Consumers love it when there is something to choose within the product category. Therefore Volvo, Mercedes or Volkswagen have a different brand image. An interesting question for marketing managers is how you can profile a brand in such a way that it is different from the competition. We asked Kimberly Whitler who wrote a book on this subject.
On this subject Dr. Kimberly A. Whitler wrote the book 'Positioning for Advantage: Techniques and Strategies to Grow Brand Value'. Whitler is Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. In addition, she worked at companies for 20 years where she had various marketing and management positions.
Why is it so important to be different?
,,If brands are the same then they are essentially commodities. It is hard to compete and win as a commodity. Consequently, marketers strive to create differentiated positions for brands, such that they occupy a unique "space" in the hearts and minds of consumers.''
Your first step in being different is to be consumer centric. Do CMO's still have the tendency of focussing on the product and why do they?
,,Companies vary in the way in which they innovate. Some start with the consumer and take an "outside-in" strategic approach. What are the "unmet" needs of consumers in the market? Other companies start by looking at the product and take an "inside-out" strategic approach. What products can the company produce? Marketers believe in adopting an outside-in approach. It anchors value creation on the needs of consumers.''
How can you find your uniqueness as a brand in focussing on the customer problems? Is customer research underestimated?
,,My book provides a series of tools that marketers can use to create and test different brand positions. Designing positions requires consumer insight. You have to understand the "target consumer" and then ideate positioning statements, test them, and perfect them. There is a science to identifying an optimal position and it requires consumer knowledge and data.''
How do you communicate the advantage?
,,There is no one, universal way that works for all brands. It depends on the category, the product, the advantage, the consumer, the competitors, and so forth. Based on these factors, there are different channels (e.g., tv, email, social, etc.), marketing approaches (sponsorships, promotions, price discounts, etc.), messages, and so forth. It is actually quite complicated. Even if you pick TV, there are hundreds of channels and different dayparts you can advertise on.''
What in your opinion is the example of the brand with the most unique profile ever?
,,I can share a few brands that I think have done a terrific job developing a unique / superior position. I enjoyed the Verizon vs. Sprint brands. Verizon owned service coverage and Sprint owned value/price (T-Mobile/Verizon and Sprint merged last year). Two very different positions that enabled both to compete. Bounty – most would think this is a mundane product. But the "quicker picker upper" has been around for decades and has had a consistent message around superior performance. A brand like Lego is admirable. They spark curiosity through fun for kids. But this is a brand that, because of their strength, has expanded into clothing, movies, and a theme park. They have been around nearly 90 years.''
You visited China for work. Do they market brands different then in het western countries?
,,I was fascinated because I believe that marketing thought in the East is very different. I wrote about this in a Harvard Business Review article What Western Marketers can Learn from China butthe short answer is that the market has developed differently and the thinking/skills are different.''