The concept of being different and 'standing out from the crowd' always seems like a great idea during brand and marketing development. The brief is clear; we must be different from the competition. Non-conformity is the only option.
Until it's time to launch, then reality hits home. Like the brightly coloured jeans we bought online in a fit of inspiration, we're now standing in front of the mirror worrying what people will think.
"...We want our website to look more like our competitor's".
A retraction like this is not as silly as it seems.
Being different for the sake of it has risks.
Every industry has what I call key averages. Key averages are critical tangible and intangible functionality that your customer expects.
For example, we expect a luxury goods brand to command a hefty price tag and have strong market positioning that people recognise.
We assume a commercial airline has an app that lets you check in and quickly select preferred seats.
The very fact you compete with other businesses is entirely reliant on conformity. To compete requires you to be compared. If customers can't experience and identify the key averages, differentiation is merely a hindrance to generating revenue.
Using a website as an example, if there's a common theme in your industry with regards to links and site navigation, it's best to conform with it.
Make it easy for customers to find your services, products and information. For instance, do you call the link to your products page 'Stuff You Need' or 'Products? Do you call the company information page link 'Get The Lowdown' or 'About Us'?
Knowing your key averages is a prerequisite for effective differentiation. Anyone can be 'different'. Being 'effectively different' requires thought, process and careful execution.
Be strategic in your conformity and know where in your business your true difference needs to be experienced to build a unique brand.
Great brands are such because they know precisely how to conform and where and how to be different.