The Rules to Increase Market Share and Mistakes to Avoid
By Tom Dougherty
Every company or organization today that is successful must be driven in a constant quest to increase market share. However, most companies fall far short of all the projections and annual planning. When the chips are finally counted and the level of success is finally evaluated on a spreadsheet expectations rarely meet reality. Even if the expectations are met, the real measure of success is not just in the percentage of growth in your market share but your measure of growth compared to competitors in your category.
The REAL winner is the one whose growth comes at the expense of another competitor in the market. When individual market share increase lags the category penetration growth we had better not be on that list of slackers. How do you win at someone else’s expense? Here are some basic rules to grow market share and steal customers from your competitors — and some marketing mistakes to avoid.
Rule to increase market share number 1 — Never Believe Everything You Hear.
Don’t believe the internal hype surrounding your customer’s needs and your brand’s importance to the customer. This view is myopic because our own brands are never as important to our customers as it is to us. To be successful when trying to increase market share is hard earned — and you earn it by knowing more about your customer then anyone else in the category. Only then can you align your strategic brand and tactical marketing messages to reflect that knowledge.
It is not enough to know the demographics and usage habits of your customers or prospects, you must find out what drives trial and incites loyalty beyond traditional product features and attributes. Product features and benefits provide the keys to open the gate for entry in a competitive category. The attributes that provide marketers with much pride are rarely why a customer prefers one brand to another. If choice were always about product features and benefits, all market leading (winning) brands would have the best features and pricing. Are you the market leader? Does your service or product have superior benefits? Enough said. It is possible to live and die by features and attributes.
If your R&D department keeps you miles ahead of the competition and your advertising budget is so large that you are always in the face of your prospects and customers touting your NEW AND IMPROVED product offering then you are most likely the market leader already. If you want to increase market share and win, you need to up the ante on being smarter than the competition rather than focusing on simply being better. Your prospect/customer believes the purchase decisions that they make to be germinal to their own sense-of-self. This sense-of-self is a more important factor in the mechanism of choosing than any product feature you can possibly imagine.
This is an emotional (right brain) value that R&D has no part in. The left-brain part of the purchase decision is reflected in the CATEGORY choice. This is the cognitive part of the equation. This means that when a customer seeks a solution, they evaluate product benefits to decide which category of offering they will choose. For example, if someone is purchasing an oven for their home, they will first choose a category of solutions — microwave, conventional, or convection oven. Once they decide which of these category choices is the right decision, they will then seek out those players in that category. But how do they decide whether they want a VULCAN, Amana, GE, KitchenAid, or Jenn-Air?
That decision is not based on cognitive thinking, they are all GREAT brands, and they will all cook food well. No, the final leg in the decision tree is an emotional evaluation and choice. It is a choice based on what the brand means to them rather than what the product does or does not do. If you understand your customer better than the competition does, you will be in a position ensure that your brand promises more of “THAT” whatever “THAT” turns out to be. What we can promise is that “THAT” will not be about the benefits and features of your product or service. But, “THAT” will be about who the prospect believes they are at the moment of purchase decision and how much your brand reflects their own beliefs about whom they believe they are.
Rule to increase market share number 2 — Don’t’ Believe Your Own Hype
It is easy to get caught up in the self-serving belief that your product, people, and expertise are better than the competition. You know the story — “We have better people!” Banks (i.e. Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo), pharmacies (i.e. Walgreen’s CVS, and Rite Aid), and automobile dealerships (i.e. Ford, GM, Chrysler, KIA, Honda, and Volkswagen) are fond of building their marketing messages around this self-serving and foolish idea. Let’s face facts — we all draw our employees from the same pool of workers and it is not only foolish to assume “our folks are better than your folks” it is a ticket to certain disaster.
Being dispassionate must be your goal in a strategy toincrease market share. Factor out these category “table stakes” (the minimum requirements to gain permission to play in the category) from your marketing messages and at the same time do everything you can to ensure that your work force is the best trained and best in the industry. Think how many banks tout their “table stakes” (i.e. free checking, friendly people, and competitive rates). Think how many beer brands tout their “table stakes” (great taste, quality ingredients and a caring brew master).
Think how many destinations tout their “table stakes” (exotic locations, endearing natives and authentic cultures). Think how many automobile manufactures tout their “table stakes”(sexy design, great road handling and top-shelf engineering and attention to detail)? If all of these generic benefits were all that important in choosing to your customer base, we would expect that there would be no TOYOTA, Budweiser, Bank of America, Walgreen’s, and Bahamas as market leaders. We would have a much more diverse market space with many main players. So… forget all of those obvious and generic features and benefits and look closer for real differences. Factor them out and see what is left. Then work as hard as you can to have the best tasting beer, “free-est” checking, and friendliest employees. Just don’t expect your competition’s customers to choose your brand because of them. Do it because it is a best business practice not a marketing advantage
Rule to increase market share number 3 — Don’t’ Be Like the Market Leader
It is a major marketing mistake. A mistake many marketers make constantly —Don’t copy the market leader. When you copy the marketing message and style of the market leader, you are absolutely their very best friend. As long as Miller and Coors try to “be like Bud”, they can expect Bud to be the runaway winner. Your strategy must be to “be different.” Being a market leader has two distinct advantages.
- Share of voice and top-of-mind awareness is often just enough. Woody Allen once said, “Half of life is just showing up” and as far as the market leader is concerned, he was mostly right.
- Market “also-rans” are prone to copy the market leader’s “successful” messaging and that is a sure-fire way to help the market leader to keep on winning and remain the king of the hill. Think about this —why should a customer choose AMD over INTEL if the messaging and marketing looks the same and speaks to the same benefits? In a tie, who do you think wins? Why should a UNITED Airlines customer choose to fly DELTA Airlines if the messaging looks and feels the same? Why should a computer purchaser choose Dell over HP? In each of these cases, the marketers believe they are communicating a benefit that matters to prospects. Mostly, they are preaching to the choir and helping the market leader lap the field.
Rule to increase market share 4 — Be Consistent
Your greatest enemy is in confusing your brand strategy with your marketing tactics. Strategy always drives the tactics and ALWAYS remains consistent. All to often, a brand directing strategy is thrown out the window because the immediate results are not as forthcoming as you had hoped. In most cases, there was nothing wrong with the strategy but the tactic used to deliver the message was flawed.
Napoleon once said that an Army that marches in the wrong direction and then turns around and goes back has made two mistakes instead of one. Toyota did not gain their new market leadership by changing their brand marketing strategy on a whim. They have unseated the king (Ford and then GM) by consistently communicating a smart brand as the tapestry upon which they wove their branded products. Strategy is a long-term commitment and your own lack of commitment is what spells its doom. When challenging a market leader, you need to be compelling and consistent so that the target market begins to see your brand as you have communicated it. Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer) has changed tactics many times over the years but its brand promise of the customer being smart and seeking simplicity has never waned.
Result — Be a Brand
In order to increase market share at your competitors expense takes more than a catchy commercial and tagline. If your goal is to be smarter and better than your biggest competitor you need to remain focused and disciplined. You need to have clarity in your brand space so that your potential customers can find you in the sea of choices that they are bombarded with everyday. In such a competitive din of noise, with each demanding hatchling screaming, “feed me,” your prospects will inevitable seek a means to simplify their decision process. Brand does that and nothing else does. Let your brand make it easier for them by reflecting the precepts and values that define their lives.