Expertise is Not a Differential

Expertise is Not a Differential

Brand differentials are often a nebulous, contentious concept. Myriad esoteric principles exist to confound the most seasoned philosophers. When considering your brand strategy the multitude of options is bewildering. Depending on your counsel, mastering your organization’s brand might require meditation on the essence of your business or a perilous journey to a high mountain summit in a quest to unlock the secret mysteries known only to the brand guru.

However on the other end of the spectrum, some assume brand development to be a trivial matter, opting to eschew the grand adventure altogether. In truth, there are brands who aim to convince that brand development is just a mundane, inconsequential task that can be quickly completed by pulling the levers a few times on some random logo generator found by googling “wix” (oops… I mean “random logo generator”). 

“Identity is cause; brand is effect, and the strength of the former influences the strength of the latter. “

Larry Ackerman, Author and expert on organizational and personal identity

Calmer heads will establish that a middle path does actually exist. In fact, this particular calmer head will tell you that branding is about only three things…Differentials, Authenticity and Persistence.

Still , don’t get it twisted. Just because there are only three things, it doesn’t mean that what we are doing is easy. You’ll find that there is a lot to consider and today we’re only going to talk about differentials.

“Differential” is a somehow fancy word that equates to answering the question – “What makes you special?”. Finding a differential may seem like a straightforward process, but looks can be deceiving. Honestly, any brand consultant worth their salt should anchor the conversation on this topic when you first sit down together to get oriented around a new branding project. Uncovering your organization’s uniqueness lies at the heart of what branding is all about and many future decisions will hinge on the results of that discovery.

Isolating an organization’s core differential is a complex proceeding. One who is already intimately familiar with their own industry, or one who has been deep in the research phase in consideration of launching a new product or service, may have a lot of information about their particular niche. These individuals may feel confident that they already know what makes them different. Conversely if that distinction was something obvious and easy to find, it likely means many competitors in that space would share the same (or similar) trait. Competitors who may even be communicating the same concept as their own uniqueness.

During early meetings, organization leadership often states, in all confidence and earnestness, that their organization’s proud response to the question, “What makes you special?” is somewhere in the neighborhood of “We are the best at what we do”. This is a bold claim – and perhaps it is justified. Consumers are certainly looking to buy the best, so any product or service in the market needs to effectively demonstrate that they stand shoulders above the competition. In other words, they need to demonstrate expertise.

While it may be argued that you are the best at what you do, it is important to keep in mind that expertise and uniqueness are not the same thing. The two go hand in hand in making up what defines any valuable and meaningful business. However, in today’s overly saturated market, it’s exceedingly challenging to stand out on the single premise that you are “the” expert in your field. 

When consumers enter the market, they are already expecting to purchase expertise – no one intends to hire a hack. Meaning when you lead with expertise as your defining quality, in the eyes of the consumer, there is nothing about you that will be perceived as a special trait. Your organization now runs the risk of becoming interchangeable with your competitors instead of leading the way.

Over time, your differential must become the core attribute that permeates the whole of your business model. That’s why knowing how to get to all that is buried at the core of what makes your organization different is essential. Wherever that difference is delivered with persistence and authenticity, that organization gains a true advantage. So while it may not take a journey to the mountain summit to commune with branding gurus; truly being a successful leader in your field will take conscientious introspection into your differentials.