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Brand Management

Excuses Keep Many Brands In Their Place

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Excuses Keep Many Brands In Their Place

Take a look at any product category and you’ll see the ranking of brands in that category … the leader or leaders, the middle of the pack and the ones in the back – either the new, emerging brands or the brands that are on their way out. As Jack Trout and Al Ries observed in their classic “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” sooner or later every category gets down to a two-horse race for leadership – and everyone else gets forgotten. As with their example, there is Coke and there is Pepsi, and then there is … what was that? RC Cola? Who can remember. And that’s the point.

Every marketer is in a competitive horse race that everyone in their category wants to win. In fact needs to win in order to survive. Who wants to simply hang on at RC Cola when you could be in full control at Coca-Cola, right?

One of the biggest challenges marketers face is the inertia that settles into their product category regarding brand rankings. Management of smaller brands become preoccupied with day-to-day survival and resigned to knowing their brand’s place in the market. “We’re a solid #3” or “We’re the alternative” or “We’re the value brand” are heard often in the boardrooms or corridors of brands that “know their place.” Truth be told, this is comforting to the category leaders. For as long as the management of these #3, #4, or #5 brands keep this up, they have nothing to fear because there will be no challenger among them.

If you’re the leading brand in your category, your enemy is complacency. However, if you’re the brand stuck in the back of the race field, your enemy is fear.

Fearful marketers can have lots of excuses for knowing their place and just simply accepting the status quo as inevitable in their category. Here are a few:

  • We can’t come up with the budget to change things. So we need to be realistic.
  • We can’t upset (insert the name of your larger competitor here) and start a fight we cannot win.
  • We can’t change our category because it’s a “directed sales” category, so we really have no control over the salesperson once our customer gets in the showroom.
  • We can’t compete with all of these competitors. How can we ever hope to rise above the noise?
  • We can’t change the sales cycle. It is just too long. There’s not enough purchase frequency to build brand loyalty.
  • We can’t change people who buy on price anyway, so why worry about it? There’s no brand loyalty in our category. We get beat on mere pennies.
  • We can’t change our approach. We might alienate our customers. We might lose distribution.
  • We can’t change our “low-interest” product category. If things get a little financially tight for our customers, they’ll just put off the purchase. Being more aggressive won’t change that.
  • We can’t be the disruptor. Things are just the way they are … and that’s where we are in the market.

Let’s just agree that all of these excuses can be true. For instance, you may not have the budget to go head to head with your largest competitor. And yes, there are risks to changing course and taking a different strategy. And of course everyone always wants the best value for his or her money, so many of your customers will invariably shop around for the best deals. That’s just reality.

However, let’s also agree with one more truth: There’s not a single brand that didn’t have to overcome one or more of these excuses on its way to becoming a truly great brand that disrupts the category order.

As a marketer, the question you have to ask yourself is this: Are you willing to take the risk to remain what is essentially an “also-ran” or “me-too” brand in your category, or are you ready to change the world?

Categories in an established course of action are prime for disruption by a challenger brand – either from a revised strategy or the re-launch of an existing brand. It’s a very real opportunity to reverse the position of the category leader and establish your brand in the consideration set of the trade customer or consumer.

Probably no product category can claim ownership of more of the aforementioned excuses than flooring. In the home décor industry, with smart, internet-connected appliances, lavishly crafted cabinetry, and lighting that looks like it belongs in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, there’s easily forgotten flooring. It’s something you walk on. It’s usually a beige, somewhat bland background player in a space populated by cool flashy products that catches our eye – and the attention of editors and bloggers of home fashion.

Enter the Interface brand.

Interface, once a small, rather obscure carpet maker in a sleepy little Georgia town, disrupted the entire flooring category and set into motion changes still being felt today. Founder Ray Anderson determined that his carpet company would become environmentally responsible in every way possible – in a day when no one but environmental activists would even consider such a thing. After reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” Anderson turned his epiphany into a strategic direction and the force behind Interface.

Anderson’s vision proved that you can be both sustainable and profitable, as the Interface brand shot from back of the pack to one of the top flooring producers in the world. It’s leadership in environmental responsibility also had another benefit: Attracting the best product design talent in carpet. Suddenly, Interface also became synonymous with leading interior fashion in the world’s business spaces. And all of this is because brand leadership at Interface refused to accept the status quo and fearfully eek out an existence in a low-interest category dominated by larger, intimidating brands.

Interface overcame all of the excuses, became a great brand in its category and forever changed the way carpet, and all floor covering, is produced and marketed.

Does your brand know its place, or are you ready to breakout? Are you ready to set aside your fears and think boldly? Questions facing every brand in an age of disruption.

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