Brands need to stand out from the pack. They must be better, different, cheaper or else they will not be around for very long. To find the competitive space your brand can win, I want to introduce the venn diagram I will use to show each type of competitive situation you will play in. The first circle should list out everything the consumer wants, the second circle then lists out everything your brand does best and finally the third circle lists out everything your competitor does best.
To find your brand’s winning zone, you match up what consumers want with what your brand does best. This is the ideal space for your brand to find and then own.
Your brand will not survive the losing zone where your brand tries to play in the space where your competitor does it better than your brand. While you can battle your competitor in the short term, you will eventually lose by going into the space where they can beat you.
As markets mature, with competitors copying each other, it becomes harder to be ‘better’ with a definitive product win, leaving you to play in the risky zone, which is the space where you and your competitor are both meeting the consumers needs in a relative tie. The tie is important to understand, because brands can still win the tie by making their brand seem ‘different’ enough so that consumers perceive the brand to be better. Perception becomes reality. The way to win the risky zone is to be the first to capture and defend the space or win with innovation and creativity or find ways to build a deeper emotional connection.
Sadly, I do have to always mention the dumb zone, where two competitors “battle it out” in the space where consumer do not care. One competitor says, “We are faster” and the other thinks, “We are just as fast”. All of a sudden a competitive war start. Yet, no one bothered to ask the consumer if they care.
In brand management, we never experience pure isolation. Even in a so-called blue ocean situation quickly turns to red ocean. The moment we think we are alone, someone is watching thinking they can do it better than we can. To win the competitive battle, you have to find a unique selling proposition for your brand, that distinguishes you from others. Ignoring the competition, believing all that matters is the consumer, is a naive way to lose. Competitors force us to sharpen our focus, tightening our language on the brand positioning we will project to the market.
The Consumer Benefits Ladder
The Consumer Benefits Ladder helps turn your brand’s features into consumer benefits. You should stop thinking about what your brand does and start thinking about what your consumer gets.
The 4 steps to build a Consumer Benefits Ladder:
- Leverage all available research to brief the team, helping define the Consumer Target Profile with consumer insights, need states and the consumer enemy.
- Brainstorm all the possible Brand Features that your brand offers, plus any brand assets. Make sure that these features give your brand a competitive advantage.
- Move up to the Functional Benefits by putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer and for each feature on your list, ask “so if I am the consumer, what do I get from that?” Challenge yourself to come up with better benefits by asking the question up to 5 times, pushing the answers into a richer zone.
- Then move up to the Emotional Benefits by looking at each functional benefit and then ask “so if I am the consumer, how does that make me feel?” As you did in step 3, keep asking the question until you see a deeper emotional space that you can play in and own.
Sorting through the benefits
When you conduct the benefits brainstorm on your brand, use the Consumer Benefits Ladder worksheet to focus the team’s thinking. Like any brainstorm, you will end up more choices than you can use. Here is an example of the output of a Consumer Benefits Ladder worksheet for Gray’s Cookies.
Narrow down the list by sorting through the benefits to find those that are the most motivating to consumers and own-able for your brand. You can use the grid on the next page to evaluate. You will notice that the zones match up to the venn diagrams I showed in the Strategic Thinking chapter.
- You can see on the grid how The ‘Guilt free’ consumer benefit offers the highest potential as it is highly motivating and highly own-able for the brand. This is the winning zone.
- The consumer benefit of ‘New favorite cookie’ is highly motivating, but falls into the losing zone, as it would be owned by the power player competitor brands in the category.
- The ‘Feel more confident’ benefit falls into the risky zone. To win this zone, the brand would need to use speed-to-market, creativity or leveraging emotional marketing.
- Avoid the dumb zone, where the benefit shows up low on motivating and potential ownership. In this case, ‘More comfort in choices’ is neither motivating or own-able.
Go find your winning space
Here is a workshop we run on Brand Positioning that looks at both the creative and media sides of reaching consumers.
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