How to Design to Compete
Make Your Brand Stand Out without Alienating Consumers
Designing a brand that is unique among your competitors is not always as simple as merely looking different. Customers often have a certain expectation of what a product or service "should" look like, so looking too different could actually confuse or drive away your audience. So what's the balance? Let's talk about it.
With an ever growing saturated market, how do I design a brand that can compete, stand out, and actually get results?
Quick Summary if you're in a rush.
Design Wise: Similar vs. Opposite > aka. Polarizing / Example: FedEx, Chick Fil-A, Starbucks, Energizer Bunny
Marketing Wise: Brand Story + Personality > Ex. Tooshie: Customer Service, Quality Product, Funny Messaging, Marketing & Timing
Clear Message + Consistency > Clear message, clear design, repeat to death. Ex. Geico, repetitive
KRD/Brand Spin: TBH, don't sweat it too much. Be true to you + be consistent = You'll win out in the end, because your audience is tailor fit to you.
Similar vs. Opposite Design
When it comes to visual design, most people tend to lean toward looking as different as possible. Everyone wants a unique look that will stand out among competitors. However, the tricky part is, if you look too different, consumers may not recognize you as being within the same industry or offering as your competitors. This raises the question, when should I make my brand look similar vs. different than industry standard?
Basically when they were first starting out, their main competitor was UPS. All mailed packages were wrapped in brown craft paper. Very standard, but very boring. So in order to compete, they decided to do the opposite thing, and brand themselves using white packaging and bright color accents. When they dropped off their packages (bc they started on a college campus originally I think?? Gotta fact check that.) people were so surprised by the bright/friendly packaging and absolutely loved their fresh take on boring mailer wrap, that they created a buzz around their brand.
In 2009, following suit of many other big brand redesigns, Tropicana decided to rebrand. They cleaned up their look, simplified, went the minimalist look that was just starting to become trendy at the time (probably spurned on by the Pepsi rebrand. Pretty sure they're an off shoot brand of Pepsi, so makes sense. Again, gotta fact check that.) And then what happened was, because the design was so different, their customer base couldn't easily identify their package, and they LOST out on sales. Crazy sauce! They actually saw a decrease in sales after repackaging because they didn't realize that their specific packaging template and logo had become iconic for their brand. This is an example of an – If it' ain't broke, don't fix it! – scenario.
Opposite: Energizer Bunny
Same deal as FedEx. When they were either first coming out or rebranding, not sure which, their main competitor was (and still is) Duracell. Duracell had branded themselves to be what they are, batteries, straight forward. Duracell designed their brand to suit men, because hardware needs batteries, you buy batteries at the hardware shop with your other tech/gadget/whatever stuff, batteries are the type of things guys buy, okay cool. Downside, women actually do most of the shopping. Energizer designed their batteries for women, added on a cute little bunny because yay cute mascots, gave them a whole thang for their marketing to run off of, and were really successful. Having batteries designed to women and positioned by the cash register on their way out the store actually ended up being way more effective that what Duracell assumed would be successful.
Brand Story + Personality
One of the best ways to position yourself in marketing is to create an engaging and endearing brand story or personality. A brand story is something people can get behind, like your mission, drive, history, something people really love. Brand personality could be something that makes your product fun, quirky, interesting, etc.
Hilariously done branding for a bidet company. I found out about Tushy from a friend during the Toilet Paper Scarcity Drought of 2020. Their brand personality is so well done, I want to do an entire blog on them! They're so fun. They make talking about poop and clean booties so fun, entertaining, accessible, and completely removes the uncomfortable taboo atmosphere usually surrounding this topic. They've incorporated their witty sense of humor in so many places, they quickly become a brand you want to share with your friends!
>> Link: https://hellotushy.com/
The eat chicken not cows campaign ran by cows. Funny. As I'm sure you're aware of Chick-fil-A by now, but when 10 years ago when I first learned about this fast food stop, I cracked up laughing at their clever marketing campaign. Rather than doing the predictable move of slapping a chicken mascot across all their collateral, Chick-fil-A took the "go opposite" idea pretty literal, and built up their brand based one cows redirecting customers to "Eat Mor Chikin." Clever, funny, and now with thousands of restaurants across the states, a brand personality that clearly worked!
