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How Brands Can Acknowledge Alternatives


How Brands Can Strategically Acknowledge Alternatives

Very often in developing brand strategy, marketers studiously consider the competition, but seldom consider the alternatives to their brand. They don’t have to be the same thing. In fact, sometimes the alternative to choosing the brand may be to simply “do without” or “do something else.” And if we’re honest with our desired customer, and ourselves, considering the alternatives may be a logical and even desirable course of action in some cases.

So, how do some marketers realistically consider this, and do so in such a way as to promote their own brands as a better choice? Here are a few examples:

They Are Better At Spreadsheets

In one of the most beloved campaigns of all time, “I’m a Mac – I’m a PC” Apple actually acknowledges PCs are good at “business stuff like spreadsheets” in the repartee of its 2006 spot. A backhanded compliment to be sure, but a bold, refreshing tip of the hat for what virtually all of us would acknowledge at the time – that PCs and their Microsoft software were better at this stuff. But recognizing this reality also served to contrast and distance Apple even more from its stodgier and stuffier nemesis.

Pure As Mother’s Milk  

Earlier in my career, I worked in the in-house agency of Ross Laboratories, a leading infant and medical nutritional manufacturer. We made the #1 brand of baby formula, SIMILAC. However, Ross was also one of the biggest advocates of breastfeeding. We wrote and produced scores of pamphlets, posters and educational aids for the promotion of breastfeeding and the storing of breast milk. So no matter how good SIMILAC was (and it’s as close to real thing as it gets), Ross didn’t just acknowledge there was a natural alternative for infant nutrition, they actually supported the alternative!

Don’t Drink Our Product

No one would argue that drunk driving remains a societal problem that often ends in unimaginable tragedy. Anheuser-Busch, the world’s leading brand of beer took the lead in prevention with their “Designate a Driver” campaign, which, tacitly acknowledges that irresponsible consumption of their product may well lead to a very bad end. One solution proffered by the beverage giant? Someone in the group shouldn’t drink Budweiser (or any alcoholic product) while out on the town.

Keep The Marriage Together  

There is a sizable law firm in Atlanta, Georgia that specializes in representing men in divorces. However, every radio spot for the law firm actually advocates keeping marriages together and dispenses advice on being more forgiving of your spouse. This is the same advice you might expect in a counseling session!

Turn Out Those Lights  

Southern Company, one of the largest private power utilities in the United States, was once a client of mine. I was responsible for their “Good Cents” campaign that advised homeowners on how to consume less electricity by making their home more energy efficient.

Strategically Acknowledging Alternatives  

As consumers, we have lots of alternatives in every category for almost anything. As marketers, we should consider these alternatives as competitors, whether it’s doing or buying nothing, opting for a natural free alternative, or choosing from a variety of other brands on the shelf. However, just as light is to shadow, alternatives can starkly contrast and enhance our brand’s image and perception. Just as in the “I’m a Mac” campaign, the Mac is suddenly seen as even more artistic and creative—PC or no PC.

Depending on your particular marketing circumstance, how and when you acknowledge the alternative to your brand, may provide considerable favor from your customer and influencer base. For example, you can “contrast and compare” against your key competitor, such as in political advertising (that usually turns negative), you can acknowledge the worthiness or likely outcome of the alternative and position your brand as a logical option should you seek a different outcome; or you can negative-sell your brand as being appropriate only in certain or extreme circumstances.

Imagine the reaction of mothers, pediatricians, and dietitians if Ross had ignored the superior nutritional value of breast milk and focused instead on the negatives associated with breastfeeding (i.e. time consuming, inconvenient, immodest, etc.). Or if the law firm had only focused on how aggressively they will handle your case against your wife. Instead, in both cases the consumer is provided with the logical alternative and allowed to make the best choice for their unique circumstance.

Building Customer Relationships And A Positive Brand Reputation  

In today’s socially driven marketplace, consumer trust is the ultimate currency. When you respect the intelligence of your customer, you’re going a long way to winning their trust as well as their pocketbook. It can be as simple as “I know you’ve got a lot of choices for my product or service. Thank you for choosing us today.” Or as famously in Miracle on 34th Street, “We don’t carry that, but Gimbels down the street does.”

Ask yourself this: 

  • Do I really know, understand and appreciate the choices my customer has other than my product or service?
  • Have I positioned my product or service to effectively differentiate and position it against the customer’s alternatives as a logical option?
  • Do I work hard at building trust with my customers by acknowledging that there are alternatives to my brand?
  • Is there opportunity to use the alternative to shape perceptions that the value of my offerings is high and unique?

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