The New Rules of Brand Competition

The old branding model is past its “sell by” date. It is a product-centered model that comes from packaged goods in the ’70s and ’80s; offer differentiated benefits that a particular consumer segment is thought to care about. “My peas are picked at the peak of sweetness”…that kind of thing. This model is breaking down as people try store brands and find they are “fit for purpose” at a better price. Now what?

Change the model.

People live life in four dimensions. We have functional needs, but we also are social creatures, have self-expressive needs, and crave content that we find to be entertaining and informative. Thinking this way reveals new ways of making your brand relevant:

  1. Functional: go from “product feature” to “solution-based” thinking
  2. Social: make your brand a celebrity that is fanned, friended, and followed. Or, create a thematic environment around a value shared by your brand and its customers (e.g. Dove and “the real meaning of beauty”)
  3. Self-expressive: the brand must stand for something so clearly understood, it is cultural currency
  4. Content: become the logical and top of mind source for content centered on what your brand is about

But here’s the catch; your competitive set will change as you offer new constructs…new ways to categorize. This takes us to the idea of a “mental marketplace” where your brand must vie for attention against other brands that are functionally unrelated. Product brands can even find they compete with celebrities and news publishers.

Noah Brier has created a freely available tool called brand tags. (You should also check out mattermeter.) Brandtags displays a logo and asks you to type the first thing that comes to mind when you see a particular brand’s logo. You can then see what that brand means to everyone else.

3M competes with Apple in the mental marketplace of innovation but they express their brands differently. Experience the Apple store in SOHO. Apple has leveraged innovation, cool, and edginess into self-expression, a sense of belonging and maybe a little bit of “theme park” thrown in. Oh by the way, Apple stores reached $1 billion in sales faster than any other chain in history (previous record-holder was the Gap).

Whole Foods vies in the mental marketplace of health/fresh with Dannon, Kashi, and Subway (and others, of course). Whole Foods “competes” via brand community across social media (e.g. 800,000+ Twitter followers), has a wonderful blog and iPhone app about a wellness lifestyle from organic/fresh foods. A Whole Foods shopping bag is almost a clubhouse handshake.

When a brand wins in its mental marketplace it leverages multi-layered connections with people into spontaneous credibility that converts into sales. The unfamiliar new product becomes instantly familiar.

If store brands are going to dominate the mental marketplace for “affordable” where do you plan to play and win?

Charles Y.

Charles has been working as a webmaster since 1998. Since then, he has had his hands in thousands of websites and has helped millions get online through a company he partially owns called Web Host Pro.

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