Differentiating Your Brand
By Tom Dougherty
If the messages are to be believed, then product innovation and product attributes must drive preference. After all, the main message is always about product effectiveness and attributes. It does not matter if you are selling spray starch, diapers, athletic shoes or salad dressing, if it seems that the “new and/or improved” product attributes drive preference.
Or so marketers would have you believe.
If you go inside the deep recesses of most of the branding of consumer product branding and their brand drivers, you will find a great emphasis on research and development (R&D). This investment of capital reflects the desire of every brand to innovate and improve.
The problem is that many of their marketing departments believe what comes out of R&D is what drives preference. Therefore, research becomes mostly focus groups or Usage and Attitude studies (U&A) in a desire to better understand the usage and preferences of the consumer. Research is costly and you would hope to get more out of it than keeping the drivers at the product benefit level.
This is a Science
The science of stealing market share, however, requires the brand to think differently. Few can do it. Often times, traditional marketers are too tethered to the old ways to get out of their own way. To those brands that are willing to look freshly at the problem of preference this spells opportunity.
The science of stealing market share in consumer products demands that the process of persuasion be divided equally between two disciplines: 1) Concrete 2) Inferred. The concrete disciplines are well known and well worn. They require the brand to invest in U&A studies, to constantly improve, to understand the usage and attitudes that drive usage and continually innovate so that your brand remains on the forefront of the category in terms of product attributes and effectiveness.
The second discipline in branding consumer products drives preference, yet is often neglected. However, it only drives preference when at least one member of the category has invested in the science and has communicated that understanding to the market. Once that happens, the game changes. Until that happens, preference is driven solely by the first discipline.
This is why old-school marketers are slow to adopt the better way and think differently. Their understanding lacks the experience of inferred benefits and their research therefore supports only concrete benefits.
Or so they believe
The truth is that concrete benefits are the lowest common denominator. For example, if you sell soap powder, the bare minimum to sell in the category is that your brand cleans clothes. If you are a beer, it is that it tastes great. If you are a potato chip, it is that it tastes good and is fresh and not simply a bag of crumbs.
No consumer product buyer believes that the brand they prefer of anything does not work or satisfy these basic requirements. Yet Sam Adams wants you to switch because their beer tastes great and you should take pride in it. Dominos wants you to switch because their Pizza “finally tasted good.” Cascade wants you to switch because their brand cleans dishes and Pampers wants you to switch because they keep your baby dry.
What to do?
Habit has replaced preference and that is why the category rarely switches leadership. Staying with what you know is already good enough, so Budweiser keeps rolling along, Hellman’s remains a market leader and Tide continue to dominate. Meanwhile, all the brands trying to steal share from the leader continue to stick their head in the sand and play by the category rules that favor the leader.
Spend as much time and resources to understanding the aspirations and preceptive fiber of the target audience as you do to the product attributes. A brand promise has never been about effectiveness. Effectiveness and attributes are a result of the brand promise.
What your consumer product brand must promise is a realization of attainment and that attainment is a life fulfilling reason to be. It says why your brand has the attributes it has.
In a simple example, if your brand is a form of spray starch, your brand promise needs to represent who the customer is when they choose it. In other words, why do they covet crisply pressed clothing in the first place? It sounds simple enough, and when you uncover the precept that drives preference it is usually an “aha” moment because it represents a human truth rather than a product truth.
Look at Nike
Nike was able to change the athletic shoe category, not by building a better shoe, but by promising as a brand that those that choose Nike are winners. They “just do it.” Nike never promises that you will win, just that winners choose Nike.
As a result of this promise, Nike can innovate and improve. Every product improvement from Nike Air to LunarGlide becomes product differentiators for people who are winners. The reason to choose Nike is because of the human promise and not the product benefit. The product benefit supports the brand position.
This sort of perceptual understanding transforms a category and took Nike from a small time player in the mid-70s to the dominant market leader it is today.
When Stealing Share uncovered a brand promise for St. Jude Medical (See the work Stealing Share created for the world’s second largest cardiac medical device manufacturer here), it was a brand for cardiologists who desired greater control so that the cardiologist could have less risk (More Control. Less Risk), it formed the foundation as to why they created the world’s first native Japanese programmer (for electrophysiologists) and not the other way round.
Finding the highest emotional intensity in your category is not easy work or for the feint of heart. It will require anthropological research, strategic rigor, and leadership willing to transform a corporate culture.
When we are invited to uncover the principles of brand persuasion, to borrow a phrase from Apple, “ It changes everything. Again.” Call us if your brand is ready to shake things up and focus all it’s energy on winning.