12 Companies That Brilliantly Differentiated Themselves From the Competition

The three most important words in differentiating your brand: focus, focus and focus.- Marty Neumeier*

Today’s winning brands aren’t playing it safe. They never say “that’s how we’ve always done it,” and they know their brands are more - way more - than just a sleek logo or a cool website.

The brands who continually (or soon will) kill their competition are those who understanding that strategic brand goes much deeper than pretty visuals and responsive code. Branding is layered, sculpted, tested and is just a mere reflection of what their customer needs from them vs. what they need from their customer.

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To create a layered, brilliant and competition-killing brand, three things must align.

  1. Understanding of your brand (internal beliefs and communications)
  2. Understanding of your best potential audience(s)
  3. Understanding & differentiating from your competition

Combined, these elements create brand magic.

Not only that - but brands must work with both an “inbound”and “traditional”mindset. Inbound marketing has always been positioned solely as the future of marketing. In reality, it’s simply another tool in your marketing tool belt.

And now, inbound marketing and brand positioning is changing once more - with a new set of rules.

Below Ive curated 12 brilliant companies that are killing it when it comes to differentiating themselves from their competition.

1) LUSH - www.lush.com

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Unlike any other makeup brand on the marketplace.
  • Has international reach with a local “warm and fuzzy”approach that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries.
  • Are advocates for ethical buying, the purity of things handmade.They value social and corporate responsibility over a luxurious and out-of-reach image.
  • Their branding is simple and genuine, great contrast between visuals - not seen elsewhere.
  • They have a massive cult brand following.

How theyre doing it:

  • Understands their customers - appeal to the girl who’s “had enough”and believes in what they believe
  • Selfless with their products - offer free samples and in-store trials on nearly everything
  • They aren’t selling an image - they’re selling a viewpoint on how they define beauty
  • Offer a one-of-a-kind retail experience like you’re walking into an Etsy store in real life

Top Competition: Sephora, BOMB Cosmetics, Etsy


2) AIRSTREAM - www.airstream.com

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Airstream is a cult classic - company began in 1929
  • One of the most recognized RVs on the road - image is iconic
  • Has a massive audience following that embrace the “retro”side of life
  • Great blend of the past meets the future - classic exterior, modern interior
  • A “silent”luxury - it doesn’t scream I’m rich (until you walk inside)
  • Partners with luxury brands like Mercedes Bens

How theyre doing it:

  • Focus on quality, image and community - expensive, but rarely lose value, built to last
  • Relaunched a new website and digital experience in 2014
  • Offers endless community and dealership events - where you can sit in an Airstream to experience it yourself
  • Campaigns focus on their following - with the tagline “Live Riveted”

Top Competition: Jayco, Winnebago, Fleetwood


3) OSCAR HEALTH INSURANCE - www.hioscar.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Health insurance made friendly, make personable, made easy to understand
  • Considering the UX behind buying and understanding health insurance
  • Three words - No more referrals 

How theyre doing it:

  • Uses bright visuals, large short copy, and a parallax scrolling site to make digesting information easy on desktop, mobile and tablet
  • Focusing on a small, niche network just in New York
  • Transparent - partners with doctors, allows you to customize your quote immediately
  • Making customer-benefit promises like “Talk with our doctors for free, one will call you within the hour”

Top Competition: New York Life, MetLife


4) T-MOBILE - www.tmobile.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • A cellular company that is shedding what it means to be a cellular company
  • Catering to a smaller, niche audience which are young, urban dwellers - those who don’t want to be tied down and “owned”by their cellular company
  • Listening and following the behaviors of their core customer - they understand their audience

How theyre doing it:

  • Creates messaging that aims directly at customers biggest pain points and away from their biggest flaw - the size of their network
  • Strong and unique color palette - Think pink!
  • Paying ETF’s - the biggest hurdle in switching carriers
  • Allowing customers to bring in unlocked phones to switch to T-Mobile

Top Competition: AT&T, Verizon Wireless


5. Whole Foods - www.wholefoods.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Going beyond grocery - content generators and thought leaders
  • Mix of tech-savvy and traditional marketing and branding approach
  • Leveraging their site offers a whole new experience offline and online
  • Cultivating why people shop their in the first place - wholesome food source - while still being a top-tier, large, national chain

How they’re doing it:

  • Sharing ideas, generating meaningful content that isn’t boastful or “sales-driven” - they understand what their customer is looking for
  • Promoting a “greener” lifestyle - got rid of plastic bags in 2008
  • Focus on local stores, takes away that feeling of the big chain
  • Bright, unique and cheerful design that is easy to navigate
  • Partnering with shows like Top Chef to promote their food
  • Hosts events, runs multiple blogs and has an app - showing the future of grocery

Top Competition: Trader Joes, EarthFare, Fresh Market



6) CLIENT HEARTBEAT - www.clientheartbeat.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Makes customer service for other companies quick, easy and clean
  • DIY survey creation that integrates with consumer behavior
  • Giving feedback no longer a long drawn out nuisance, a great example of where inbound is going
  • Empowering your team to gain access to critical data to make better business decisions
  • Able to have a stable feed of customer input at each stage of the buying cycle

