In Marty Neumier’s book, “The Brand Gap,” he specifically points out “differentiation” as a primary discipline – requiring special attention.

Although I agree that brand differentiation is important, I have to constantly remind myself AND my clients, simply being different really doesn’t cut it.

Our brains are hard-wired to wade through the din of messages being thrown at us in blast emails, web banners, direct mail campaigns, drive-time radio, billboards, television commercials and even our cherished blogs. It sends the blah, irrelevant, and mundane to the back of the sorting center to be purged, and brings the UNIQUE front-and-center for closer evaluation and consideration. It also brings the familiar and comfortable (RELEVANT) to the front to create a “mental comfort-zone” that will be a continually growing foundation of your personal and commercial decision-making life.

Now, growing up in the ‘80s, I remember those kids that walked around wearing nothing but Doc Martens, baggy, black clothes, eyeliner, and numerous studded body parts. They were different. They “stood out from the crowd.” Sure. They were trying to build their own brand – their own culture. Or, as described in Neumier’s book, they were trying to create “tribal identification.”

At a recent college class reunion, I tried to reconnect with those kids with the black eyeliner and military boots (yes, I was one of them – for about a week). Can you guess what I found? They looked like everyone else – 20 years/pounds “past their prime,” respectable haircuts, a wallet full of kid photos, and Ralph Lauren or Old Navy emblazoned on every stitch of clothing they wore.

So, what happened to their personal “tribal identification?” Easy. They realized being different without being relevant wasn’t enough – not to mention the low scores in the Engaging column… but that’s another post.

When you and your marketing team review marketing plans, looking for the “Next Big Thing,” remember this: TRUE Branding starts out being Truthful; then, closely followed, comes being Relevant. After those have been solidly defined, then you can be as UNIQUE as you want. But simply being different really doesn’t cut it.

What are your experiences with brands that “try” differentiation without considering truth and relevance? Do you know of any? Can you even remember any? Try it. If your brain has done its job, this one might be a challenge.

Keep Cooking!

Thanks to for the use of the “VERY COOL” American Gothic image.