Beyond Brand Distinction: What Makes Your Company ICONIC in the Marketplace

Posted by Kristin Arnold on November 19, 2019

In my strategic facilitation work, companies are continually struggling with branding – what makes them different and stand out in the marketplace. Scott McKain in his book, Iconic: How Organizations and Leaders Attain, Sustain, and Regain the Ultimate Level of Distinction, outlined an extremely helpful model he calls the Four Levels of Business Distinction:

  1. Sameness – there is no compelling difference between you and the competition other than price. You are seen as a commodity.
  2. Differentiation – when customers perceive something about your product or service that is unique from the competition.
  3. Distinction – a higher level of differentiation in that they have created an advantage of such an extraordinary level of significance that customers are attracted to them.
  4. Iconic – you are considered to be irresistible to customers in your marketplace and compel interest and admiration across a wide spectrum.

This is a useful model for organizations to identify their current state – and then where they want to be positioned in the minds of their customers. McKain shares compelling strategies and stories to attain each level – without talking about the usual suspects: Starbucks, FedEx and the Ritz-Carlton (thank goodness!).

He shares great insights from companies that we may not know, but all can relate to.  These are brands that are iconic in their marketplaces – for example, he talks about the Fairmont Princess which happens to be in my hometown! And yes, the Fairmont Princess IS an iconic hotel – built on a specific strategy to BECOME iconic.  Didn’t know that before, but now makes complete sense.

This book gives me hope – and it is a MUST READ for anyone who wants to deliberately and intentionally craft their brand strategy.


KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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