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Brands need to be meaningfully different and relevant

Contrasting consumer expectations and needs – especially within different cultural contexts – means all brand communication strategies must and will vary according to the audience but one thing is for certain, brands need communication with their consumers, and in many cases, actually participation in the intellectual and social development of the brand, if they want to offer a meaningful different brand experience.

Given this mishmash of motivations, how can a brand be distinguished in a way that is productive, rather than just splash of attention-seeking color in a black and white world?

For example, Threadless of Chicago, an online t-shirt company that has an on-going open-call for design submissions, with seven chosen each week for production, offers winners a cash prize, and the initiative has generated more than half a million users as well as up to 1,000 potential designs weekly.

For the bigger corporates, the meaningful difference can just be a move away from traditional marketing avenues to tap in to 21st century concerns.

PepsiCo, for instance, for the first time in 23 years, did not spend on Super Bowl advertising for its iconic brand. Instead, the company diverted $20 million to the social media-fuelled Pepsi Refresh Project, inviting consumers to submit ideas for grants for health, environmental, social, educational, and cultural causes.

Consumers voted for their favorite ideas, and PepsiCo funded the winners in grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000, impacting the lives of more than 1.4 million people through the award of more than 1,000 grants – although to bring the focus back to the product, codes were printed on Pepsi drinks to be redeemed for ‘power votes’.

Here in the region, one major brand differentiation is often found in the personality of the founder whose force field can be used to spearhead entrance in to a diverse range of sectors and gain loyal following.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, for example, is chairman of companies in the financial, equities, construction and property industries, a dynamic entrepreneur whose empire has enjoyed solid success for many years.

What makes the difference with this group is Al Qassemi’s other activities – lecturer at the Dubai Men’s College and non-resident fellow of the Dubai School of Government…

And …co-host of the Business Tonight radio show; social media ambassador and prolific Twitterer (@SultanAlQassemi) described as being instrumental in raising awareness of the Arab Spring through his feed; commentator on Arab affairs and columnist who has featured in Gulf News, The New York Times, Financial Times, Open Democracy the The Guardian.

For a local company with global aspirations, the concept of co-creation underpins its brand ambition, exemplified by the recently relaunched Malabar Gold & Diamonds, a home grown jewellery brand from Kerala.

After exhaustive quantitative and qualitative consumer studies in the key markets spanning India, GCC, and the Far East, they learnt that while their discerning consumers were looking for value for money, they were equally ready to experience the brand in its contemporary context and this data evolved as the basis of a new positioning, identity and retail brand experience.

The company’s is matching its ambitious growth plan of doubling its 2012 revenue of USD2.4 billion to about USD6 billion by 2012 by listening to their customers who supported the change of brand essential to develop and nurture a growing global diverse customer base.

Brands should not be ‘different’ just for the sake of it, without any insight in to the relevance of that difference.

For any brand to succeed, it helps to go back to basics to look at motivation and purchasing and interactive patterns – practical and tangible, emotional and intangible, or a mix of all of these.

Whilst differentiation is the ultimate goal of any brand marketing, setting your company apart from its competitive set to create custom, loyalty and, ultimately, profit, in today’s economy, it helps if your brand is meaningfully relevant yet different.

*By Tanita Sandhu, Executive Client Director, Middle East, The Brand Union, a WPP strategic branding agency.

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