Brand Positioning: Inside the sandwich chain brands

By Tom Dougherty

Branding Positioning

Think of branding positioning this way. In real estate, the most valuable property is often the one with the greatest distance away from its neighbors. The properties close together, with the same design, are not worth as much.

The same goes for branding positioning. If your brand stands right alongside your competitors, it isn’t worth much because an equal choice sits right there for the taking.

Branding PositioningThere’s simply no reason to choose your brand.

It’s astounding how many brands copy the competition. Target’s “Expect More, Pay Less” is an exact replica of Walmart’s“Save Money, Live Better.” In the absence of differentiation, the market leader (Walmart) always wins.

What branding positioning means

Branding positioning to steal market share means being different and better than your competition. If you believe that copying the market leader’s strategy will lead to greater sales. You’re dead wrong. You are only helping the default choice, the market leader. Because you’ve given target audiences no reason to choose you.

Let’s look at this from inside a different category. Sandwich chains.

As we all know, Subway is the market leader. In fact, it sports more locations than even McDonalds. It’s EVERYWHERE. In 2020, it fields more than 23,000 locations in the US, with annual sales of $10 billion. It’s a monster. The nearest deli competitors are Panera Bread with about 1,200 locations and $5 billion in revenue. And Jimmy John’s sports with a little more than 2,700 locations and earns revenue of just over $2 billion.

If it’s sandwiches you’re looking for, it’s often Subway.

Subway’s branding really encompasses its long-standing position of Eat Fresh. It fits Subway’s model because the ingredients are right in front of you as a “sandwich artist” builds it for you per your instructions. You pick your bread, pick your ingredients and choose whether you want it toasted or not. “Eat Fresh” is, therefore, its slogan.

1462314066 giphy 11So what does the competition do? They all talk about fresh ingredients! Now that’s some differentiation.

The Quiznos dilemma

Meanwhile, there is Quiznos. Declaring bankruptcy in 2014, the owners sold it to venture capitalists High Bluff Capital Partners in 2018. The brand once owned more than 5,000 locations just a decade ago but owns less than 800 today. It pulls in less than $170 million per year.

What happened? It’s simple. Its branding positioning was not unique. It positions its brand on a table stake, what you need to be even in the market. It…toasts its sandwiches. Who doesn’t? Subway does, you just have to ask. (Or they ask if you want it toasted.) “Live Toasty” was a ridiculous position because it’s a table stake in the category and sounds like it was written by an advertising executive. It’s EASY to ignore.

Or consider this spot, typical of Quiznos. Its selling point? That you can make your own sandwiches. JUST LIKE SUBWAY.

Besides, for sake of argument, let’s say people believe that Quiznos was the place to go if you want a toasted sandwich. Let’s pretend “toasted” is a true differentiator.

Is it important to the target audience? Is it enough to overcome its lack of locations? Consumers will inconvenience themselves and pay more for a brand they covet. Is “toasted” that covetous brand position?

Like many brands, Quiznos mistakenly looks inside out

Of course not. The reason Quiznos drops in relevancy is because it thinks about process not purpose. Toasting sandwiches is a process. It’s about what Quiznos does. But what purpose did it serve? What emotional trigger did it fulfill from the point of view of those who reject Quiznos.

The most important target audience is the group of people who currently choose someone else. Your competitors’ customers.

Four years ago, Quiznos President and CEO Doug Pendergast thought the key was a better physical design of its stores.

“As we think about bringing Quiznos forward, the place, the physical design, is a big part of the Quiznos experience.”

Quiznos Goleta insideReally? That’s what will draw in new customers. Updating locations is part of doing business. But it’s not a reason for customers to choose. Neither are menu changes or any other process a brand opts to do. They are important for running a business. But do not confuse them with the reasons why consumers prefer a brand over another. (Pendergast should probably consider rebranding.)

You can certainly make an argument that Subway markets its own table stakes. All sandwich shops should have fresh ingredients. That’s all fine and well and good. But you can only take that route if you spend millions of dollars ($459 million to be exact) on marketing. It can be everything to everybody with that budget.

If you spend that much on advertising, yes, you can market a table stake and own the category – as long as your competitors remain copycats. Walmart spends $3.7 billion on advertising. So it can live with branding positioning of low cost because its competitors haven’t been different and better.

Most brands don’t have that kind of cash to spend. Therefore, they must be different and better to steal market share. There’s no other way.

Other branding positioning aspects to consider

A few more things to consider when developing branding positioning. First, your competitive set is often larger than you might think. From the prospective of your target audience, wherever they can fulfill the need your services address is a competitor. The competition of Subway, Panera Bread and Jimmy John’s extends to McDonalds, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and so many others.

Also, branding positioning encapsulates more than just your theme line. It’s your operations, consistency of marketing and even tone.

The fastest growing national sandwich chain is Jersey Mike’s, which added 173 locations in 2019 with earnings eclipsing those of Firehouse Subs, McAlister’s Deli and Jason’s Deli. 

But that may not last very long. Its theme of “A Sub Above” is just saying it has a better sandwich. And what makes its newest ad any different than anyone else’s?

See more posts in the following related categories: Branding Positioning McDonald's Quiznos Sandwich chains Subway Target Walmart