How to Differentiate a Brand from Its Competitors

HOW recently caught up with Joe Duffy, chairman and chief creative officer of Duffy, where they’ve been working with brands like Summit Brewing Co., Fisher-Price and Minute Maid for more than 30 years to deliver some serious business results.

Duffy uses the power of both design and technology to solve challenges like creating effective rebrand strategy that helps to truly differentiate a brand from its competitors—which is exactly what we’re going to talk about today. Whether you’re a student hungry for knowledge, in-house designer expanding your skills or a creative entrepreneur looking for new perspectives, the information below will help you set a brand apart.

How to Set a Brand Apart

The Right Brand Research, the Right Rebrand Strategy

It all starts with the right strategy. And thus it must begin with the right research. When the creatives at Duffy set out to craft an effective brand strategy that will differentiate a brand from its competitors, their main steps include understanding 1) the audience 2) the competitive set and 3) what’s going on in popular culture that relates to both of those.

To ensure they take into consideration everything of relevance and importance in the early stages, Duffy says that they learn from both their clients and their client’s research resources, being sure to participate in their client’s research sessions, focus groups, etc.

Duffy was kind enough to share an example of the kinds of questions they ask key stakeholders and brand influencers in order to understand wishes, strengths, opportunities and obstacles from various perspectives.

  1. When I say BRAND X what are the first three things that come to mind?
  2. Talk about the current branding of BRAND X. What works today? What’s not working? Anything missing? What do you think is the key opportunity moving forward?
  3. If wishes could come true, what would you like to see a new visual approach to branding do, communicate or project differently/better?
  4. What is unique to BRAND X that no one else can offer?
  5. What are the equities that you feel should be retained and what new inspiration should be communicated, either executionally or conceptually?
  6. What do you believe are some of the best kept secrets of BRAND X? Things that you feel you don’t receive enough credit for?
  7. What do the harshest critics say about BRAND X?

In Building Better Brands: A Comprehensive Guide to Brand Strategy and Identity Development, author Scott Lerman refers to this process of research as a journey. He writes that doing your “homework” should include “mapping the journey,” audience by audience. “The goal is to have a clear view of everything meaningful that each audience sees, hears and experiences over an extended period,” he writes, going on to note that having these journeys mapped will be useful now, yes, but will also prove to be invaluable in later stages of the brand development process.

This International Design Awards–winning project by Lippincott serves a great example of the result of effective rebrand strategy. Click here to learn more and see more winners from last year.

Breathing (Just the Right Amount of) New Life into a Brand

Duffy has seen immense success with work for brands like Summit Brewing Co., Fisher-Price and Minute Maid—all of which have some big competitors. So what is it that made these rebrands so successful?

“I think the main reason for success in each of the rebranding projects for these popular brands is that they struck the proper balance between retaining brand equity/familiarity and the development of a new and extensive brand language,” Duffy says, adding that though it’s always a challenge to breathe new life into a successful brand, all brands need a refresh.

“Our world is changing at such a rapid pace today, each brand needs its own appropriate brand language that relates to the target audience in a meaningful way,” he says. “We learn so much during the front end of this process and to me, it’s the most interesting part. You learn about a new category, a new culture, a part of everyday life that you may not have paid much attention to before. It’s fascinating as well as challenging—and done right, it leads to successful design.”

Important Factors and the Big Picture

Carrying out the proper research and striking just the right balance in the rebrand doesn’t ensure success, as much as we might wish. We asked Duffy about some of the factors that lead to a rebranding (or branding, for that matter) that doesn’t quite hit the mark—that is, it fails to rise above the competition.

He speaks frankly, noting that some designers fail to create original design and instead create based on what’s already been done. “Others are willing to take design direction from people who are not designers, namely, their clients,” Duffy says.

“We strive to include our clients in the creative process at the right time, in the right way,” he continues. “They know far more about their brands than we do. We know more about design than they do. So it’s the proper balance in our collaboration that produces meaningful, successful results.”

Duffy goes on to provide some valuable perspective about design in general in this day and age.

“It’s a very important time for better design in our world, and there just isn’t enough of it,” he says. “People today are demanding better design in their lives, in everything from product design to brand design, that obviously has a lot to do with how they live.

“Designers need to better understand what the best design does for business. It’s not about ‘looking’ better, it’s about ‘being’ better. It’s about creating a design experience that leads to a loyal following and to success in the marketplace.”


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