Healthy Roots Dolls
Founder Yelitsa Jean-Charles was in college studying illustration when she created her concept for Zoe, a curly-haired black doll that resembled herself. She tweeted a side by side photo of her and the doll she created with her startup, Healthy Roots Dolls. Within 48 hours the tweet went viral and sold several hundred orders of Zoe dolls at $79.99 each, a much higher price point than your average doll. What made it work? The brand story was all about inclusion, representation, and depicting diversity to little girls who until now had limited choices of what their dolls looked like. The story resonated so deeply, that venture capitalist, Arlan Hamilton, invested $125,000 into the company, saying, "I know as a little girl, we had a little black boy, a Cabbage Patch Kid. Other than that, every doll I ever had was a white Barbie." For Healthy Roots, their brand personality wasn't rooted in humor (like the first two examples) but in speaking to deeper feelings, purpose, and vision for the future that many others like Yelitsa shared.
>> Link: https://healthyrootsdolls.com/
Consistency + Repetition
Figure out your key points, get real clear on your message, figure out your core brand elements (look, fonts, colors, etc.), and repeat until you die. (Just kidding on the death part, not kidding on the consistency part.)
At first their commercials were so random that it was like what the heck is even going on here? From a branding perspective, I couldn't understand their take, there was no cohesion or theme among their ads at all. It seemed as if they were just finding as many ways to show up in front of the consumer, as often as possible, even if it was in the weirdest way, and even if there was no consistent visual brand or theme threaded throughout. However, over the years, they've become so consistent at being SO oddball, that now I can tell when it's a Geico commercial. There's something about the tone and pacing that has started to feel very familiar. And I have to say, for better or for worse, it's effective. They always seem to pop up in a new way, and then catch me with their logo at the end. And maybe there's something to be said for being a brand so big and mainstream, that they don't need to rely on your typical branding techniques for continuity.
Empire Today Jingle
I think every person knows this jingle, whether they're looking for a carpet cleaner or not. Growing up, this was one of the most consistent commercials on TV, and you know what, it works. So much so, that years later, close to 2 million people have searched for this commercial on Youtube. Crazy sauce. But they kept their colors, jingle, and approach consistent, and it works!
Do I even need to label this one? We all already know it's a marketing campaign for Target. They've used their brand elements and two-color palette so consistently, and in such fun, innovative, playful ways, that it's easy to discern when you're looking at a Target branded piece. The red and white is so strongly used, that even if you see this color combo or circle application elsewhere, you might still think of Target. Their consistency, playfulness, and repetitive usage has garnered them a large loyal fan base, virtually making their competition irrelevant.
KRD SPIN: Back to Our Initial Question
When Should I Make my Brand Look Similar vs. Different than Industry Standard?
I don't think there is a blanket answer to this question. This is where doing all the initial brand legwork is really important. If you've done your homework, researched your competition, but also took a lot of time to focus on your business, what makes it unique, what it's core values, key themes, and what your natural brand personality is, then this question will answer itself once you start designing.
Because here's the real, honest, truth...
Don't sweat it! Be true to you + be consistent = You'll win out in the end, because your audience is tailor fit to you.
If you decide to go polar opposite, and create a brand that goes against the norm, and looks completely new and fresh in your industry, then that's great! That most likely represents the spunky, rebellious, or innovative nature of your business and will resonate with the audience you attract.
If you decide to stick to something more in-line with what current industry standards are doing too, then fantastic! Your customer base will know you're dependable, easily understand your brand, and be attracted to your reliability.
If you prioritize being true to yourself or your company's mission, your brand will always be consistent, and that reliability is the highest amount of value you can gain against competition.
Hero Banner Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/bKjHgo_Lbpo
Tropicana Photo Credit: https://thebrandhopper.com/2020/09/25/case-study-tropicana-rebranding-failure/
Tushy Bidet: https://hellotushy.com/
Chick-fil-A Photo Credit: https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/chicken-beef-untold-story-chick-fil-cow-campaign-171834/
Target Photo Credit: http://cargocollective.com/peters/Target-Branding-2015
Target Branding article by Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/allenadamson/2010/10/27/the-target-brand-gets-the-simple-things-right-and-a-lot-more/?sh=5de067c41024
Target Branding: https://expertmedia.design/blog/2019/08/08/learn-from-the-masters-why-targets-branding-works/#:~:text=Target%20describes%20their%20own%20brand,and%20is%20affordable%20to%20all.%E2%80%9D
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About the Author
Hi I'm Kat! I've been a graphic designer for over ten years, five of which I've specialized in Brand Identity Design. I AM ON A MISSION to help business owners deliver their gifts, services, or products to the audience that needs them through cohesive, effective Branding that helps them stand out in the market place. To learn more about me, my branding process, or my design background, check out my site, katmaidesigns.com.