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Starting a brand is not just about launching a great product or service. It’s about deciding what makes you different (your unique brand positioning), then telling your story through your product, environment, behaviour and communications.

Differentiation. That word crops up an awful lot in marketing meetings. And it’s the most difficult thing in the world to hit upon when you’re a brand. Your product looks the same, acts the same, comes in the same colours or operates in the same way as others. But what makes you stand out is your belief in changing the world, in helping people or entertaining your customers.

Differentiating in a crowded marketplace

Say Coca Cola and most people would use words like youth, energy and the great American dream (if not too much sugar). Paris is romance. The Body Shop is about fairtrade. Apple trades on great design and simplicity. John Lewis is about offering sensible products and ethical trading, and Selfridges is cool and finger-on-the-pulse.

Say Coca Cola and most people would use words like youth, energy and the great American dream

None of this is an accident. Each brand has decided what it stands for and communicates it again and again – in different ways, mind you, but consistently and constantly, sometimes over hundreds of years.

And in today’s noisy and competitive market, where so many products are the same, it’s hugely important to create loyalty and stand-out. It’s not just about launching a terrific product any more and watching it fly off the shelves: you need to develop a clear position in the market and signpost just how you are different from competitors.

Lack of clarity means lack of sales

Some brands get it wrong. Marks & Spencer still trades on being Britain’s most beloved and trusted high-street store, and spent millions on advertising using some of Britain’s most famous females. But their quality, design and in-store experience make many consider them outmoded and dull. How about our police force? Is it a bunch of jolly bobbies who help confused foreigners with directions or corrupt, violent bullies? Harrods is famous for its double identity; to some, it represents the world’s most luxurious store. To others, it’s a hideous insult to taste.

This split personality in branding creates confusion with customers, and that makes it difficult for them to identify what you stand for – and ultimately difficult to buy from.

That’s why these core values must reflect the innermost philosophy behind an organization, and influence everything the brand does – from what it produces, where it does it to how it speaks to the world and how it behaves.

Louis Vuitton’s core values campaign

When the recession hit, many luxury brands cut back on advertising and gritted their teeth to weather the storm. Louis Vuitton did the opposite. They took stock of what they stood for and launched a multi-media worldwide ad campaign that reinforced the idea at the heart of their company: the journey, in all its different forms.

They piggybacked on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing by featuring astronauts contemplating the journeys that ‘change mankind forever’, and highlighted Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff’s personal journey together. Their TV ad offered the tagline ‘The journey is life itself’. It not only reinforced the brand’s point of difference but turned Louis Vuitton into a master storyteller – and stretched their core value of travel to become a wider philosophy of life

All brands must reinforce their difference

Brands must look inside themselves to see what really drives them – and how it can influence their offer across the board. Apple believes in the simple, and cleverly reflects it in everything from their easy-to-follow instructions to the use of space in-store and even the way they serve you. And that’s not even touching on the product.

Stella McCartney wanted to produce fashion but not at a cost to the planet. The Ford Motor Company in the early 1900s famously stated that they would ‘democratize the automobile’. Innocent wanted to make it easy for people to make each day a bit healthier. Ikea wanted to bring good design to everyone and that involved keeping the prices as low as possible. Volvo’s founders decided in 1927 that safety should be the basic principle in all their cars – and has been ever since. Nike’s aggressive ‘Just do it’ philosophy of pushing yourself reeks of adrenalin and competitiveness, mirrored in the faces they choose for their advertising.

It’s these often simple ideas that allow brands to share their scope and its vision – and connect on a deep emotional level with their customers.