Brand Differentiation and 3 Examples of Doing It Right

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    April 28, 2023

Brand Differentiation and 3 Examples of Doing It Right


Once upon a time, in a faraway land of rolling hills and scrubby plants, tucked beneath soaring mountain peaks and iconic rock formations, there was a great trade show trio. A fearless group of marketing and creative professionals traveled to the fabled NAHB International Builders’ Show, Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and SURFACES event to care for and connect with their homebuilding and remodeling clients. A curious creative director was among this group of agency gurus, and one day, he decided to walk the trade show floors in search of wildly creative brands.

As the art director-turned-creative director, photographer and filmmaker wandered the aisles, he contemplated the many physical installations of brand campaigns. There, in West Hall: a real-life clash of competitors assigned to adjacent booths! At the outdoor Show Village, bathed in desert sunlight: demonstration homes and shiny new products! But something was mostly missing from this amalgamation of industry titans and challengers:

Brand differentiation.

The inquisitive creative director kept his eyes peeled for personifications of unique propositions. Where were the brands zagging whenever their competitors zigged? Where were the brands courageous enough to take risks? Where were the marketing mavens who dared to be different?

Imagine his surprise when he realized that, save for the occasional wave, he was swimming in a sea of sameness (SOS!).

But why did this apparent dearth of brand differentiation leave the creative director not only bewildered but also gasping for air?

Brand differentiation could be a matter of success or failure.

Brand differentiation is, put simply, what earns audiences’ attention. It’s the secret sauce that turns your ho-hum hamburger into an institution. It’s the occultism that makes you original. It’s how you pry customers from the competition … and turn those customers into advocates for your brand.

Now, trade shows aren’t the be-all and end-all, but for many brands, they're a big deal. For Wray Ward’s clients in the home and building category, for example, the International Builders’ Show might be the best chance all year to connect with large numbers of customers and could-be customers in residential construction.

But here’s the catch: Standing out in the crowd may be the hardest part of trade show activations.

That’s why we encourage our clients to operate from a unique playbook. Unless you own your category, it isn’t enough to check the same interchangeable boxes as the competition, year after year.

What are examples of brands winning the trade show floor?

Wray Ward supports brands with everything from pre-show communication to booth design, influencer marketing tactics and post-show lead management. But the companies killing it in the trade show space deserve the lion’s share of the credit for doing it better than the competition.

Here are a handful of home and building brands making it work.

1. GE Appliances

First, let’s take a small step back in time: In 2022, my friends at GE Appliances won Best of Show for their IBS exhibit.

Since Thomas Edison patented his incandescent lamp design in 1880, innovation has been the driving force at GE. Sure, trade show exhibit design can’t hold a candle to electric light, but this effort was brilliant. Imagine glass jewelry display cases, each housing a vignette that represented a persona (e.g., persona A gravitates toward this clutch, bling and palette).

It was an effective and memorable way to illustrate the design language of GE Appliances’ CAFÉ line of distinct, customizable kitchen appliances.

2. Huber Engineered Woods

Now, take the folks at Huber Engineered Woods, manufacturer of ZIP System building enclosures and AdvanTech Subfloor Assembly. They’ve created a case study on how to do trade shows well. I like to attend their annual Best of Social Awards, designed to build camaraderie and show appreciation for the online building community. This year, they expanded their booth with 15 feet of carpet down the middle just to accommodate the huge crowd they drew.

Can you picture 400 people in one spot, every last one jacked about ZIP System and AdvanTech products? I’ve seen it. From emcee Matt Risinger (custom builder and host of “The Build Show”) to the award winners and bystanders, you can feel everyone’s chest swell, as if to say:

We’re architects. We’re builders. We’re making amazing things together. We aren’t just making structures — we’re making people’s homes.

You won’t see it on any collateral, but the underlying message is, “If you’re in this business and you care about your craft, you use these (ZIP System and AdvanTech) products.”

That isn’t a forced association. It’s as real as it gets.

3. Moen

Moen is the No. 1 faucet brand in North America, but how does it stand out on a crowded trade show floor? The booth can’t just look good — it needs to be smart. Furthermore, the products can’t simply look good — they have to improve people’s lives.

Cue Moen’s seamless introduction of a utilitarian product in an elegant manner that matches the rest of the brand.

Sound like a tall order? Well, Moen succeeded, and the “how” lies somewhere between smart product design and storytelling. These days, if your products aren’t getting smarter, they’re getting left behind. So it’s only right that smart-home technology extends to the home’s most important resource: water.

That’s why Moen leveraged their Smart Water Network to change the game, stepping outside of kitchen and bath with a beautiful irrigation addition to their portfolio of smart-water solutions. This bold move, in turn, differentiated Moen from flashier brands and positioned them as purposeful innovators.

It’s not technology for technology’s sake. It’s innovation that makes life simpler and easier and brings peace of mind. It’s a natural expression of one brand’s love for, focus on and ability to control water. It’s a beautiful personalization of our planet’s most precious resource. And yet, it’s not just for looks — it’s for a better way of living, all for the love of water.

That’s powerful stuff.

But what about the 352 days a year when we’re not at a trade show?

As I said earlier, trade shows aren’t everything, though they might be your best chance all year to connect with large numbers of customers. Trade shows are also apt to reveal which brands know how to “zag” responsibly … and those that don’t.

So, what’s the secret to zagging in ALL the right places, at all the right times?

I’ve always told our people at Wray Ward, “No one will pay attention unless you give them a reason. Remember, you want your audience to spend time with the things you create. Think about what’s important to them, and bring THAT to life in the coolest, most creative way possible.”

Maybe it comes down to what I said earlier about Huber’s Best of Social Awards. Could taking pride in your craft (or product or service) be the secret to everything? Sure, you manufacture subflooring or drywall or air filtration or (insert any product here), but you also provide a solution that makes a builder’s job easier or a family’s home more comfortable. Does your product reduce callbacks? Make construction more efficient? Keep families healthy?

Whatever it is that makes your brand and its products or services special, there’s real power and magic in it. And, that inherent, special quality taps into what’s most important to your customers.

Talk about a secret sauce.

Will your brand dare to be different?

This isn’t a blog post about trade shows. This is a post about disrupting the status quo. Because it’s amazing what you can achieve just by doing things a little differently — as long as you go about doing “different” in a thoughtful, authentic way.

But disruption is simply the first step. You got your audience’s attention with a kickass booth, or a gorgeous ad, or a subject line that sings. Great! Now, can you turn that first blush into a conversation? Reward your audience for taking time with your brand?

Can you escape the dreaded sea of sameness by saying or doing something that’s unique and also meaningful?

If you’re treading water in that sea, don’t send an SOS.

Just send me an email.

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