Sunday, August 28, 2011
PRODUCT PERFORMANCE: To Insist or Accept, That’s the Question!
In this time of widespread product-GAQ (generally acceptable quality) or, as we prefer to call it, this “age of sameness,” it seems that marketers everywhere have settled for or, at least, become comfortable with a product performance that is equal to that of their competitors. How do we know this? Well, the most telling evidence lies in the many brand positioning statements we see from week-to-week…with Benefit sections that typically read something like this:
__________ Brand provides excellent effectiveness without any unwanted
side-effects, allowing you to return to normal living with confidence.
Such a statement obviously contains three benefits: (1) product--what the product itself does, or how it performs; (2) consumer--what that performance provides the consumer; and (3) emotional—how all of that makes the consumer feel. And it is readily apparent that none of these three is in any way differentiated from the benefits of other competitors. Even more to the point, from the “excellent effectiveness without any unwanted side-effects” part, it is pretty clear that the product performance for this brand is, well, nothing special.
Because these “nothing special” kinds of positioning benefits have become so common, you might understand a marketer’s thinking that goes like this: “True, I do not have a product performance advantage…but, then, neither do any of my competitors. We’re all seen as reasonably good alternatives; in fact, I’m just happy to have my product/brand be one of the players in the consumer’s (or customer’s) ‘evoked set.’” Said another way, “Product performance advantage: what’s the point?”
We would acknowledge that, because so many competitors have raised their products’ performance capabilities, it is harder today to create and market a brand with a significant product performance advantage than it was twenty-five years ago. But there is more to it than this. Something else, quite fundamental to “winning marketing,” has changed: call it an insistent attitude. It’s an attitude that still comes across in highly admired “performance” brands like Tide, Colgate Total, Lipitor, and even a Miracle-Gro Plant Food (all of which, by the way, have or have had commanding leads in their respective categories). You can detect this attitude--one that insists upon a product performance advantage—in some of their longstanding communications (which, after all, are expressions of their brand positioning benefits):
--“Only Tide gets clothes clean and keeps them looking newer longer.”
--“Only Colgate Total fights germs for 12 hours.”
--“Lipitor gets total cholesterol, LDL, and Triglycerides lower (than others).”
--“Miracle-Gro creates bigger, more beautiful plants & vegetables.”
It’s a shame, really, to witness the erosion of marketers’ insistence upon a product performance advantage. On the most basic level, it is nothing less than the erosion of the competitive spirit. What a difference there is between “Winning in a class or category with a dominant performer” and “Playing in a class or category with an acceptable one” (playing typically, that is, for some, modest “fair share”)! Like all other major shifts in the marketplace, this prevailing shift in marketing management attitude probably traces to a number of factors. Likely suspects among them might be factors such as: an incredibly tight focus on very short-term volume goals; dramatically reduced testing and research budgets; significantly fewer people doing significantly more work (most of which is tactical, not strategic in nature).
But our take is that the single biggest explanation for this shift, for this loss of “performance advantage insistence” is that so many brand marketers today lack either the appreciation for or the know-how of implementing a fact-based Product Performance Analysis (PPA). Simply stated, the PPA is an assessment by the brand’s consumers (or customers, for pharmaceutical and medical brands) of the brand’s product performance relative to the product performance of its key competitors. We plan to spend more time on this subject in future issues of DISPATCHES—to include a recommended format for displaying the PPA outcomes. But, for this week, to get us started, we will spell out (in Boats & Helicopters) some of the basics: first, how to do a proper PPA.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS—Product Performance Analysis Basics:
- The most critical requirement for any PPA is that it be conducted among the brand’s chosen Target Consumer or Customer Segments—not among the entire market. So very few brands can be successful in establishing winning differentiation within an entire category or class; but many brands can stand for meaningful differentiation among the right segments—those for whom your product’s benefits are most relevant and important.
- The next most critical requirement is that the PPA assessment includes ratings for your product versus all expected, “source-of-volume” competition. Normally, “expected, s-o-v competition” includes most of the leading brands in the category—but not always! It may well be that your product can compete favorably with, even win better against, a limited number of competitors—or even against competitors in an “adjacent category” (such as when Maalox Antacid aimed to compete directly with and source volume from the H2 Blockers like Pepcid Complete). It might even be that your product aims to source significant volume via “trade-up” within your Company’s portfolio; in that case, your PPA should definitely include ratings for that other Company brand as well.
- Yet another critical requirement: ensure that the rating criteria (things like type/degree of efficacy, ease of use, and absence of negatives) are limited to the most important few…as perceived by the Target Segments. Practically speaking, this means that the number of “most important” performance criteria be limited to four or five; it also means that these criteria are supported by actual consumer or customer research studies—ideally projectable, quantitative studies. In the event such quantitative studies simply cannot be funded and fielded, at a minimum the criteria should be derived from qualitative types of studies—like in-depth interviews.
- All Target Segment derived performance criteria should also be weighted to reflect the relative degree of importance for each. For example, in the category of contact lens vision correction, one segment of consumers might perceive “perfect visual acuity” as by far the most important criterion—and weight that product performance at 55% importance (out of a total 100%). “All-day comfort” product performance might also be important to this target segment, but with a lower weighting, around 30%. Clearly, among this target it would be most advantageous to have a performance “win” in acuity…or at least, a parity performance with another brand in acuity but a significant “win” in all-day comfort.
- One more PPA basic—perhaps an obvious one: each PPA is only a snapshot in time; the best PPA’s, therefore, are those that are done on a rolling, regular time-interval basis.
More to come on the analysis of product performance—and on the value of insisting upon a product performance advantage for the brand. In the meantime, do you know how your product stacks up on performance?
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
Want more information about the Performance Analysis? Email us,
or give us a call, and we'll be glad to fill you in about our Marketing
Analysis & Planning Seminar (MAPS).
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