Need to Differentiate? Consider Organizational Values-[David Aaker]

Just when you think you have an offering innovation that powers a meaningful differentiation, a competitor brand copies you. Or, worse, appears to copy you.

But what a competitor brand cannot copy is an organization—its people, culture, heritage, programs, assets and capabilities— because each organization should be unique and enduring. There are dozens of organizational values to implement in order to differentiate, but six keep resurfacing as driving forces:

Perceived Quality
A basic organizational function is to create offerings that consistently deliver high quality with respect to their brand promise. Perceived quality is a key consideration in nearly every context. A distinction is made between the argument that an offering is of the highest quality, and the more general claim that the organization so values and rewards high quality that it will ensure that of all its offerings can be expected to live up to that standard. Thus, a customer does not have to analyze specifications, read reviews and talk to other users. Just knowing that the organization designed and delivered the offering is enough.

Being innovative is one of the most universal organizational values. Most organizations want to be known for being innovative in order to be associated with advanced offerings, a dynamic company, and a contemporary brand with energy and movement. An innovative reputation is regarded as imperative for firms in which technology plays a role in the offerings, or when offering advances are part of the value proposition.

Concern for Customers
Many organizations, from Zappos to Lexus to the Mayo Clinic, place the customer first as part of their brand promise. These brands have created significant loyalty based on a visible culture and programs put in place to please customers. If a firm can credibly communicate such a philosophy, customers not only gain confidence in its products and services but also feel that someone cares for them. It is a lot easier to like someone who likes you.

Success, size and longevity suggest competence, substance and even excellence. It breeds confidence, positive attitudes, and sometimes prestige (especially in Asia). People are reassured by an organization with the resources to back up its products and a reputation for having been in business for the long term, especially in high-tech markets. Just being known and visible can affect the use experience and thus reinforce a reputation. For decades, GE created a strong brand mainly by the aura of marketplace success that was validated by a visible CEO and the stock market.

Environmental Programs
It is amazing how many firms have signed on to environmental programs and have delivered substance as well as talk. They believe being green is the right thing to do, it makes employees feel good about their employer and it provides a way to connect to the substantial group of customers who care about the same issue. The segment that will resonate with sustainability efforts may be a minority, maybe 10 to 40 percent of the market, depending on the context and the definition of “caring,” but this group still can make the difference between market success and mediocrity.

Social Programs
A higher-purpose goal can also focus on addressing social needs, especially those that have a fit with the organization and can employ organizational assets and skills. For example, McDonald’s has the Ronald McDonald House, started nearly forty years ago, which provides housing for families whose children are hospitalized and the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, which provides healthcare for needy children. P&G’s Live, Learn, and Thrive cause helps children in need around the world get off to a healthy start, receive access to education and build skills for life. TOMS gives away a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold under the tagline “One for One.”

The brand-as-an-organization perspective provides a route to differentiation, because organizations and their values are difficult to copy. Organizational values are powerful drivers of customer relationships. They give credibility to a value proposition, provide substance to endorser roles and create a higher purpose that will inspire employees as well as customers.

David Aaker is a best-selling author and Vice Chairman at Prophet, a strategic brand and marketing consultancy. He blogs weekly at and can be found on Twitter @DavidAaker.

His next book, Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success is available for pre-ordering now. For a limited time, purchase 25 or more copies of Aaker on Branding and save 42%. Click here for more information.

photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via photopin cc



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