What is the core strength that your brand can win on?
To be loved, a brand must know who they are and then stand with pride, conviction and confidence. The problem for many brands is they try to have a few core strengths, so they end up having no real perceived strength that stands out.
This model has four possible options for what core strength your brand should choose to win with: product, brand story, experience or price. For many Marketers, their first response is to want to pick two or three core strengths, but the model forces you to pick just one. Here’s the game I have created to help make the choice. You have 4 chips, you must place one chip where you believe you have the highest competitive advantage to win with, then two chips at the mid level that back up and support the core strength. Finally, the game forces one chip to be at the low, almost a throw-away weakness that will not be part of the strategy.
For Apple, their core strength is their brand story around ‘simplicity’. They support that core strength with a great product and consumer experience. However, they never win on price, charging a price premium and never discount.
Product led Brands
When Product Innovation is your key strength, your main strategy should focus on being better. The brand must invest in continuous innovation to stay ahead of competitors, being the leader in technology, claims and new formats. The brand must defend against any challengers. The promise and experience should be built around the product. The brand should leverage product-focused mass communication, directly calling attention to the superiority and benefit differences in the product versus the competitors. Bring the “how it is built” into the brand story, to highlight and re-enforce the point of difference. Use rational selling to move consumers through the buying stages. Use product reviews and key influencers to support the brand. One watch out for product led brands is the struggle to build and drive an emotional connection with consumers. As the brand matures, it must layer a big idea on top of the product, to enable the consumer to connect on a deeper level. There are some amazing product brands, such as Samsung, Tide, Five Guys or Ruth’s Chris who create consumer loyalty, but still lack that emotional connection.
Rolex has done an amazing job in building emotion into their product led brand. The language choices they use such as ‘crafted from the finest raw materials’ or ‘assembled with scrupulous attention to detail’ helps convey their commitment to the design and production of the Rolex. Rolex epitomizes prestige and success. On marketing program that has helped Rolex create an emotional bond is one they first resisted—the official clock for Wimbledon. Both Rolex and Wimbledon place an enormous emphasis on the values of tradition and excellence. The fact that Rolex is one of the few companies with a presence on the courts is further testament to the strength of the partnership.
Story led Brands
When the Brand Story is your brand’s key strength, the strategy should focus on finding a way to be different. To tell that story, invest in emotional brand communication that connects motivated consumers with the big idea on a deeper emotional level. Then line up everything (story, product, experience) under the big idea. Story led brands should leverage a community of core “brand lovers” who can then talk about the brand story and influence others within their network. These brands should use a soft sell approach to influence the potential consumer. Do not bring price to the forefront, as it can take away from the idea. Some of the store-led brands includes Dove, Nike, W Hotels and Virgin, the greatest story-led brand has been Apple.
Most recently, the Tesla brand appears to have borrowed a lot of Apple’s principles, building around the story of “saving the planet with innovation”. Tesla uses many innovative approaches, including the visionary charm of their founder, Elon Musk, to create a movement beyond a brand. He has become a spokesperson for a generation of consumers who want to save the planet. Even the most ardent Tesla brand lovers see the brand as a movement. The 400,000 consumers who put down $1,000 for a car that does not yet exist are pretty much investing in the movement, more than the car.
Consumer experience led Brands
When the Consumer Experience is your brand’s lead strength, the strategy and organization should focus on linking culture very closely to your brand. Your people are your product. As you go to market, be patient in a slower build as the quick mass media approach might not be as fast or efficient. Invest in influencer and social media that can help support and spread the word of your experience. Effective tools include word of mouth, earned media, social media, on-line reviews, use of key influencers and testimonials. Use the brand purpose (“Why you do what you do”) and brand values to inspire and guide the team leadership. Align the operations team with service behaviors that deliver the brand’s big idea. Focus on building a culture and organization with the right people, who can deliver incredible experiences. Invest in training the face of the brand. Too much marketing emphasis on price can diminish the perceived consumer experience. Some of the best experience brands includes Ritz-Carlton, Emirates airline, Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix and Starbucks.
In a blind taste test, Starbucks coffee finishes middle of the pack. Starbucks view themselves as in the ‘moments’ business. They build everything around the consumer experience. The brand stresses the importance of the culture with their staff and use service values to deliver incredible guest experiences. Starbucks offers the perfect moment of escape between home and work, supported by a unique combination of Italian coffee names, European pastries, cool friendly staff, nice leather seats and indie music that creates an amazing atmosphere that cannot be beat.
Price led Brands
When Price is your brand’s lead strength, focus on driving efficiency to drive the lowest possible cost structure. These brands should use ‘call to action’ Marketing to keep high turns and high volume. It is all about cash flow with fast moving items that delivers high turns and high volume to cover off the lower prices. Invest in the fundamentals around production and sourcing to maintain the low cost competitive advantage. Use the brand’s power to win negotiations. Price brands need to own the low price positioning and fiercely attack any potential challengers. The brand usually needs good solid products, however consumers are willing to accept a lower consumer experience. Many price brands struggle to drive any emotional connection with consumers brand. It can be hard to maintain ‘low price’ while fighting off the perception that the brand is ‘cheap’. It is hard for consumers to love the price brands, even though they rely on them when needed. Walmart is one of the best price brands. No one is more efficient at retail. While their competitors sell through their inventory in 100-125 days, Walmart sells through theirs in 29 days, 1 day before they even have to pay for it. Their outward sales pitch is price, but their internal organization and culture is clearly driven by driving efficiency with fast-moving items. They use their power to bully their suppliers, who give in just to be part of Walmart’s high sales volumes. Walmart has made failed attempts to create any emotional connection. The battle in the future for Walmart will be Amazon, who does extraordinary customer service and smart pricing. It will be a tough battle for Walmart as Amazon is one of the most beloved brands on the planet.
As you take this model a step further, this should guide your overall brand positioning angle on whether you should strive to be better, different or cheaper. The product led brands should be building a story around how they make it better than everyone else, while the story led brands can tell the story, idea or purpose behind the brand. As you move to the experience, the focus should be on how the people make the brand different and finally, while you can just yell price, you might be much more effective if you tell the story behind how you can offer the same as others at a much lower cost.
Brands that cannot decide which of the four to build around will find themselves in trouble. Trying to be everything to anyone is the recipe for being nothing to everyone. A great case study example is Uber. You could argue for all 4 possibilities. And while you might think that is game-changing, I think it is dumb. Uber has squeezed the prices on taxis so low that they are squeezing their own margins so low. Plus, they believe the way to win is saturating the market to dominate it before anyone else can enter. Let’s play that out a bit. If you have been using Uber quite a while, you will notice that the quality of drivers is going way down. I have had friends say their driver showed up in a cut off tank top, got lost 2-3 times and definitely did not have a shower this morning. That is risk of trying to be a price brand because that is the quality driver that Uber can afford. Then along comes Lyft, who focuses primarily on the consumer experience. Same app, higher price level, and a driver who is fully trained with higher standards. They emphasis quality experience to their drivers and their consumers, thereby boxing Uber into being a price brand longer term. By not focusing on the experience position, Uber left it open for someone else to grab. The profit squeeze then hits, even cheaper drivers and then Uber could end up the Walmart of taxi cabs.
Pick one strength. Build everything you do behind it.
To read more on how to create a beloved brand, click on this powerpoint presentation that forms one of our workshops. My hope is that it challenges you to think differently about your own brand situation:
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