brand Establishment, an association of agencies whose owners are Certified Brand Strategists.


About BrandSavants

At BrandSavants, we transform organizations by elevating the brand conversation. That catapults our clients' thinking which grows brand value and increases worth.

Brand Development: Defining Your Claim of Distinction

You’ve decided to apply for a job! What’s the first thing you do to prepare for a potential interview? You’d probably start by taking a look at yourself to determine what sets you apart from other candidates. That would include a review of your experience, your strengths and past success. You then use that self-assessment to decide how to best communicate those qualities to the prospective employer so that you are chosen over your competitors. That communication includes the tone of a cover letter, the look and content of a resume, your appearance for the interview and your prepared responses to interview questions. Congratulations! You have just utilized brand development and branding in your pursuit of employment.

For a company or organization, the process is the same for convincing the public to choose your product or service over your competitors. The self-assessment is brand development…what sets your company apart from its competition. The presentation to the target audience is the branding. Brand development and branding go hand-in-hand but they are really two distinct processes.

Branding vs. Brand Development

Without getting too academic, branding is generally defined as the methods used to communicate the image of the product that you sell. It is more than the logo or the corporate colors or the slogan. Branding can encompass advertising and communication, packaging design, in-store and online experience, pricing, blogs, use of social media, event sponsorship, audio recognition, employee enculturation and much more.

Brand development, on the other hand, is the discovery of a brand’s distinction and the development of a communication of that distinction. Yet, for some reason, companies often lose sight of focusing on their core that differentiates. Without that distinction, your brand is indistinct or generic or the worst-case scenario, a commodity. Without a point of distinction in advertising, the message will more than likely be about features and benefits. When this happens, you’re competing with other products’ features and benefits, not with other brands. That is a real no-no.

Now let’s try to connect the dots. A formal brand discovery process will uncover a brand’s true distinction, what we call a “brand franchise.” Those are the unique selling points that no other brand in the category can claim. After that discovery, the next step is to create incisive communication of that differentiation. Many times the outcome is a position line like Motel 6’s, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” Other times it’s an icon such as “Intel Inside” or sometimes a character like “Flo” for Progressive Insurance. BMW distinguishes itself with its brand promise of being “The ultimate driving machine,” while Walmart creates its niche in the market place with “Save money. Live better.” They all serve as immutable reminders of the brand’s uniqueness. Identifying that uniqueness is a vital step in setting the stage for branding.

Successful Brand Development and Branding

There are so many wonderful examples of brand development and branding done well, it’s hard to cite the best examples. However, the case of Motel 6 offers an interesting look at how it not only established a distinctive place in the hospitality industry but how it has grown and updated that position through the years, without losing sight of its core brand. It’s a terrific example of brand development and branding working hand-in-hand.

The first Motel 6 opened in Santa Barbara, CA, in June 1962 and has been in continuous operation ever since. Nearly fifty five years later, Motel 6 is currently the largest owner/operator in the U.S. economy segment with more than 1,400 properties operating in 49 states and five Canadian provinces. The brand promise of “Clean, comfortable rooms at the lowest price of any national chain,” is Motel 6’s virtue. It is synonymous with value in the hospitality industry.

The brand’s advertising campaign, featuring folksy, on-air personality Tom Bodett, began in 1986 and proved an instant success for Motel 6, turning the chain into a household name and winning industry awards. The campaign has won more advertising awards than any other brand in the lodging industry. Which is understandable, given that Motel 6 has the highest advertising recognition factor in the economy lodging category.

More recently, Motel 6 has demonstrated how a company can maintain its brand identity over the course of time, while adapting to the demands of its core market. For the 2017 Super Bowl, the hotel chain developed two radio ads that featured Bodett’s voice-over and that still closed with the iconic “leave the light on for you” tag line. However, the content of one commercial was a humorous take pairing Bodett’s downhome delivery with millennial slang.

Today, Motel 6 has modernized not only its message but the way it delivers services to its customers. Recognizing that nearly half of its business was booked online for same-day stays, the hospitality chain developed what it calls a “mobile first” strategy, including its My6 app. Its services have evolved over five decades to better serve its customers without losing site of its brand franchise.

“We are regularly trying to reinvent ourselves,” said Rob Palleschi, Chief Development Officer of G6 Hospitality (management company for Motel 6) in the October 2017 issue of Lodging Magazine. “We are constantly looking at how customers want to book, how they are finding us, and how we can simplify that transaction for them, much like everyone else is, but we have to do it within the lens of the economy segment. We know what we are, we know what we strive to be, and we deliver on that promise.”

Here’s the key: branding is only art direction until the brand’s claim of distinction is established.

Look Outward or Inward?

Many advertisers look out at their audience to discover their wants and needs. Then they develop their brand around meeting those needs. Okay, we do need to know what our customers want and need. But don’t forget, all of your competitors are doing exactly the same thing. They are going to the same audience, asking the same questions and getting exactly the same responses. Then, they also are developing their brands to be what they think everyone wants them to be. What’s the outcome? A blur. And that very same prospect saying, “All brands are the same. I’ll take the lowest price.”

The first step in brand development is to turn the telescope back on the company, find out what is truly unique and valuable about it and then go to market with all the tools at your disposal to communicate the brand distinction, even as it addresses market needs. Motivational speaker, author and marketing consultant Simon O. Sinek calls it finding the “why” of your organization, and is essential to effectively communicate “what” you do and “how” you do it to your desired audience.

Establishing a successful brand is a process. However, much like pursuing a great job opportunity, that effort must begin with a self-assessment…the brand discovery process.

About the Author

As founder and CEO of BrandSavants, Russ provides uncommonly strategic business and brand development capabilities. He is also a managing partner of The Brand Establishment, an association of agencies whose owners are Certified Brand Strategists.


About BrandSavants

At BrandSavants, we transform organizations by elevating the brand conversation. That catapults our clients' thinking which grows brand value and increases worth.