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
Eventually every product or service will become a me-too commodity that competes on price alone. The pace of product and service innovation is now so accelerated that one can hardly determine who is first to market with a valuable new idea before a competitor knocks it off, adds a feature and lowers the price.
Whether the innovation is radical and disruptive, or lesser incremental improvements to features and functions, everything will, in time, be commoditized to the lowest common denominator. However the time it takes for this to happen is shrinking exponentially.
Continuous improvement is no longer enough.
A little over a decade ago the mantra of “continuous improvement” was what everybody in product development believed was fashionable thinking. That’s no longer so. The rapid pace of innovation happens too fast. Regardless of the product category, very soon everyone else will be offering those same features. Everything becomes at parity with everything else. In an effort to exploit full market potential, marketers are charged with broadening the appeal to the largest customer segment possible. Eventually every innovation becomes watered down to a commoditized version of itself.
This established trend has critical implications for marketers struggling with brand relevance and differentiation–especially in low emotional involvement categories like soft drinks, breakfast cereals, underwear and car insurance.
Recently at The Un-Conference in San Diego, my colleague Brad VanAuken challenged participants to a “branding commodities “ exercise to brand bottled water. Nothing could be more ubiquitous and similar in form and feature – it’s water!
The results of the participant’s creativity and ingenuity in that exercise sparked my deeper thinking on the idea that if any innovation can be commoditized, it can be equally un-commoditized!
Innovate greater meanings not more functions.
It’s my belief it will be essential for marketers to realize that new products, no matter how innovative at their introduction, will become the accepted norm in the category at vastly discounted prices. Seemingly more and more innovation just speeds up the race to the middle if not to the bottom.
The question now is how do marketers turn this me-too trend around and differentiate product brands on something more transcendent then function or performance?Read More
According to Harvard professor, Youngme Moon, hostile brands are “brands that play hard to get.” The antithesis of “feel good brands,” hostile brands defiantly demand a decision – love me or leave me.
Success through Alienation
It sounds risky, yet the number of successful brands that practice at least elements of hostile marketing is astonishing.
- Consider Harley Davidson and its not for everyone noisome bikes and in-your-face attitudes.
- Red Bull is unapologetic about its bad boy ingredients and underground marketing emphasizing extreme sports.
According to Moon, these brands, as well as MINI-Cooper, Marmite, Hollister, Benetton, and many others resemble the Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” in that you are invited to go someplace else if you don’t like the way you’re treated. Today more brands are activating a hostile brand strategy.
- Lululemon is quirky and not afraid to show it. The firm deliberately plans for popular items to run short to ensure customers will buy at full prices. It also encourages store personel to eavesdrop on customers.
- Domino’s Pizza announced via an ad campaign it will say “No!” to customers who want to add or remove toppings from items in it artisan pizza line.
These brands are unashamed of their product shortcomings, often evasive with their distribution and likely to shun welcoming promotions in favor of “messages that are likely to repulse as much as they attract.” In the words of Moon:
“No matter the stratagem, hostile brands erect barriers to consumption, barriers that could in many ways be considered tests of our affiliation.”Read More
I remember a particular branding workshop that I was conducting in Dubai a few years ago. Marketing managers from throughout the Middle East attended, including many from different energy companies. In the pre-workshop survey, several of the energy company marketing managers (from different companies) indicated that they wanted to know how to differentiate their energy brand so that they could charge a price premium over the competition in what is largely a commodity category. At the beginning of class, I recounted the pre-workshop request and indicated that I could help them differentiate their brands but that each company would have to choose a different approach to brand differentiation for it to work.
I use a specific exercise in my educational workshops to prove that commodities can be differentiated. I create a team competition to brand water, the primary component of the earth’s surface, our bodies and almost every other living thing on this planet. This is as close as it gets to branding a pure commodity. I ask the teams to determine the target customer, brand position, brand story, advertising campaign and packaging, pricing and distribution strategies, among other marketing elements.
Over the years, some very good new business concepts emerged from these workshops. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them have been turned into thriving profitable businesses by now.
Here are just some of the ways in which water can be branded to remove it from the commodity category and to enable one to charge a price premium for it:
- Bottle/packaging shape/color/functionality
- Health qualities
- Ways to drink
- Temperature control
- Suggested uses
- Highly targeted markets
- Bundling with other products
And here are some general approaches to branding commodities, both B2B and consumer products:Read More
If you’re inventing or transforming a brand, somewhere in the process you’ll be working with a Designer or Design Firm who will be tasked with bringing your “brand strategy” to life through sounds, words, pictures, physical environments and emotional experiences.
Brand Design is a highly specialized expertise. I prefer to think of brand design as the equivalent of a musical score around a film. One’s no good without the other.
Brand Design still struggles to break free from its down stream “implementer” role in strategic brand development. Brand Designers are not typically seated at the strategy table early in the brand development process. Many marketers view brand design as the fun and gooey, superficial decoration part of the brand development process – something next on the to-do list after the research and positioning work is complete, the tagline has been written and now the logo needs a “treatment”.
Marketers (and those who cling to big data) are prone to view brand design more narrowly than they should. I would like to suggest the lens be opened to a much broader view of the significance of brand design to marketplace success.
For enlightened, savvy marketers of emerging, next generation brands this is not the case. There have been too many success stories in the marketplace to ignore the fact design is the last great differentiator, and brand design has contributed billions of dollars of market capitalization to those brand owners that “get it”.
Of all the various professional disciplines involved in strategic brand development, brand designers usually make the best brand strategists. Here’s why:
Great brands are about ideas and meanings not just products.
No one understands the power of ideas to transform perception and behaviors better than brand designers. Brand designers create the entire emotional relationship customers have with a brand. They are the choreographers of customer experience. If you want your brand to matter, you’ll have to design the customer experience accordingly at every touch point. It’s not marketing and it’s not decoration, design is the difference between market leaders and market followers.Read More
I was reminded of this the other day when a group of us were
discussing how best to grow the financial value of a brand. Because we tend to
think about a brand’s status in the context of its product category, we often
forget that the biggest opportunity for growth may exist outside the current
definition of that category.
In spite of the fact that most of our efforts as marketers and
researchers are focused on growing market share, the evidence suggests that
fighting for share within an existing product category is likely to be a long
hard battle, with little prospect of victory.
In most established product categories in developed economies,
brand market shares change very little from one year to the next. Any action is
likely to be countered by the competition resulting in a stalemate. It is not
that you can afford to ignore the share fight, because if you don’t fight, you
risk losing share. But equally, there is a distinct risk that overly aggressive
competition will result in unprofitable share fights and price wars.
So what should a brand do to generate growth? In many cases,
this requires stepping back from the current situation and looking at it from a
different viewpoint. How can you best change the game to your brand’s
advantage? This requires finding ways to change the way customers think about
the category, not fighting for share within the category.
I think there are three basic ways a brand can change the brand
game to its advantage:
1. Expand the category
2. Disrupt the category
3. Exceed the categoryRead More