Every brand starts with a competitive strategy as a craft brand
Brands must evolve their competitive strategy as they move from a craft brand to the power player brand. Many brands start in someone’s garage or over a kitchen table at midnight. Start-ups should deploy a craft brand strategy. To stand out, you must be utterly different to a core group of trend influencers who are frustrated with the major competitors. You must be willing to take a “high risk/high reward” strategy. It is O.K. if your brand alienates those who are not yet ready to take on something new. Playing it too safe will lead to your destruction. Do not worry about the mass audience, and avoid trying to be too big, too fast.
As your brand grows, you can transition to a disruptor brand strategy. Utilize your core audience of trend influencers to gain a core base of early adopters. While a craft brand attracts the attention of trend influencers, the disruptor brand must dial up its aggressive stance and call out the major brands. Use your significant point of difference to pull consumers away from the category-leading brands to make them seem detached from the needs of the consumer.
Competitive strategy evolves to take on the power player leader
As your brand continues to grow, you can use your increased resources and power to take on a challenger brand strategy against the leader. You can use the influence of the trend influencers and early adopters to attract the early mass audience. With a significant consumer base, more brand power, and increased financial resources, your brand must gain hard-fought proximity, allowing you to go head-to-head with the power player leader. The challenger brand should turn the leader’s strength into a weakness, pushing it out of what consumers want, while creating a new consumer problem for which your brand becomes the solution.
At the power player stage, the competitive strategy shifts to maintaining your leadership position. You should take on a defensive strategy, to attack in response to any player who threatens your brand. While the trend influencers and early adopters played an essential role in making the brand a household name, you have to be comfortable that your earliest brand fans will eventually leave your brand and look for what is next. They may even call you a “sell-out.” Stay focused on the mass audience.
How Apple evolved their competitive strategy from the innovative craft brand to a power player
Apple started as a classic craft brand in the 1970s and 1980s, positioning their Macintosh as the computer for the “rest of us.” The brand stayed niche with a “making computers simpler” message against IBM personal computers. It focused on a niche consumer who favored the intuitive and artistic side of personal computers, as opposed to IBM’s business computers.
Apple evolved in 2001 to a disruptor brand strategy, when iTunes completely disrupted the music industry. iTunes gave consumers the ability to have 10,000 songs in their pocket, buying one song at a time with perfect digital quality. They made CDs feel disconnected from consumers and a thing of the past.
In 2006, Apple used its market power and substantial resources to deploy a challenger strategy, with the “I’m a Mac” TV ads to go head-to-head with Microsoft. Apple repositioned every one the potential Microsoft strengths into a frustration point for consumers. The ads set up Mac as the only solution for consumers.
Since 2012, Apple has become a power player brand, with stock prices continuing to climb beyond their wildest dreams. It is now a brand for the masses. The company attacks itself internally to stay at the top. Apple takes a fast-follower stance on technology, which frustrates those who loved Mac in the early days. While Apple’s early brand lovers from the 1980s may be disappointed with the Apple of today, the brand must now play to the mass audience and let the true influential innovators, who once loved them, find someone else to love. In 2016, Apple’s most substantial growth came from the 55+ age segment, a clear sign that the brand is for everyone. How long can Apple stay on top before someone starts to disrupt or challenge them?
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