I have come across several brands offering great value but unable to grow as fast as desired. A quick review indicates these brands often belong to committed leaders with a clear product vision and a supportive team. However, in-spite of their best intentions, the team is not able to make significant inroads in the competitive market.
This is usually because the brand owner did not considered the competitive context while defining his brand strategy. In today’s digital world where the world of opportunity is just a click away having an agile brand strategy is critical. One of the key elements of agility is reacting to category drivers and competitive offerings as swiftly as possible. Because buyers looks for brands that have a competitive advantage.
In my experience a promising brand is overlooked because buyers are unaware of its brand promise and it fails to stand out from the crowd.
In this note, I have shared the top three challenges faced while creating a branding strategy for competitive advantage.
Challenge 1: Create Awareness of Brand Promise
Brands either have adequate awareness or are unknown. And as any sales person will tell you, unless a customer knows about a brand – he won’t ask for it. Hence the need for basic level awareness is essential – and a minimum thresh-hold level is necessary at all times.
Most firms are aware of this and hence invest in an advertising campaign (digital or traditional). Whether the campaign is optimal or not is often a moot point, but the need to create awareness of what the brand offers is widely known and universally accepted.
For young brands or those facing stiff competition, it is imperative that all marketing efforts are aimed at letting the maximum number of potential customers know what their brand offers in a competitive context. It is best to keep the message simple, focused on what they have to offer and channel all efforts to create baseline awareness.
Eg. A client with ambitious sales targets understood their key problem was lack of awareness with people looking to buy this product online. Their limited budgets had been used in multiple traditional and digital campaigns promoting several offerings with sub-optimal impact.
We recommended the company streamline its offerings, make their website ‘buy friendly’ and invest in a good SEO partner. We supported them with a limited social marketing calendar promoting their competitive advantage and addressing various drivers of choice. After six months, our client grew significantly, achieving profitable growth. A year later, our client revised his service offerings, upped his digital promotion and increased focus on SEO. This effectively stymised other players in the market who were launching ‘copy cat’ marketing plans thereby cementing his lead.
Challenge 2: Build Relevance in the Competitive Context
The question of relevance is however not so widely discussed. At times, we tend to forget that the customer has options and is continuously evaluating them.
As a result, it is necessary to understand how our brand offers a competitive advantage to prospective buyers. This means understanding whether the offering is differentiated from competition and if the proposition is compelling enough to catapult into the consideration set. In situation we need to consider both direct and indirect competition.
Eg. An IT services firm wanted to launch a new supply chain software targeted at the wholesale and distributor customer. Our client was confident that there was no other product offering this service in the market.
As part of our engagement, we visited distributors and evaluated their response to the new offering. While many said it was interesting, they felt that their existing accounting software had a similar offering. This offering was not as cutting edge as our client’s software but could get the job done at no additional cost. Hence target customer already had an acceptable option, at nominal cost, from an un-mapped competitive player.
In this situation there was no real competitive advantage and a successful launch would have been difficult.
Challenge 3: Create Communication to enter the Consideration Set
Once the brand promise has been defined and the competitive advantage crystallized, brand communication is initiated. For maximum efficiency, it is necessary to ensure brand communication stands out in a competitive context. Else the advertising money will get wasted.
Another point to consider is whether the communication is addressing the real category drivers to help enter the consideration set. Price, while heavily quoted, is not often the only choice criteria. Brand image, quality, service and many other factors drive choice.
Eg. Often while watching television or You Tube – we end up being entertained during the commercial breaks. However after the ad is over, most of us would be hard pressed to remember the brand name in question. This is a terrible waste of money.
I love looking at apparel ads in my FB timeline. But I have never bought any of the brands being advertised there. This is because most of the ads and products they promote look very much alike. So after some window shopping, I move along to something equally entertaining. These brands do not get a share of my wallet.
In Summation :
We believe the role of marketing is to create awareness of brand promise, help sell a brand’s offering or to build goodwill over a period of time. A brand cannot grow if its leaders ignore the competitive context and the customer’s perspective of how the brand stacks up against the other players in the market. Branding strategy needs to help a brand stay relevant and stand out in the competitive context.