How to differentiate your brand through product innovation

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“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office,  1899

The quote above may have missed out on the airplane, radio, TV, microwave, car, computer, internet, nearly every cpg product and of course my beloved iPhone. Maybe the sentiment of the quote was just about 100 years too early. In the last decade, most of the great innovation has been relegated to social media and electronics. I hope this century brings us much more than just Facebook, BBM and Twitter. In the consumer goods area, we must be on the 197th version of “new” cherry flavoured bubble gum since 1955, we’ve now seen hundreds of “new” peach yoghurt and I hope I never see another “new” laundry soap telling us that their little blue beads get their clothes really clean.  

New products that truly solve a consumer problem in a unique way are rare. This is the generation of marketing incrementalism. On most brand plans I see “launch innovative new products”  sits comfortably in the #3, 4 or 5 slot on the plan, while #1 is fix the advertising and #2 is get more distribution.  

There are four key stages to innovation:  1) Invention 2) Differentiation 3) Experience and 4) Perception.  And the marketing is different at each phase.

Stage 1: Invention of the Core Product: The challenge of a truly new product is to finding something that is truly different: a new technology, delivery, format or process.   Rarely, do we get to work on a game changing “invention”.  
Stage 1 of a new product usually focuses all of their efforts on launching and explaining why it is needed.  The product at this stage is usually just the core product, not yet perfected, higher costs and limited sales with no profits. The advertising is about awareness and the message is simple:  you have this problem, we solve that problem.   There’s an effort to the distribution, because many customers are risk averse and afraid of new products.   Consumers are willing to pay a little more to solve the problem, they overlook all the flaws and limitations, and they think “why didn’t I think of this”. While some consumers love the new product already, most consumers still sit at the skeptical and indifferent stage.  

Stage 2: Product Proliferation means Differentiation: With a little bit of success in the market comes copy cats. With more consumers buying, there becomes room for some differentiation, but mostly limited to product still: new features and added services on top of the core product.  They might have found a way to make things cheaper, easier to use or better tasting. Prices come down and brands offer more variety.  Distribution becomes a battle ground and getting full distribution becomes the goal. Customers try to line up behind certain brands–looking for preferential treatment. The advertising is about consideration and purchase, trying to stake out certain spaces, shifting from product to brand and separating your brand from others. Brands now sell the solution, not just the product.  And consumers start to choose, one brand over another.  While some consumers prefer one brand over another, most consumers are at the like it stage.

Stage 3: It’s all about the Experience: In order to establish leadership or challenge for leadership, brands begin to talk about the experience consumers will have with their product. It becomes no longer about the brand or product but about the consumer and how your brand fits into their life. Brands look to use positioning strategies to separate themselves, focusing on key targets, with unique benefits–a balance of emotional and rational benefits. Advertising brings the consumer front and centre, trying to establish a routine with your brand in it. Brands try to move to the love it stage, some do, but most will be stuck still at the like it stage. Those that get stuck are forced into value and focusing on price, promotions or value. The brands that reach the love it stage can command a premium, drive share  and establish leadership in the category.

Stage 4:  Managing the Perception:  As the market matures, any share point movements become difficult gain any traction on real quality so the shift moves to perceived quality.  Strategy shifts to brand personality where tone and manner in the execution are paramount so that Consumers connect with the brand and begin to see themselves in the brand. Brands push to become a Beloved Brand, where demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings and Consumers become outspoken fans.  The brand becomes powerful, with power over distribution because consumers would switch stores before they switch brands and power over competitors who are stuck trying to establish their own point of difference. Profits are at their highest–revenue, margins are both strong and spending is focused and efficient on maintaining the relationship.  While at the top of the mountain, with firm leadership in the category, the brand is always at risk of losing that leadership. Challenge yourself continuously the stay at the top. Avoid becoming complacent.

Ask Gap Clothing, Cadillac, IBM computers, Levis, Sony or Kodak who have each reached the Beloved Stage only to be replaced by new products and brands and moved back down the love curve towards Indifferent. Most recently, Blackberry.  Only 18 months ago, people jokingly used the term “crackberry” to describe their addictions.  No longer.

The four stages can easily be matched up to the Brand Love Curve and help establish strategic focus for the brand.  At the Invention stage, consumers remain indifferent until you build awareness and explain how your product solves a problem in my life. At the Differentiation stage, some like it, but you are now facing proliferation and attack forcing your brand to stake out a claim. At the experience stage, you need to become part of your consumers life and balance the emotional and rational benefits that can move you to the love it stage. And finally, you have to tightly manage the Perceptions to become that Beloved Brand for Life stage, it’s about connecting with consumers so they see themselves through your brand.  You need to establish your personality and begin to wield the power of being a Beloved Brand.

But be careful: very few brands remain at the top for very long.

  

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at graham@beloved-brands.com or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands

Positioning 2016.112

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Graham Robertson

Graham Robertson is one of the voices of today's brand leaders. As the founder of Beloved Brands, he has been a brand advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links and Pfizer. He's helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans and advertising. Graham's purpose is to use is marketing experience and provocative style to get marketers to think differently about their brands, and to explore new ways to grow. Graham spent 20 years leading some of the world's most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. Graham played a significant role in helping win Marketing Magazine's "Marketer of the Year" award. He has won numerous advertising and innovation awards including Businessweek’s best new product award. As a keynote speaker, Graham shares his passion for brands to challenge and inspire marketing minds around the world, whether speaking at Advertising Week, or at the NBA Summer League, or to a room full of marketers in Bangkok Thailand or an agency in New York. He's been a guest writer for Ad Age, and his weekly blog stories have reached millions of marketers, who are trying to improve their skills. His new book, Beloved Brands, has launched with rave reviews. Many brand leaders are using this book as a playbook to help build the brand they work on. And, it serves as a brand management textbook for business schools in the US, Canada and the UK. Graham’s personal promise is to help you solve your brand building challenges, to give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.

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