July 25, 2018

by Nigel Hollis

In a recent post I addressed the need to balance the need to disrupt how a brand and category are perceived in order to grow with the need to maintain consistency. While no brand should ever give up trying to find the next opportunity for disruption in this post I want to focus in on signs that indicate the need for disruption is vital not just desirable.

In spite of the best efforts of marketers, the vast majority of brands are stuck in categories where no brand achieves significant growth over a three year time frame. But lack of growth might not in itself indicate that a brand needs to do something disruptive. It might simply be that not enough is being invested into marketing support or that competitors are fighting back with price discounts.

When we examine the brands that declined across three years, we find that they lacked differentiation and subsequently lost both meaning and salience. So a strong indicator of the need for something more disruptive in your growth plans is if your brand has a differentiation deficit, it is less likely to be seen as less different than its user base would suggest.

Nokia is a classic example of a brand that had a big user base but lacked differentiation. In 2008 Nokia sold over one in three mobile phones and was hugely salient. However, relative to its salience Nokia was not seen to be different by many; it was the obvious choice but was essentially commoditized for many people. Given Nokia’s salience and infrastructure advantages, it is likely it could have survived many more years if there hadn’t been the launch of the iPhone.

The lesson should be if your brand has a differentiation deficit you need to act fast create disruption, before someone else disrupts you. Signs that you may need to try something new include:

Your brand’s context has changed.

The category standards may have changed (as when Apple launched the iPhone) or society views of your category may have changed (for instance the trend to consume less sugar in soft drinks) or your key competitor may have created a compelling new positioning that is causing more people to switch than expected.

Your marketing is no longer motivating or appealing.

There comes a time when every campaign has run its course and new incarnations of the same idea fail to engage their audience (even though this might take decades). That is when a compelling new idea can help rejuvenate what the brand stands for just as The Man Your Man Could Smell Like did for Old Spice or the ‘You’re not yourself’ campaign that drove sales for Snickers.

So those are a couple of signs that you need to create new differentiation for your brand before it is too late. But what other signs can you think of?

 

 

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