How they’re doing it:

  • Clean website design that allows you to see all the features
  • Offers 21 day free trial
  • Not a burden, overly priced, or extremely complicated like other survey design tools
  • Transparent about process, tools AND price
  • More than just survey and customer feedback - allows you to compare with others in your industry

Top Competition: SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, FluidSurveys


7) ZENDESK - www.zendesk.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • No longer is customer service some person in the back of the building like Kelly from “The Office”, it’s immediate, digital, and genuine
  • One-stop shop customer service that empowers the whole organization
  • Create priority for customer service agents, no longer is it just “take a ticket”
  • Destroying the stereotype that customer service is something that’ll take forever

How they’re doing it:

  • Customer service made beautifully simple
  • Software brings all customer feedback into one place
  • Integrates service with technology - see their questions and gain access to the tools to answer it properly
  • Partnership with Zopium, a live chat service
  • A clean and intuitive site design that makes it easy to learn - form and content are aligned
  • Offers best practices to their customers, positioning Zendesk as a industry thought leader

Top Competition: Awesomatic, Deskero, Freshdesk


8) YOH - www.yoh.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Looks absolutely nothing like any other recruiting site and company
  • Courage to steer away from conservative, stuffy pictures and copy
  • Makes learning about their company fun and engaging - the brand has a pulse 

How they’re doing it:

  • Using bold messaging that speaks to “you” and not about “we”
  • Little to no industry jargon
  • Consistent and striking brand look and feel
  • Unique and contextual images that go beyond what they’re trying to define
  • Original website design that is hyper visual
  • Downloadable content and clear CTAs that drive interaction

Top Competition: Adecco, Kelly Services, Manpower


9) Four Quadrants Advisory - www.fourquadrantsadvisory.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Cater to a niche market and audience just for dental practices
  • Customers call them the “Dental Guys”
  • Go beyond numbers and become advocates and consultants for the best interest of dentists
  • Takes away the “behind the practice”stress for dentists - someone playing in your field

How they’re doing it:

  • Transparent about their process, laid out in a simple way filled with user-benefit statements
  • Offer more than just financial planning, but practice and capital planning
  • Empowers and reveals their team as thought leaders by allowing them to create valuable content for their website

Top Competition: Hufford Advisors, Mercer, Lawson Financial Group


10) The Middle Finger Project - www.themiddlefingerproject.org/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Reimagining copywriting and messaging consulting
  • Being a confident and sometimes outlandish advocate for being fearless in writing, the “grit”
  • Or in other words - “Screw Business as usual”
  • Empowering women in business

How they’re doing it:

  • Frequent email blasts “Just the Tip” that share a tactical nugget that isn’t sales-driven
  • Places content over sales - they value a bigger cause - going with your gut in writing
  • Makes writing great copy a state of mind, a lifestyle within an organization
  • Offer kits, classes, tools and smart ideas for any business to use

Top Competition: Copyblogger, Content Marketing Institute, Mens with Pens


11) INBOUND - HUBSPOT - www.inbound.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Leverages marketing and non-marketing speakers
  • The “TED”talk of inbound marketing
  • Focuses on the current market and where inbound is going in the future
  • Not just a conference - alive with music, networking, and all around friendly vibes (with a happy hour)

How theyre doing it:

  • Including segments like personal inbound stories, HubSpot software deep dive and Q&A
  • Hosting FutureM to discuss the future of marketing
  • Martha Stewart, Dharmesh Shah and Simon Sinek are some of 2014’s keynote speakers
  • Being transparent about the agenda and focusing on what you’ll get as a participant


12) GO INBOUND MARKETING | Element Three - www.goinboundmarketing2014.com/

Why theyre brilliant:

  • Big speakers, big topics, but a focused, niche audience
  • Quickly becoming the go-to marketing conference within the midwest
  • Empowering local businesses to speak and sponsor rather than major national / international speakers
  • Colorful brand that complements the host’s look and feel 

How they’re doing it:

  • Recapping the event with video, content, and statistics on the success of the event
  • Shares interviews with each speaker for attendees to get a better understanding of them
  • Opening the door to all who are simply interested in marketing like small businesses, clients and students
  • Using speakers from various backgrounds like content promotion, web design, sales training,video production and search marketing (including Dharmesh Shah from HubSpot and Gilian Muessig from SEOMoz)
  • Uses HubSpot as a tool to help promote the event and track its success


Now even though a lot of these companies aren’t dominating the marketshare, trends in the marketplace are saying people, especially Amercians are falling in love with small business all over again.

I’ll leave you with this. To truly have your brand be a category standout, you must never be afraid to make mistakes. Brands, just like people, learn and can recover when they fall down. The companies above are fearless. They’re brave. And that’s why they’re brilliant.

How to build a brand

 Build a Brand 2018