How to re-position your brand by transforming the perception of your competitor’s strength into a weakness

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Slide1When you’re struggling, the obvious answer marketers look to is to re-position your brand. Have you tried a strategy where you re-position your main competitor as a way to re-position your own brand?  

Find your brand’s distinction

At Beloved Brands, we believe in using positioning as a way to finding Your Uniqueness.  We believe that brands have only four choices: they are either better, different, cheaper, or not around for very long. The key is to find a unique selling proposition for your brand. You don’t always need to find a rational point of difference as long as there is room to be emotionally unique. It all starts by mapping out everything that the consumer needs, then plotting that (using venn diagram in the chart below) against everything your competitor does best and against what you do best. We define the winning zone as the intersection of what your consumer wants and what you do best. The risky zone is where it’s a relative tie between you and your competitor, which we believe the winner will be those who win through speed, innovation or emotional connection. Brands should avoid the losing zone where you try to take on your competitor in the area where they can beat you. And finally, the dumb zone is where the consumer doesn’t care at all–outside of what consumers want.Slide04

When you a using competitive positioning stance (using the two charts below) what you want to do is focus on the area where you are better than your competitor and then extrapolate that feature’s importance with consumers in order to make what you do seem even bigger. The hope is that by doing so, you can diminish the importance of what your competitor does best. 

In a highly competitive marketplace, where your brand needs re-positioning, you want to take it one step farther.  You might find a more innovative approach to re-position your brand by turning your competitor’s perceived strength into a weakness, making consumers re-think their current brand and creating a new problem for which your brand becomes the new solution to that problem. With this type of re-positioning, you are moving your competitor into the “dumb zone” outside of what consumers want, while setting your own brand up as the best solution.  


A great example of this type of thinking is in a highly commoditized salmon market. There are two types of salmon: pink and white. For years, consumers had became accustomed and accepting of tins of pink salmon in their grocery stores. In fact, it was really the only salmon on the market. But when the white salmon tried to sell their product into stores, consumers rejected it immediately as it didn’t fit with what they knew about canned salmon. The white salmon fisheries came up with a brilliant line to re-position the pink competition: “Guaranteed not to turn pink in the can!”  This is a great example of getting consumers to re-think their current brand, starting to wonder if their salmon was actually safe to eat. The pink salmon fisheries fought back with an equally brilliant line: “Guaranteed: No bleach used in processing!”

Case Study: The Pepsi Challenge

Back in the 1970s, Coke was such a dominant brand–with a strong bond with consumers.  Consumers loved the Coke taste, and all the emotions it evoked with the Coke heritage, americana feel and even Santa Claus. The Pepsi Challenge was a direct offensive attack on Coke–a dagger in their heart–attacking the taste of Coke. In blind taste tests, without the attachment of Coke brand name and all that went with it, people picked Pepsi, preferring the sweeter taste–serving to re-position Coke as the lesser tasting product.. The Pepsi challenge moved Pepsi up to a competitive share position even at times reaching #1. Coke was so dazed and confused they launched “New Coke” with a better taste. Finally, consumers took control of the situation and rejected New Coke, basically saying “it’s not the better taste we want, it’s the usual Coke taste and what goes along with all that is Coke that we want”.  New Coke was killed, and oddly through the process, Coke re-gained what they had lost through the Pepsi challenge. 

Historical: A look back at the iconic Pepsi Challenge from the 1970s (CNW Group/PEPSICO CANADA)
Historical: A look back at the iconic Pepsi Challenge from the 1970s (CNW Group/PEPSICO CANADA)

Case Study: Apple’s “I’m a Mac” 

Let’s face it, Apple is a cool, hip brand. It pushes a strong identification with everything young, up-to-the-minute and smart. The “I’m a Mac” campaign was brilliant in not only defining the Mac brand as smooth, confident and cool, but defining the PC brand as old, uptight and awkward. Even the two characters in the ad resembled the leaders of each organization with a nerdy Bill Gates look-alike, versus a cool hipster in Steve Jobs. At the height of this campaign I was in a crowded bar that went immediately silent when one of the “I’m a Mac” TV ads came on. Apple has done a great job in separating themselves from the competitor, whether it’s the white headphones on the iPod, the number of apps for iPhone and iPad or the cool sleek designs of the Mac. Not only that, the Apple store is a store just for Apple users.  Here are 10 hilarious ads from that “I’m a Mac” campaign. 

Case Study:  Avis “We try Harder”

Back in the 1960s, when Avis was struggling behind the clear market leader in Hertz, they created the “We try harder” campaign that openly said “we are #2, so we have to try harder” which turned the strength of Hertz #1 market share into a slight weakness, making consumers wonder if the #1 brand Hertz was resting on its laurels. They layered in reasons to believe saying they couldn’t’ afford to provide unwashed cars, low tire pressure and dirty ashtrays which made consumers start to wonder if Hertz did those things. 




A failed case study is the McDonald’s coffee launch, which seems we are close to saying it’s been a distraction for the McDonald’s brand who now faces 15 straight months of overall sales decline. When McDonald’s launched their coffee, they did so on price claiming that “Fourbucks was dumb” attacking a well-known high priced weakness and while a few came frustrated price shoppers came over the McDonald’s, it did nothing to change the perception of consumers, since they already knew McDonald’s would be cheaper than Starbucks. The actual disappointment for those new consumers is the high price of the specialty McDonald’s coffees were much cheaper. Back in the 1980s, Wendy’s “where’s the beef?” campaign attacked McDonald’s weakness around small burgers, but again, that was a generally accepted weakness for McDonald’s so it did very little to change perceptions. 

What I recommend for you is to start to think about how you can turn your competitors strength into a perceived weakness, which will then make the consumer think differently about their current brand and possibly put them into the zone where they are ready to explore new brands. 

Use re-positioning to open your consumer up to new thinking that the strength of their current brand might actually be a weakness


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