No one can hear you at the back of the line

Drowning in a red ocean? Build a brand platform that sets you apart.
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I have good news and bad news. First the bad: Too many companies are part of the chorus line where everyone is chanting the same messages. Especially the ones selling intangible services. And now the good news: With an intelligent brand platform, you can step out of the chorus line and take a stronger position in the minds of your customers.

Selling commodities is hard. The kind of semi-invisible, intangible, low-interest products and services that are rarely noticed: Electricity, internet, telephony, insurance, and so on.

Common to most providers of these kinds of products and services is that they don’t differentiate – and it only gets worse when you look at B2B companies. Internet providers, for example, as a general rule, will try to talk about qualities such as good customer service, broad coverage, high uptime, and great speeds.

Those might be decisive in the eyes of the provider. But for customers, they are predictable ‘qualities’. They reveal nothing about the brand and they say nothing about why the consumer should pick one provider over another. So how can you ever really separate brands when they don’t just offer the same, they also say the same?

It takes more than that. Something that reaches beyond products and services. It takes a brand platform that introduces a stepping stone to tell stories that activate the brand in new ways. A platform that creates a red thread from the brand to a bigger picture in which customers can see themselves – that differentiates the brand distinctly from the competition.

So how can you ever really separate brands when they don’t just offer the same, they also say the same?
Mette Hejl CEO & Partner

Create a different playing field

It can be very difficult to zoom out and focus on something other than just products. And that’s why most companies – commodities provider or not – end up in a kind of predictable ‘marketing box’, depending on their industry.

IT and tech companies, for example, like to focus on digitization; engineering companies often focus on optimization and product specifications; and the utility sector likes to emphasize the green transition. Obviously, this is an oversimplification, and there’s good reason for IT companies to circle in on ‘digitization’, for example. It puts a frame around a multi-faceted and technically complex topic – and provides a common ‘language’ that unites providers and buyers.

But if you find yourself trapped in one of these ‘boxes’, and you want to break free from the chorus of competitors, you need to create a different playing field. A brand platform that provides you with a differentiated starting point from which to tell the relevant stories that your competitors cannot. Honestly, it’s one of the hardest things to pull off. And that’s why so few companies are able to break free from the chorus line.

The soloists and the choir

A strong brand platform is developed from something real. Something true and relevant. It can be abstract, aspirational or completely tangible. Most importantly, the brand platform must be relevant to both the company and its customers – and it must be meaningful to the employees. Let me provide you with some Danish examples.

Trade unions can be hard to distinguish and they rarely contribute with real value when you don’t need them. That’s why Krifa is interesting. The trade union uses the Danish phrase ‘God Arbejdslyst’ (loosely translated as “Enjoy Yourself”) to create a brand platform that provides the space to talk about how work affects all aspects of life. The platform plays on a common expression that’s easy to remember and relates to the daily lives of their customers. At the same time, it helps divert attention from the union’s potentially problematic Christian background and independent political standpoint.

Like trade unions, telephone providers fall victim to the commodity issue. That’s why Call Me is worth mentioning. With “Tal ordentligt” (loosely translated as “Speak politely”) the telephone provider successfully connects their core services to a related topic – good form. The platform contains a long line of initiatives, including teaching resources, and focuses on topics such a bullying and family time. It’s elegantly relevant, differentiating, and it hits the mark. And most importantly, the platform ensures that Call Me gets noticed among the swarm of telephone providers that aren’t able to communicate anything else beyond broad coverage, good customer service, and low prices.

One last example of a commodity provider that stands out, is the Danish company OK. They offer everything from telephone services, electricity, insurance, and gasoline. In other words, almost every commodity product you can imagine – and yet, they succeed. By using local sports sponsorships to promote their brand, OK presents itself as a likeable and locally present company. Local sports provide a unique platform from which to communicate and a space that OK shares with no one.

Three obvious and well-used examples, but this just underlines the point: It’s really hard to successfully create a brand platform and that’s why there are so few examples to highlight. At the same time, they’re all B2C cases and this also underlines my previous point that B2B companies too often lack courage. But back to the good news from my opening: It’s nowhere near impossible to succeed – and the benefits should be clear by now.

A multi-faceted story

A successful brand platform works in natural continuation of the company’s DNA. It emerges in the well-known playing field, but activates uncultivated potential. It offers you a multi-faceted story that lets you take the lead in space that only you own.

It’s not easy to create a believable brand platform – and that’s why so many companies get lost in the chorus line. And that’s dangerous. Because if you don’t compete on anything other than the usual parameters, then why would your customers ever choose you over the competition?

No one can hear you at the back of the line, so make your way to front.