How can you compete with big brands?
This question came about when Deborah Lanyon posted an article from Marketing Week in the Everyone Hates Marketers private Facebook group:
It features new research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science stating that “narrow targeting is counterproductive to B2B growth.”
It confirms earlier research that uncovered the Duplication of Purchase Law: brands share customers far more with the bigger brands and far less with the smaller brands.
This holds true for B2B or B2C businesses, subscription markets, or multi-brand markets.
What does it mean for you?
“No matter how niche your product or positioning, the most efficient way to grow your brand is by using your marketing efforts to reach your entire market.”
Say you’re a solopreneur. Or a small business owner with a handful of employees. Or a new startup that tries to stand out in a saturated market.
Are you supposed to target everyone under the sun that buys your category of products or services? Are you supposed to forget everything that you’ve learned about niching down?
The answer is a bit more nuanced.
Go after a Goliath with an average product in a massive, established category (think banking or automotive), and they will crush you (unless you have billions of dollars to spend for years to come).
That’s because big brands benefit from three massive forces:
It’s an empirical law also discovered by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute which states that brands with less market share have so because they have far fewer buyers (first jeopardy) and these buyers are slightly less brand loyal (second jeopardy).
In other words, as market share declines, both penetration and brand loyalty drop together.
Small brands have to work much, much harder to retain and attract customers.
This means that big brands have a 16x multiplier for every dollar they spend on advertising.
It may not seem fair, but it’s the harsh truth.
I’m going to let brand consultant Mark Ritson put the final nail in the coffin:
"The brand game doesn't really get going for about four or five years. So in terms of working with brands, and I've worked with relatively young brands when they were 7, 8, 10 years old.
I worked with Sephora, for example, the big cosmetics chain, and we have a little, a wonderful program called incubator where we take the two hottest, fastest-growing little brands and, going fast, and we work on them, and we help them. And we incubate them, but even those brands, they still need four or five years already before we can really get into brand strategy.
The first three or four years are about finding your way, getting some loyalty, understanding the path. There’s not a lot of brand strategy work that you can do in years one to five. All you would say to anyone with a new brand is don't create more than one brand.
Don't be a fuckwitt. That would be my consulting advice in an envelope to everyone with less than 5 million euros in revenue."
Read the work of Byron Sharp, Director at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, with care: it doesn’t apply to you if you’re a young business.
In short, don’t believe the “David can beat the shit out of Goliath” stories. Not only will you be crushed, but you will also try to enter a game you can’t even play.
There’s a better way to compete with big brands, even in saturated markets and with few resources.
Allow me to come back to Seth Godin and his book This is Marketing for this one:
You can’t compete head-to-head against the Goliaths dominating entire oceans but, by finding a swimming pool that’s big enough, you can make a difference and stand the f*ck out.
Those big brands are not focused enough to look after those swimming pools.
There lies the root of radical differentiation:
It can’t be a selfish endeavor where you obsess over making millions and millions. Help others make progress in their life. This is why “niching down” is not just a box to tick; it’s a generous act aimed at finding a group of people whose big brands and competitive alternatives have underserved.
This is why most businesses are started by folks who are pissed off about the current solutions they’re using: they’re underserved and want to do something about it.
A few ideas to get you started…
Your segment may be underserved because:
If you want even more examples, take a look at the Value Pyramid, compiled by Bain & Company:
Go to the edge of the map when it comes to the people who are the most in pain, who tend to feel the most underserved. Who are they? What do they believe? Who do you like working with the most? Who can say ‘Yes!’ to your solution right now?
Here’s how Seth Godin describes a typical JC Penney shopper, clearly underserved by more premium retail outlets:
"The typical JCPenney shopper has a household income of $20,000 to $50,000, at the bottom end of the American household income scale. We know that these are not people who are showing up at the Metropolitan Museum Gala. They are scraping by.
But!, and it's a big but, shopping at JCPenney represented a chance to beat the system, to put in the thing you have (time), to get the thing you don't have, which is status.
If you won, you would get something that was in short supply in your life - that feeling of superiority over the system."
What is the best swimming pool to put our product into so people understand what you do and how you can help them? Don’t pick the most enormous body of water possible (the oceans are all taken by gigantic brands).
Instead, choose a swimming pool big enough to sustain you and small enough for Goliaths to care.
For example, “pet food” is a category. “Cat food” is a category within that bigger category. “Cat pâté” is a category within a category within that bigger category. And “organic cat pâté” is a category within a category within a category within that bigger category.
You can become:
The only product in that [swimming pool aka category] that provides [value] to this [underserved segment].
Mix short-term sales activation to generate sales now from early adopters ready to buy and long-term brand building from all the category buyers to influence future sales:
It's the antidote to marketing bullshit.
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