When branding your company or product, understanding your point of differentiation is key to creating the most successful experience for your customers. Before you begin designing your logo, website or interior space, you must understand who your brand is and to whom it speaks. Who are your customers? Why would they choose your product or service over your competitors? What makes you unique or better? Once you do some soul searching and find your key differentiators, you can begin to tell your brand story through unique messaging and visual elements that will resonate with your target audience.

A perfect way to explain how brands utilize their differentiators is the restaurant industry. Think of all the restaurants in your town. Some serve Latin cuisine, others are perfect for a romantic date night, many have drive-thrus and serve hamburgers and fries. Every successful restaurant carefully decides who their target customers are and what they value, then design their marketing and brand strategy accordingly. But what happens when there are two restaurants that serve the same type of food? There’s no differentiator, right? Wrong.

Chipotle vs. Taco Bell (let’s be honest, there’s a time and place for both)

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The fast-casual Mexican restaurant, Chipotle serves similar food items as another fast food restaurant, Taco Bell. They both sell burritos, quesadillas, burrito bowls, tacos and salads. Most people, however, would not consider the quality of Chipotle’s food to be comparable to the quality of Taco Bell’s. That’s because Chipotle prides itself on preparing “food with integrity.” Sure, it’s still fast food, but they make a point to tell us that their ingredients are fresh and sourced from farms, rather than factories.

In 2013, Chipotle became the first national restaurant chain to voluntarily disclose the presence of GMOs in their food. Then, in 2015, made the switch to serving food made with only non-GMO ingredients. Additionally, Chipotle sources their meat from farmers and ranchers who raise their animals without antibiotics and synthetic hormones. Essentially, they try to source the very best ingredients and prepare them by hand.

By choosing to serve their Mexican cuisine with whole, fresh ingredients and high-quality meat, Chipotle has a clearly defined differentiator in the Mexican fast food category. Simply put, their burritos are made of higher quality ingredients than other fast food Mexican chains, such as Taco Bell. Let’s be clear — there’s nothing wrong with Taco Bell! Taco Bell has clearly defined their differentiator as well. Their food is extremely budget-friendly (cheap) and available in the early morning hours (when the bars close). They even coined the term “fourthmeal” and market their food as the perfect late night guilty pleasure to a younger demographic. Their recently updated website features bright colors and pictures of college-aged young adults enjoying their Crunch Wrap Supremes. Both restaurants take what makes them special and incorporate those differentiators into their entire customer experience.

In addition to the food, Chipotle carries the “high-quality” messaging throughout all visual aspects of their brand. The food has integrity, but so does their packaging. Chipotle bags, bowls and napkins are all made with 100% recycled material. They are also working towards composting 50% of their waste by 2020. These small details add up to the larger story of the brand. Chipotle not only cares about what goes into our bodies, but they also care about their environmental impact.

The packaging design itself tells a lot about both brands, especially who their target audience is. Chipotle is very design-driven. Their aesthetic is beautiful, clean and minimal, giving an “artisanal” feel with the brown kraft paper bags and signature tinfoil wrapping. The “Cultivating Thought” packaging series showcases hand-drawn illustrations and messages from customers, comedians, artists and authors on bags and cups. They’re not only lovely and fun to read, but they align with and communicate the brand story. Taco Bell’s packaging is comprised of bright cardboard sleeves, thin tissue wraps and bags, and handled boxes for value meals or party packs. The packaging is not fancy or pretentious, because they know that their customers are less likely to spend time reading thought-provoking essays on bags (especially at 2am after a night of heavy drinking).

Figuring out what makes your brand unique or better than your competitors is an integral first step to creating the right messaging and experience for your customers. If you want to serve $1 tacos made with Doritos, there’s definitely an audience for it, as seen by the continued success of the chain restaurant. Taco Bell owns its “fourthmeal” success and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Chipotle on the other hand, prides itself on changing the way America (and the world) thinks about fast food. We can argue which tastes better — a  Tofu Burrito Bowl or Cheesy Gordita Crunch — but we can agree that both Chipotle and Taco Bell are strong brands that successfully communicate their differentiators to hungry fans.

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