Don’t Be A Victim of Your Brand Success
Brand Strategy Consulting. Protecting Brands From Being #1?
By Tom Dougherty
At Stealing Share, we define brand as a representation of consumer perception. Brand is the perception and feeling toward a product or service. For example, when we think of Disney, we may think of “magic,” or when we think of Harley-Davidson, we may think of “individuality.”
Each of these brands has done an exceptional job in branding themselves as something more than a “table stake” (representing the minimum investment as a cost of entry) of the category. They each represent more than a benign descriptor of the efficacy of the category as a whole, i.e. “fun” in Disney’s case or “feeling the wind in your face” in the case of Harley-Davidson.
Disney and Harley Davidson
Even though brand strategy placed Disney as one of the top vacation destination in the U.S. and Harley has become the most desired motorcycle brand, they have positioned themselves as an extension of the customers they wish to influence rather than simply relying on differentiation through a restatement of a generic category benefit. In short, through foresight and proper understanding of what brand is and is not, Disney and Harley have protected themselves from falling victim to being first in their category.
At first, it really sounds odd to say that a brand has done a good job protecting itself from being number one in their category. After all, isn’t it the goal of many companies to rise to that coveted position? Unfortunately, however, it can be a pratfall and dangerous precipice. In order to really understand what it means to protect your brand from dangers of category preference, let’s look at some brands and the brand strategy that has fallen victim to the very danger we are discussing.
Failed Market Leaders
Ever heard of Kleenex? How about Band-Aid? Or, how about Frisbee, Thermos, Q-Tip, Ziploc, or Windex? Most people cannot name another brand of flying disc other than Frisbee. Yet, when they go to the store to actually purchase a flying disc, they may very well purchase a competitor’s product without ever realizing that they never bought “the real thing.”
The same holds true for Thermos and Band-Aid — or, for that matter, any of the other brands mentioned. Each of these famous brands has become so synonymous with their category that they have, in turn, become their category. These brands have never been positioned to be an extension of who the consumer believes they are when they use the product — instead they represent, in a very real sense, the BENEFIT that the category promises.
Build a Brand and a Brand Strategy — Not a Category
Each of these brands were instrumental in building the category, and many were first to invent their category. Of course, in the beginning of their product life cycle, they needed to build the category so that consumers would understand what benefit they provided — no criticism here on that front. Indeed it was a prudent strategy for each of them to build the category by positioning themselves as that category. (Here is how to analyze a market)
We all covet the prime position. However, they neglected to utilize their tremendous first mover advantage and failed to leverage their position in the market to modify their brand messaging as more players entered the market. Instead, each of these brands rested on its laurels and chose to defend the status quo. As a result, each has, in turn, watched their margins and market share erode.
Is this inevitable? Hardly. All you need do is look at Disney. Disneyland is generally credited as being the first GREAT theme park since its opening in 1955. Yet, it is never confused with the generic category name as a theme park. Why? Disney has always positioned itself as something more than a theme park even when Disney needed to define the very category it invented. “Magic” can only happen in theme parks where Mickey lives. So you may be asking yourself why becoming the generic title for the category is an issue. Logic dictates that if a consumer goes to a store to purchase one of these category titled products, they should choose one of the “generic titled” brands. It should be so, shouldn’t it?
However, experience shows us that there are a formidable number of customers that will instantly look at other things, like price, and make their decisions solely based on that. A Band-Aid shopper may leave with store brand bandage or a Frisbee shopper may leave with a Discraft branded disc. A well-positioned and well thought-out brand would isolate the attrition in this scenario by giving the consumer another reason to choose besides price or a category definition. Does it matter to those who buy Harley’s that they are expensive? Not at all, it’s a Harley. Great brands understand that brand is more than visual appeal or a catchy slogan.
The Brand’s Foundation
The essence of brand strategy is actually in the consumer who the brand targets to influence. This enables brands to protect themselves from being number one and risk becoming the generic title for the entire category. Moreover, executing the brand in this way insulates it from new entrants and price sensitivity. It is in BRAND, not attributes or efficacy that margins ultimately reside. The world’s best brands understand this very well; just ask Harley-Davidson and Disney. (Read how your brand can be better used as a marketing tool here)