Monday, March 24, 2014
WHY THE COMPETITIVE FRAMEWORK MATTERS
In the classic Brand Positioning Statement there are typically five parts: Target, Competitive Framework, Benefit, Reason Why and Brand Character. Among these none is more overlooked or under-appreciated than the Competitive Framework. One of the biggest reasons for this is simply that many marketers misunderstand what the CF comprises: it’s not at all uncommon to see the class of product or, what the lawyers like to call product “standard of identity” written in this part of the positioning statement. For example, you might see Brand of radial tire in the Michelin positioning statement, or Brand of pain reliever in the Bayer aspirin positioning statement. But, technically speaking, these are not competitive frameworks. In fact, by themselves they add virtually no value to the brand positioning strategy—most people already know what class or type of product a brand belongs to.
Rather, a Competitive Framework that adds value to the brand positioning is one that (1) clearly identifies the market that the brand intends to play in, and (2) specifies those alternative brands, products, or services that our brand is intended to substitute for. In other words, the hard-working CF literally spells out the most significant volume opportunities for the brand…to the point of naming names. To that end, we prefer writing CF’s this way: Michelin Tires compete mainly with other leading radial tires, such as Bridgestone and Goodyear; or, Bayer Aspirin competes mainly with other leading oral pain relievers, such as Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve as well as with some popular topical pain relievers, such as Tiger Balm, and also with other low-dose “heart-health” aspirin brands like St. Joseph’s. From these examples, you could say, then, that Michelin plays in the premium radial tire market and Bayer plays in the leading brand oral and topical analgesic market, as well as in the aspirin heart-health supplement market.
In the world of prescription drugs, identifying the market within the CF is also important. Take, for example, a former Rx (now off patent) opthalmic antihistamine, Patanol. If we were merely to state the class of drug or standard of identity, the Competitive Framework might go something like this: Patanol is the brand of prescription antihistamine eye-drop competing with other prescription antihistamine eye-drops. But, in fact, the brand intended to compete in a significantly larger market, based upon its marketing communications: one that comprised not just other prescription anti-allergy eye-drops, but also over-the-counter (OTC) anti-allergy eye-drops, as well as other Rx and OTC antihistamine tablets—like Clarinex, Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec and so on.
We say that identifying the market the brand intends to play in is important…but not for the obvious reason of making sure that everyone, particularly the company’s senior management, is on the same page regarding the brand’s role in the corporate portfolio. No, the bigger reason identifying the market and specifying the key competitors in the Competitive Framework part of the Brand Positioning Statement is important has to do with what follows in the next part of the positioning—the Benefit part. If the Bayer brand intends to compete effectively (including to source some volume from) other leading oral analgesic brands like Tylenol and Advil, there had better be some compelling Benefits in the positioning to make it credible, feasible. There had better be some advantages the Bayer brand offers Tylenol and Advil users which those brands do not offer equally well—one such advantage in this case could be Bayer’s 100% aspirin formulation that offers an additional, better heart-health maintenance benefit, as backed up by numerous studies.
Or going back to Patanol, if the brand really expects allergy-suffering patients to go to the trouble of requesting a Patanol prescription from their doctors, there had better be some “claim-provable” advantages/benefits for those patients versus the current Rx eye-drops they may be taking or against the OTC tablets and drops they have been using. This “logic-linking” of the Competitive Framework (market and principal source-of-volume brands) with the Benefits is a crucial exercise in pressure-testing the “market-worthiness” of the Brand Positioning. And it’s why going beyond class labels or legal standards of identity matters so much.
When we share this take on the CF with our clients, we are often asked, “OK, I get it. But how do I know which brands, products, or services to specify in the literal CF?” The easiest way we’ve found—particularly for established brands—is to consider the percent of volume growth that the brand expects for the coming year. Then divide that percentage of growth among the major sources that will “add up” to the required growth. So, if Bayer planned to grow volume, say, 12% in 2014, the brand might have estimated that they would get about 6 of the 12 percentage points, or 50%, of their 2014 growth from Tylenol users (by far the biggest share brand) switching some of their pain occasions to Bayer. Clearly, then, Bayer should list Tylenol in its CF. Similarly, if Bayer expects to source another 20% of its 2014 volume from low-dose St. Joseph switchers, that brand would also be in the CF list. The point is not to specify every single percentage point of volume growth; rather it’s to specify those few brands, products, or services that form the competitive focus of the Brand Positioning Strategy—the big-hitters, so to speak.
So, if you’ve found that the brand positioning statements in your company tend to “rubber stamp” the Competitive Framework part with the obvious (like simply stating the class or type of product your brand belongs to), it’s time to make the CF live up to its nomenclature: Competitive Framework. Make clear exactly what market the brand intends to compete in and from which competitors the brand intends to source its growth. In this way the entire positioning becomes a lot more competitive!
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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