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Over the last two decades, brands have become 200% less distinct from one another. The ones that stand out, however, have something in common: They integrate two seemingly opposing personality traits. For instance, think about Harley Davidson (rebellious yet social.) Or Target (affordable yet chic.) Or Tesla (environmentally conscious yet high performer.) The list goes on, and we have already discussed the why of this trend in detail. In this series of blogs, we are going to look at ways in which you can discover and leverage the duality embedded inside your brand. Let’s start with the most obvious one.

Table stake + its opposite.

BAV Consulting, the agency that coined the term Brand Tensity, possesses the world’s largest database of customer and brand behaviour. Their research reveals that truly iconic brands (they refer them as Breakaway Brands) deliver on the perceptual expectations of their categories, while also leaning toward imagery that opposes these category requirements.

Let’s analyze IKEA as an example. Back in 1976 Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the Swedish retail company, wrote a credo, explaining his views on business and life. His calling was to create a better everyday life for the many people. 40 years later, IKEA has become one of the most differentiated retail brands in the world. When we look at the brand and the category, we can easily understand why.

When BAV analyzed the category drivers for a retail brand, it found that the key aspect, the fundamental table stake, the main point of parity was accessibility. Their data reveals that being down to earth and trustworthy, offering good value, helping and caring about people are the columns upon which accessibility rises. So true to Kamprad’s vision, IKEA delivers on that driver in a formidable fashion. However, as we all know, IKEA’s brand promise goes far beyond than accessibility. The Swedish retailer performs equally well on the opposite end of the spectrum, for it is perceived as stylish, smart, and chic. Creating a strong tension by delivering both on the category table stake and its opposite helps IKEA to stand out from the competition.

Another example is Patagonia. Those who need heavy-duty outdoor gear already know that the brand is synonymous with high quality. One would assume, though, especially in clothing or retail industry, offering the highest quality often comes with a certain attitude. Such premium brands are often perceived as arrogant, aloof, and distant. Patagonia, however, beats the category narrative, since it is also perceived as down-to-earth and intelligent. More specifically, Patagonia delivers on the category table stake (quality, reliability, and trendiness) while going completely off script and being approachable, smart, and socially responsible.

Likewise, take Netflix. The online video streaming giant is one of the most beloved and differentiated brands, especially among Millenials. Why? Because, like the other brands we discussed earlier, Netflix delivers on its category table stake, which in its case is original, high-quality content. One would expect that there is a strong correlation among high-quality and premium price, exclusivity, and distance. Netflix, though, is perceived as quite the opposite. BAV’s data shows that the brand is believed to stand for good value, fun, and sociableness. By bridging two seemingly opposing thoughts, Netflix creates tension, and harness the energy created by it.

What works for IKEA, Patagonia, and Netflix could work for your brand too. Start by determining your category’s table stakes. For that, you can purchase BAV’s data or create your own. If you are a grocery chain, then you must deliver on value. If you are an airline company, then you must deliver on reliability. If you are a premium car manufacturer, then you must deliver on luxury. Yet, don’t stop there. Instead, try to find an attribute that is negatively correlated with the category norm. Focusing too much on value could make a grocery chain look dull. So, add a bit fun into the mix, and you become Trader Joe’s. Focusing too much on reliability could make an airline look inhuman. So, add a bit humaneness and friendliness, and you become Southwest Airlines. And finally, focusing too much on luxury could make an automobile brand look delicate. So, add a bit ruggedness into the mix, and you become Range Rover.

What if you don’t have data and can’t afford to conduct research? Our second method will address that situation. Stay tuned. And if you liked this article, feel free to share it with your colleagues.

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