A few years ago, I coined this term, “Differessence”, to refer to that core, central, essential aspect or characteristic of a brand that also differentiates the brand from its competitors. The point being, in part, that any brand has many aspects, characteristics, attributes and benefits. But very few if any of them is truly differentiating.
Conversely, a brand may have a very differentiating attribute or benefit, but that attribute or benefit isn’t really central to the brand. Instead, it may just be a temporary thing, like a the competitive advantage a brand may gain from some product innovation that is only differentiating until the competition catches up with that innovation.
I’ve found the term, “Differessence”, very useful, especially when trying to explain the role of taglines in the branding communication spectrum.
One thing I’ve learned since I started using this term is that a brand’s differessence often, maybe even always, involves some intangible quality of the brand that can be variously characterized as brand personality, philosophy, world view, or a brand point of view regarding its offering, its customers or the world in general. For example, some brands’ differessences are related to a particular sense of humor which is key to the brand personality. This is the case, often cited, with Geico. They constantly push the ease and cost-saving benefits, but the vehicles they use to deliver this message, (The Gecko, The Caveman, and more than a dozen other, less easily identified, campaigns over the last decade or so), are always humor-based.
These campaigns have been remarkably consistent in their humorousness, with a couple of exceptions. First, lately the Gecko is showing signs of having been used up. And the latest addition to Geico’s campaign collection is a very uncharacteristic stinker, seemingly created by summer interns. I’m speaking of the ads with the two musicians ham-handedly delivering punchlines that needlessly “explain” the preceding visual illustration of just how happy a person will be when they save money on insurance that precedes the appearance of the two musicians. This campaign is structurally flawed, ensuring that every spot will be unfunny because it insults the viewer by overexplaining the joke.
To quote Ellen, “Anyway . . .”
The point I’m getting at is that a brand’s differessence often doesn’t ride on some unique, ownable or proprietary benefit of the product or service. Rather, it may have more to do with the what I might term the “brand manner”—they way in which the brand expresses itself, relates to its customers or views the world.
Brands that don’t really understand their own differessence are often revealed simply by way of the inconsistency of tone, attitude or personality their advertising takes over time.
To stay in the insurance category, both State Farm (with what I call it’s “beer ad” campaign), and Allstate, (with its Mayhem campaign), have recently turned to humor, which marks a dramatic departure from the tonality of decades of previous ad campaigns. It is ironic that this puts both brands in the position of appearing to be copycat wannabees to Geico, which is the relative newcomer on the insurance advertising block.
We won’t even speak of the sad, lame Progressive campaign.
When I first coined the term, “Differessence”, I assumed that the term would usually refer to some benefit the brand promises, (like shiny floors for Mr. Clean), but it turns out not to be so simple. A brand’s differessence can certainly be about a unique benefit, but it seems like it is more often about that benefit wrapped in a unique personality or philosophy, or else it is about that personality or philosphy itself, while any benefit the brand offers is relegated to secondary status.
NOTE TO READERS OF THIS BLOG: It is always my hope that this stuff I spout won’t go unchallenged. Push back, people, if what I’m saying seems like stuff I’m just making up or whatever.