By |Published On: February 14th, 2023|

Brand awareness is a critical piece of any established brand’s continued growth. Successful brands count on one very important thing to ensure they’re reaching consumers at every cognitive level: distinctive brand assets.

Distinctive Brand Assets (DBAs) are non-brand-name triggers that consumers strongly and easily associate with a specific brand. When these assets are applied consistently over time, they allow a consumer to create distinctive memory structures which elevates the brand in choice situations.

Distinctive brand assets can take visual (McDonald’s golden arches), verbal (MasterCard’s ‘Priceless’ slogan), or auditory (intel’s five-note pneumonic sound from their commercials) forms. The central goal behind distinctive brand assets is to aid consumers when they’re making a product choice on shelf. They aim to highlight key features, benefits, and drive choices that are built around a strong and effective informational hierarchy, without detracting from its efficacy.

Byron Sharp’s book “How Brands Grow”, he notes that brands need to be distinctive, but not necessarily differentiated. This is often because competing products in the same category will highlight similar features and benefits. Distinctive brand assets work to ensure that despite this, the brand is not only driving visual differentiation, but also working to elevate that brand’s presence on shelf. To ensure maximum effectiveness, he notes that it is important that a brand applies their distinctive brand assets consistently to ensure optimal awareness and brand recognition.

To determine how effective a potential distinctive brand asset will be, Professor Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute created the ‘Distinctive Assets Grid’:

Brands often make two critical mistakes:

Fragmenting Core Brand Distinctive Assets by Creating Very Different Looking Variants.

  • A common mistake when designing the identity for a variant is to primarily focus on its differences from the core brand, particularly by changing the color. This not only misses an opportunity to strengthen the brand’s ability to be found in shopping environments, but also risks fragmenting the brand’s identity and causing confusion about the core brand’s assets.

Changing a Distinctive Asset to ‘Disrupt’ the Category.

  • Whenever you change an asset, the only thing you disrupt is the category buyers’ memory structures you had previously worked so hard to build.
  • When you re-introduce the previous asset, you leave the brand’s identity weaker.
  • Disrupt the market with new innovations, and new creative ideas, but not by changing your brand’s Distinctive Assets.

To avoid making these common mistakes, there is a list of ‘brand commandments’ that can be referenced to ensure that the brand identity is strong and effective:

  1. Choose wisely – Don’t make asset building any more difficult than it already is with
    poor selection.
  2. Prioritize smartly – Select a small number of assets to build rather than fragmenting efforts.
  3. Execute well – Distinctive Assets need to be executed as such so they are a noticeable part in the advertising or shopping environment.
  4. Resist change – Make ‘no’ your default setting for changing an asset and only change it if there is an obvious long-term benefit.
Sources: WARC from Home: Distinctive brand assets, Using distinctive visual assets on your packaging design, Q&A with Jenni Romaniuk of The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, Sharp, Bryon. How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know. OUP Australia & New Zealand, Mar 11, 2010.

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