The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Category: Brand Strategy
Some things are too big to fight. If you’re planning to redefine a whole category for example, then, unless you’re already a market leader, plan on a big outlay and a long runway. You’re literally battling the millions others have already invested to define what it is, what it means, who it’s for, where it’s found, who the key brands are, what the products and services generally cost and so much more.
If your brand’s competitive advantage is predicated on breaking one of those fundamentals, be very aware of the fight you’re buying:
- You’re battling the pigeonhole that your supply chain will want to put you in;
- You’re fighting the expectation that your customers automatically have of you;
- You’re asking for the competition to dismiss you as unimportant or uninformed; and
- If you somehow beat all that, and manage to get established, you just pressed the GO button for a whole bunch of imitators to copy your IP and innovation
Here’s the irony. If you’re going to enter/change a category, you must provide the market with enough for them to recognize, but at the same time, you must clearly differentiate your product or service. It must clearly own a meaningful difference.
The innovation question is not what are you looking to be, what are you going to invent or even what are you looking to change? It’s – what will your prospects recognize as needing to change, will they welcome that change fast enough and in sufficient quantities, and how much change will you need to generate internally (in terms of systems, skills, offerings and mindsets) to make that happen?
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education
Every brand has two vulnerabilities from an activity point of view: what it’s doing (because that makes its strategy more visible to its competitors) and what it’s not doing (because in failing to act, it generates opportunities for others to do so). Nothing startling there. But Derrick Daye mentioned something recently that I think we need to pay more attention to: the opportunities for “competitive intelligence” – understanding and responding to the underlying attitudes inside a rival brand and the implications of those dynamics competitively.
Here’s three examples of things to be looking for and some actions you can take to gain an advantage for your brand.
1. A shift in the priority of marketing. This can manifest itself in the resignation of an individual and their replacement with a person with a different skillset or the restructuring of marketing into/out of the Executive Leadership Team. That in turn can mean a downgrade/upgrade in the marketing spend and/or in a change of suppliers (e.g. new agency).
If the person driving marketing is replaced by someone with a greater orientation towards finance or perhaps tech, that should be a heads-up that the brand is preparing to change direction. With a finance head at the wheel it may become more focused on results for example – leading to a more campaign-focused approach. If the person is more tech focused, that could mean a greater reliance on data as the basis for decisions, a shift to online or more digitally focused advertising or a change in how they are systematized.
News that a brand is preparing to adjust its marketing spend following a new appointment or a restructure could be a sign that marketing is not performing to expectation for the business and the company is preparing to tail off its market presence or take a more front-foot approach with its brands. A change in agency too almost certainly signals a shift in campaigns and a wish to compete with new ideas.
Three actions you can take in response:
- Lift your marketing activity while the new person settles in. Use the 90 days it’s probably going to take them to get their heads around what’s going on to make in-roads in terms of market share, to redefine the competitive playbook so that you’re no longer the competitor they thought you were, and to reinforce the stability and consistency of your brand to suppliers and consumers.
- Reinforce what you stand for in the minds of the market so that if the other brand is repositioning, they have to work around your re-established presence. That way, they also must declare their hand about the future as they see it. Position yourselves as trustworthy, reliable and consistent, but also fun.Read More
In a world dominated it seems by the push for scale and mass coverage, it’s easy to forget that sometimes the smartest thing you can do is the polar opposite: develop a deliberately limited edition brand that shuns the mainstream. I’ve written about this a number of times and coined the phrase cultrepreneurs to describe those enterprising individuals who have chosen to create and market brands with cult status. As Julian Van Winkle and his Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery shows, there is nothing accidental about why his aged bourbon attracts a fervent following.
Here are just some of the ways Van Winkle uses a strategy of scarcity to build cult status:
- The company deliberately stymies supply in order to raise cachet and lift returns. It’s one of the great ironies of cults that, beyond what you need to be viable, sometimes the less you produce, the more you make. As Van Winkle says he could unload two or three times what he makes. But keeping his inventory low minimizes the chances of being stuck with spare stock and also means he can continue to raise prices.
- The brand is not visible. You have to be in the know, and prepared to wait, in order to procure the product. So – scarcity of presence only adds to the mystique, and lack of readiness lifts the anticipation levels. Entirely the opposite dynamics of mainstream, scaled brands.
- The brand gets covered by others. The article is a prime example of that. But Van Winkle also makes great use of word of mouth, through dinners and trade shows, to get connoisseurs talking and so raise authenticity, desirability and credibility.
- The brand has deeply embedded values – in Van Winkle’s case, an unstinting focus on quality. And there’s a figurehead who embodies those values – Julian’s grandfather, Pappy Van Winkle – and who is known by consumers of the brand.
- There’s a secret recipe – this one substitutes wheat for rye. Another component of making the brand exceptional.
- Awards prove the value of the brand and its claims to quality – and once again, they do this objectively, rather than the brand itself having to make public claims.
- Distribution is limited, and upmarket. A very big part of the joy of a cult brand lies in its discovery. Finding out about what most people don’t know about is a reward in itself. It also, ironically, invites the very kind of ‘sharing’ that galvanizes the brand.
Ultimately, you want people to like your brand. So, what makes a brand likable? Think of a brand as if it were a person. And then think about what makes people likable. Here is my list of attributes that make people likable:
They are secure and self-confident
They are honest and have integrity
They keep their promises and are reliable
They are genuine, sincere and authentic
They are positive, happy and optimistic
They are not too serious, they laugh and they make people laugh
They ask questions and they truly listen to and try to understand the answersRead More
Ten years ago, Don Tapscott and David Ticoll’s book “The Naked Corporation” foresaw a time of transparency in which businesses would find themselves more visible and subject to greater scrutiny. They were on the money. But in an age where everyone is more inclined to talk a lot louder and a lot more frequently, have brands reached a point of “too much information”? Do brands risk being so familiar that people feel they know them too well? Will over-familiarization work against the marques of tomorrow?
Perhaps we need to bring back a little secrecy … but only to make brands more inviting and exciting. Perhaps more brands should be looking for ways to be intriguing and to offer something that rewards curiosity. That’s not easy in a world where Tapscott and Ticoll’s forecast has proven remarkably accurate. Yet some brands have used secrets to successfully preserve an air of mystery. Three types of “secrets” spring to mind:
Secret formulae – there’s something fascinating about a brand that has something to share with everyone, the basis of which nobody knows. From the Google algorithm to the secret recipes of Coke and KFC, these secrets juxtapose in view/out of view in ways that make the formula even more interesting. Deciphering the decisions of the Google search-gods continues to keep a lot of people in work. Curiously, only brands that have built high trust and high participation are likely to get away with such secrets in these days of food safety and privacy concerns. But secrets work in this context because they add to the mythology of the brand.
Secrets in progress – in an age where “seeding” of products can now start literally years in advance of release day, there’s something to be said for keeping things closer to one’s chest. The ultimate exponent of this approach of course is Apple which has perfected the art of getting everyone to speculate, thus maintaining interest, without revealing what exactly is in development. Again, the Mac rumor mill keeps a lot of people very busy. This approach works when you have in demand brand with huge intrigue factor. While everyone else jostles for space and priority, Cupertino has gone out of its way to be circumspect.Read More