Monday, November 2, 2015
TOO ME-TOO, TOO DISRUPTIVE
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit with one of our client’s new general managers (hired from outside the company), prior to conducting some brand positioning training for their marketing team. He was a most cordial and intelligent GM, obviously also someone with a grasp of marketing. But, when describing how he found the “state of his inherited brands,” he said something that we hadn’t heard before. In particular, he was speaking about one of the company’s longest and biggest brand-sellers along with their newest, most differentiated sub-brand; and he described what he termed a worrisome dilemma: “Our big brand seller is too me-too, and our innovative new sub-brand is too disruptive…leaving us in a tough spot.”
We took the general manager’s perspective on this dilemma to be a worthy one: after all, an experienced outsider’s “fresh eyes” are not only typically revealing, but often greatly needed if the company is to chart some new directions. Of course, we discussed with him such things as (1) how a big brand-category leader had allowed competition to catch up and neutralize its original differentiation; and (2) how their latest innovation could have so missed the mark of meeting customer needs. But the more we examined things, the more we were convinced of one thing—there could be no better time than now for both strategic and creative marketing…the GM’s dilemma represented “the perfect storm” for his marketing team.
When you come down to it, marketers everywhere, regardless of product or service category, always share two overriding accountabilities:
1. Find and execute ways to make their undifferentiated products chosen as preferred “brands” to those of competition;
2. Be constantly disruptive: by uncovering un-met customer needs; by innovating with discontinuous products; by consciously “changing the conversation” in the category (in favor of their brands).
And, for sure, fulfilling these accountabilities demands a continual play of strategic and creative marketing. We think that, whether your brand is “too me-too” (as in, totally undifferentiated) or “too disruptive” (as in too differentiated), there are 5 key things to ask, to potentially pursue in overcoming either of the “two too’s.” Some of these are more strategic, some are more creative. But each can make a big “difference.”
Too Undifferentiated? Too Differentiated? Consider…
1. Is the brand targeted strategically? In other words, have you and your senior management consciously not targeted everyone in the known universe (as in everyone the Company has the capability to reach or call on)? Even the most undifferentiated brands have a cadre of loyal or regular users, those who obviously believe in what the brand can do and what the brand stands for. More readily than ever before, such users can be brought together to help marketers figure out what perceptual differentiation might be exploited to attract others; and, sure, such users can actually assist in advocating for the brand.
The principle of strategic targeting holds equally true for innovative products that disrupt customers' old habits -- habits they resist changing. This is so because there are always those who embrace innovation or improvements and end up as key influencers and attracters for those slow to change. Instead of wringing your hands over mass-market customers who say, "I'm perfectly happy with what I was trained on, what I've had good success with, and what I'm using now," find those "disruption embracers" and begin to build with them.
By the way, the definition of strategic targeting is the act of positioning the brand against those customers or consumers with whom the brand has the highest likelihood of securing a competitive advantage.
2. Might the brand open up and dominate a differentiated channel? A question like this often goes unasked because we tend to assume that we are already operating within all the distribution channels that are routinely available to brands in our class or category. But, consider the ingenious and remarkably successful “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” channel in Japan that the Kit Kat candy bar brand exploited in 2013—the Post Office. Literally boxed into completely “undifferentiated space” in C-store and grocery channels, the brand created “Kit Kat Mail” for the Japanese Postal Service and secured exclusive (differentiated!) distribution in 20,000 postal offices throughout the country. With Kit Kat Mail, anyone can purchase a mail-able box of Kit Kat and send a personal on-box greeting…with this added double meaning: in Japanese Kitto Katsu means “You will surely win.”
3. How might the brand engineer in a creative, sensory point-of-difference? Call them mind triggers or even “marketing mirrors,” but nearly every product category has a brand with an example of purely emblematic, visible or palpable images and features… ones that suggest meaningful differentiation. Can there be any product category with less performance differentiation than batteries? And yet, only Duracell is painted partially copper-toned and even sometimes referred to as the “copper-top.” No explanation required; many people assume that copper is a natural conductor of electricity, or power. Or what about Sprite’s lymon—that mythical fruit that is half lime and half lemon…suggesting a lemon-limier taste than others (like 7-Up and Sierra Mist).
Consciously engineering such sensory differences into new products is also a real plus, particularly when aiming to change old habits: let entrenched customers actually see or feel what’s different; or, give them something sensual that suggests how well this innovation works (e.g., “medicated vapors” in a nasal decongestant that tingle the nasal passages, even if they have no therapeutic value).
4. How might your brand take the lead in “differentiating” the category conversation? It’s hard to imagine a time when more brands have been side-stepping their inherent product me-too-ness in favor of a brand-driven new way of thinking and talking about the class or category. In a recent DISPATCHES, we looked at Honey Maid Graham Crackers and Similac Infant & Toddler Nutrition as two current examples of this very thing. But others have preceded them: for example, the U by Kotex Brand in San-pro, which boldly and successfully called “BS” on years and years of repetitious (and therefore mostly tuned-out) San-pro packaging, demonstrations, and communications. Oh yes, U by Kotex also started with strategic targeting—by positioning to teenage girls and younger women, as opposed to everyone with a menstrual cycle.
5. Does the brand have a differentiated BIG IDEA? It really is remarkable to see a brand like Dove, which competes and grows as a good quality—if not performance differentiated—product in so many beauty categories. How? By not merely changing the category conversation to one about Real Beauty, but by implementing the multi-faceted Dove Self-Esteem Project. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is much, much more than a TV or communication campaign: it’s a social mission…and a BIG Brand Idea.
Getting back to where we started, when marketers are continually exploring and testing against these 5 key strategic and creative endeavors, there shouldn’t be any “too me-too” or “too different” dilemmas—not for our brands anyway. Maybe for our competition!
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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