The Best Brands: Different in a Way People Care About
by Allen P. Adamson
Extract from BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed
Look at any of the best brands in the marketplace, old or new, and you can immediately tell what makes them different from the others in the category.
It’s also clear what makes this difference relevant to consumers. Whatever it is that makes your brand’s idea different must also be relevant to people's needs. There is no long-term value in a brand if it’s not something people will use or find important to their lives. Difference for the sake of being different won’t get you anywhere but in a financial bind.
A lot brands have developed products without assessing relevance. Engineers and chemists, research and development departments have been given the task of coming up with amazing things. Truckloads of dollars are poured into the enterprise. Bonuses are offered to those who come up with the next big thing.
The problem in most of these cases is that it is innovation run amok. What good is the next big thing if it isn't something people need or can use in a big way? Philips, for example, came out with a flat-screen TV that includes an ambient light source to add dimensional color.
Let¹s say you’re watching an underwater scene. The TV projects blue ambient light to add depth to the scene, green ambient light when a forest or jungle scene appears. While it sounds kind of cool, I’m not sure this technological difference is all that relevant to consumers who are considering the purchase of a flat-screen TV. I’d check consumer data on something like this carefully before I committed a lot of money to it.
The Segway scooter is another example of getting excited about what you¹ve developed without assessing whether consumers will be equally excited. The Segway was released with unprecedented hype as a product that would revolutionize not only transportation but the world. Investors expected hundreds of thousands of these two-wheeled power scooters for adults to be sold, generating billions of dollars in sales in the first year.
In reality, Segway sold only ten thousand units in its first few years and is still trying to overcome an identity crisis. High price, not enough power, bans in urban centers, and problems with being able to balance the vehicle properly made it the revolution that wasn’t. What can we learn from the Segway experience?
Don’t let your own excitement about a product or service shortchange your assessment of how it will really play in the market. Coming up with a brand difference and determining if the audience will find it relevant means looking beyond your own delight. Myopia is not an option. You have to assess carefully what people tell you in focus groups and quantitative concept testing. Determine if they really will take an interest once the product is on the market.
H. J. Heinz, for example, had one miss and one great hit with a couple of food products for kids. ‘They’re not what a potato is supposed to be.’ This is how Heinz pitched funky fries - the weird chocolate-flavored, blue-colored French fries - to the world in 2002. Kids never warmed up to these odd fries, and a year later Heinz pulled them off the shelves.
Chocolate French fries? Kids already thought French fries were fun so why jazz them up in any way? That¹s why, even after extensive investment in production and manufacturing, Heinz pulled the chocolate, cinnamon, sour cream, and blue-colored products off the shelves.
However, Heinz had a winner with another product that was different and extremely relevant to kids. As I know, firsthand, from sitting across from my own kids during meals, kids love to gross out their parents and friends. The people at Heinz knew this when they developed green, purple and pink ketchup. Sales went up as kids delighted in squirting this stuff on everything. The relevance of this product hit the bull’s eye with its audience.
Here’s one more example. Despite a huge marketing campaign launched during the Super Bowl in January 1993, Crystal Pepsi lasted only one year in the United States. It is considered by some to be the company’s equivalent of the New Coke: a massive commercial failure. (Consumers didn¹t want a New Coke. They were happy with the traditional Coke).
Healthy living had become a popular concept in the early 1990s with focus on the very vague notion of purity. As a result of this, Crystal Pepsi was marketed as the ‘clear alternative’ to regular cola drinks, equating its clearness with purity. In addition to color - or lack thereof - the branding signal for the new cola was the tagline, ‘You’ve never seen a taste like this.’ The taste didn’t turn out to be much different from that of other colas, though, and, consumers expected it to have the lemon-lime flavor of other colorless drinks. More important, the difference of a cola taste without the cola color was not really relevant to most consumers. Crystal Pepsi tasted much like the original Pepsi. Except for a small audience who looked to purchase the product through internet sites, there wasn¹t enough of a market for a clear cola.
All good companies, like the companies mentioned above, do research. And while research may have indicated people might go for adult two-wheelers, chocolate fries, or colorless cola, consumers behave differently when facing a purchase decision than when they’re in focus groups. Research isn’t a panacea. Use it wisely and follow your intuition.