Brand Differentiation: Ten Traps to Avoid

Matthew Fenton
7 min readOct 13, 2020

In my last post, I proposed five principles of brand differentiation:

1. The goal is not “difference.” The goal is value and meaning.

2. Differentiation is not something you find. It’s something you create.

3. In branding, as in life, what we do matters more than what we say.

4. “Best” is relative.

5. Be precise with your Who. Be creative with your How.

These are the starting points. But if you’ve ever attempted to cut your own hair during a pandemic — speaking hypothetically, of course! — you know there can be a huge gap between “best intentions” and “end result.” Things go wrong along the way.

The same goes for brand differentiation. There’s the moment of inspiration, and then there’s all the hard work that comes after it.

If it sometimes feels like powerful forces are often stacked against bold new ideas, that’s because they are. This is especially true in organizations with a track record of success. Change is scary and often painful. The status quo is known, and for many people, it’s comfortable enough.

That’s what this post is about: The ten traps, both personal and organizational, that stand in the way of creating meaningful, value and brand differentiation.

Trap 1: “For Everyone”

Sometimes, forces within the organization will entice you to go broad with your targeting. “A bigger market must be a better market,” is the implied reasoning.

Not necessarily.

If you want to stand out, it’s better to go narrow, not wide. Make something that someone will love, not something that everyone will just be okay with.

When you go narrow, you can go deep. And a deep, rich, nuanced view of the humans you serve is a significant competitive advantage.

The alternative is to spread the same resources wide but shallow. And if your knowledge of your humans is surface-level or entirely assumed, you’re placing yourself at a major…

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Matthew Fenton

I write about brand strategy & freelancing. Ex-CMO. Music junkie. For brand leaders: https://matthew-fenton.com/ For freelancers: https://winningsolo.com/