by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) I’ve been reading a lot in the B2B marketing media about “distinctiveness”. It’s all proclaiming the higher branding power of being distinctive, rather than merely different. I’m troubled by this. It strikes me that a potent B2B brand, one that’s unarguably far more effective at triggering deals than a sales team, has to be distinctive and different.

Your brand makes a promise of achievement for customers but a promise is only worth the trust we have in it. So, your brand must make a trusted promise, and it must make that promise to everyone who influences buying decisions in all your markets. It must win positive consideration so that influencers want your firm on a list of prospective vendors, whether that’s next week or next year.

Winning positive consideration

You are what your markets think you are. Market-perceptions of your offering are your brand. More specifically, influencers’ perceptions are your brand, and their perceptions are based on how much they trust a brand to deliver on its promise.

Though I’ve said it before, your brand becomes a trusted promise when all the different influencers see it like this:

  1. Relevance: It’s obvious to me why I should support buying from you.
  2. Evidence: My risk is minimised by your proven ability to deliver results I need.
  3. Difference: I can justify selecting you over and above your competitors.
  4. Prominence: Your reputation is understood and respected in my industry/line-of-business.

To earn the positive consideration that stems from a trusted promise, you must be ‘distinctively different’.

Being distinctively different: winning hearts and minds

Unless you want to compete on price alone, you must differentiate your offering and its deliverables from your competitors’. That’s about differentiating what you offer and what you achieve. It’s all rational, practical stuff about process and purpose, and you may read more here on how to differentiate.

But, as a fast recap, here’s a simple illustration of what a differentiated brand should look like:

What you offer What you achieve Who benefits, how they benefit

To be distinctive, you must amplify your promise — who benefits and how — above that of your competitors. You’ve got to elevate it above all the me-too chatter. Crucially, being distinctive means promoting a crystal-clear promise that heightens influencers’ immediate emotional response to the benefits you deliver.

Emotional in B2B? Our most-affecting and -enduring memories are emotionally rooted. A distinctive brand promise embeds itself because of its emotive foundations, its clarity and its immediacy — people get it right away. And they remember it.

However… They don’t buy inappropriate, overpriced, poorly supported, inferior products with unreliable lead-times just because of your promise’s emotional appeal. They don’t think, “Wow! That product’s totally crap but it’s so pleasing — let’s buy it!” They don’t lose their minds just because you won their hearts. Fact-based differentiation always matters.

B2B marketing - different vs distinctive. Credit: Mark Eardley

Covering the bases for growth: long term, short term

If you’re selling infrequently purchased products, right now, very few of all your potential customers are at an advanced stage in the buying decision cycle. If they are and you don’t know it, your brand is a failure. Pack your stuff and leave the building.

They might be aware of you. So what? They’re not considering you. You’re not even sitting on the bench. Result? No sale.

So, the challenge for your brand is to ensure all potential customers think well of you. You must be widely known and widely respected. Why? Because growth comes from building market share. It comes from getting more customers, rather than selling more to existing ones. Unless you’re constantly introducing new offerings, selling to existing customers doesn’t create growth. Once all the up-sell and cross-sell is done, you hit a wall.

Continuing growth depends on the power of your brand to drive positive consideration across all your markets, now and in the future. But growth is incremental. The short term develops into the long term. Growth doesn’t just emerge fully formed at some point in the long-term future.

If a strong, distinctive brand doesn’t drive sales today, what reason is there to think that it will do so tomorrow? If it isn’t winning hearts and minds immediately, it never will.

PS There’s nothing at all new or trendy about being ‘distinctively different’. Here are two print-ad examples from 2006 of some distinctive brand-building of my own devising.

Turnstar job offer print ad 2006 by Mark Eardley Turnstar warning bullet print ad 2006 by Mark Eardley

See also


Mark EardleyMark Eardley (@mdeardley) advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. Apart from his new column for TGIFood, he and Charlie Stewart have written Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. His monthly “Back2Basics” column on MarkLives covers how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing.

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