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Brad VanAuken Brand Management

Differentiating The Ultimate Commodity

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For the past ten years, when conducting brand education workshops, I have often included a “branding water” case study. The point of the case study is to illustrate that anything can be branded successfully, even commodities. Hundreds of teams from dozens of countries have presented their recommendations on this topic. Most of the recommendations had at least nuggets of good ideas for creating unique brands of water. And many were strong enough that they could easily be turned into thriving businesses. I wish I had saved all of the teams’ flip chart pages from this case study over the years as their content could easily have been the basis of my next book, Branding Water: Differentiating Commodities for Fun & Profit.

Water is the quintessential commodity. Approximately 326 million trillion gallons of water can be found on earth. (Admittedly, only 3% of this is in the form of freshwater. About 70 percent of our planet is covered in ocean with an average depth of several thousand feet.) And approximately 60% of human bodies are water. Water is largely tasteless, odorless and colorless. Recognizing that water is scarcer in some places, still in much of the world, water is delivered directly to people’s homes at a relatively low cost and is easily available in great quantity. In fact, many people and businesses use massive quantities of water on a regular basis for irrigation, manufacturing and to maintain landscapes.

So how then can one differentiate and command a price premium for water? It has already been done many times before. Consider Voss, Pellegrino, Ty Nant, and many other brands of bottled water.

Here are some of the more common approaches to differentiating water that the marketing executives in my workshops have taken:

    •             Taste/flavoring/carbonation
    •             Color
    •             Bottle/packaging shape/color/functionality
    •             Source/story
    •             Health qualities
    •             Ways to drink
    •             Size
    •             Price
    •             Suggested uses
    •             Bundling with other products
    •             Distribution

Some of the most extraordinary forms of differentiation outside of the obvious taste/flavoring/carbonation/color/bottle shape/packaging approaches include the story behind the water and its source/acquisition and the unusual/specialized uses and delivery methods.

I have not yet encountered a product or service that cannot be differentiated no matter how mature or competitive the industry or how commoditized the product is. There are always ways to add on to or bundle or deliver the product in a different way. And services, almost by definition, are not commodities.  It is only commodity thinking that leads to commoditization. I have even worked with energy companies to help them differentiate and charge a price premium for what were previously perceived to be basic energy products.

Have some fun and challenge yourself. Develop a complete concept and business and marketing plans for a differentiated water product. Who knows? It might become your next business venture. Sponsored By: The Brand Positioning Workshop

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