Is Yours a Mature Market Strategy or is it an Immature Market?
By Tom Dougherty
Everyone who has ever taken even the most rudimentary marketing class learned early on that category building is the sole providence of the market leader. “If the marketing message of a challenger brand sells category benefits, the market leader should stand up and cheer.”
Is this still true? You bet it is, but only to a certain degree. It depends on the position of the challenger. A mature market strategy is implemented and you are one of those heritage brands that scratch at the category leader’s ankles, you should probably stay away from marketing category benefits.
Most of the customers that you wish to influence already know of your brand and they probably know of your category “expertise.” For example, if you’re selling Cheer soap powder and challenging market leader Tide, there is not much marketing sense in convincing the target that Cheer is a soap powder and that consumers should use a soap powder. This kind of category sell will mostly benefit Tide.
Getting Them to Switch in a Mature Market
What do you do? What do you say about your brand that might get customers to switch? The conventional wisdom is to position yourself against the market leader. Parochial mature marketing strategy suggests that you need to convince the target audience that the soap powder you are selling works better than the one they are currently using and that they should switch.
Of course, this assumes that the brand they currently purchase is chosen because of results and efficacy. Fact: purchase habits are rarely based on rational decisions. No supermarket shopper walks down the soap powder aisle armed with a “T” chart carefully marking the pros and cons of each brand, yet you would think this is precisely what they do if you were to judge consumer behavior based solely on the advertising messages (see an example of a charted market here). Consumers (and we are all consumers) do not know why they choose the brands they buy. For the vast majority of them, brand is not about equity; it is simply about making their world less complicated.
Sticking with a particular brand means one less decision to make. Even price purchasing can be exhausting to the harried consumer who has to read all those prices every week in order to choose correctly. Great brand can be a godsend to the consumer.
So, if your goal is to steal market share from the market leader and the category is mature, you should use what you know about the consumer as your ally. First, they hunger for brand and it makes their life manageable and easier, it helps them choose. Second, habit, not product performance, drives them. Brand influences them, but so few companies understand what a brand actually is that it is rarely leveraged.
Product benefit can create brand trial. However, that benefit must be easily visible to the consumer and must not require a laboratory and advanced degree to notice the change. Plus, the benefit must matter. Borrowing from the software parlance: No one will be excited to trial because of a bug fix.
“New and improved!” is simply wallpaper. If you are going to play in this arena, you should load your cannon with as much as you can stuff down the barrel. It needs to be real, measurable and noticeable as well as important. A further note: Stay clear of price discounts. They weaken your brand by eroding its value in the consumer’s mind, and it makes your claim to product superiority less believable. Most consumers believe you get what you pay for. If your product is noticeably better, they will naturally expect to pay more.
Hearts and Minds in a Mature Market
Keep in mind that trial driven by product benefit is a tactic designed to grab a bit of market share; it is not a strategy. Only a long-term strategy will win over a significant number of people long enough to make a permanent change in their behavior. (Market psychologists tell us that a buying behavior becomes a habit after an average of four purchase cycles.)
A winning brand strategy is all about share of emotional attachment (Read about emotional intensity here) and attribution. Own their heart and you not only get their business, you get their loyalty, too. Stealing market share — and keeping it through four purchase cycles — is possible only when the brand reflects the values and aspirations of the consumer. They need to feel more complete because of their choice. Are they smarter? Are they kinder? Are they better parents? Are they cooler? These are the questions your brand needs to answer. Remember, brand is about your customer. It is never about soap powder.