Category Archives: Branding Platform

Differentiate or Die: recommended reading

As I spend some time discoursing on brand differentiation, I thought readers might like an authoritative source on the subject.

The best I know is the book, Differentiate or Die. It’s written by Jack Trout, the co-author with Al Ries of the ground-breaking book, Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind. For Differentiate or Die, Jack teams up with Steve Rivkin.

If you go to Jack’s web site you’ll also see he has recently updated the book.

The book is an easy read even though it covers some complex issues and concepts. It attempts to demonstrate both the necessity and possible approaches to developing a differentiating strategy.

Since I’ve gone out on a limb and suggested that differentiation is the most important plank of a brand platform, I’ll write several blogs on the subject, and I’ll use Differentiate or Die as a jumping off spot. In fact, I’ll quote their words frequently.

Martin Jelsema

Brand differentiation: a key plank in the branding platform

A differentiated brand stands outIn building a brand platform from which your branding strategies, decisions, elements and activities will arise; the most significant plank is probably the way you plan to differentiate your brand.

This is how you will determine your positioning strategy. It is the thing that will set you apart from competitors in the minds of your customers and prospects.

So I will devote several blogs to this subject.

In this post I’ll generally speak to the importance of differentiation and delineate some guidelines in formulating a differentiation strategy. Then in subsequent posts I’ll describe several approaches and differentiating concepts. Continue reading Brand differentiation: a key plank in the branding platform

Brand platforms should contain industry and product category vitals

Industry info for your brand platformThis plank in a brand platform has to do with your industry and your product category(s).

I touched on this with the post about competitive intelligence. But now, from a little different perspective, I’ll .

I would first want to know what industry analysts think of the industry in general, and how they define product categories. These opinions and observations are probably more impartial than your own, and may be more from a consumer’s eye view. There are publicly-available reports from Standard and Poors, Hudsons, Dun and Bradstreet as well as research materials from investment brokers. Continue reading Brand platforms should contain industry and product category vitals

Effective brand relationships: building through touch points

Utilizing the concept of touch points in your brand platform to determine where a brand intersects with customers and prospects is a good way to evaluate the importance and priority of different branding strategies and tactics, signals and messages.

Brand platform - touch points analysis 

I believe the first time I was introduced to the term “Touch Point” was in the book Building The Brand-Driven Business by Scott Davis and Michael Dunn, both executives of Prophet.

Here’s just a couple of highlights about touch points according to Davis and Dunn (don’t you like the alliteration of that combination?). Continue reading Effective brand relationships: building through touch points

More on competitive analysis

This time it’s for a consumer product brand platform

If you’re preparing a brand platform for a consumer product, you will find competitive analysis is vital to the positioning of your product within your product category.

Brand platform - competitive analysis

Often, you’ll only have three to five major competitors within your market arena. They may be global brands. They may be just one of many brands from a giant conglomerate. They may be niche brands with a small but passionate customer base.

Whatever their origin and heritage, if they account for over, say, five-percent of the total market you serve (or are going to serve), they should be profiled in your brand platform.

Check out corporate branding first

First, look to the organizations marketing competitive brands. If they’re public, check their annual reports and financial press for info on their strengths, their assets, their corporate culture, goals and vision, their operating maxims. The corporate branding efforts of the companies will tell you a lot about how they’ll brand their products as well. Try to determine how important the competitive product line is to the success of the parent company.

Look to the brand architecture of each company. By that I mean how they organize the product lines they market. Are there families of brands? Is their a master brand under which each product or product line resides? Are they organized into autonomous groups by product line? Do they report earnings and other performance data by product line?

Try to discern how they manage their branding structure. Is the brand management function part of marketing? Is it autonomous? Do they emphasize internal brand training? Do they co-brand and cross-brand within their product groups?

Direct brand information acquisition

Now for each direct competitive brand, ascertain their individual positions within the product category. Here you want to study their advertising, packaging, distribution channels, sales practices, pricing, and other factors and attributes that contribute to a brand’s position. Again, trade press is a major source outside the direct, hands-on experience with competitive brand signals and messages.

Determine which significant attributes consumers value most. Use them as the axis of grids upon which to lay out the positions each competitor occupies. It is hopeful that this information is available through published market research available to all competitors on subscription. But if it is not, primary research may have to be carried out to obtain the opinions of major market segments.

Other competitive sources

It is often valuable to interview trade press editors, association executives, key distributors and retailers concerning competitors. And don’t forget to interview employees who used to work for competitors, no matter what their function within your company may be. And on today’s Internet, check forums and blogs for consumer opinions and reactions to competitive brands, as well as your own.

As a matter of fact, when analyzing competitors for positioning purposes, you should include information on your own company. Profile it just as you would a competitor. That way, when you layout your positioning grid, your brand will be represented as if it were “one of the gang”.

As I’ve blogged about B2B and retail competitive analysis, I recommend not getting too involved with their financials, although it’s good to know if a competitor has the resources and is willing to expend them to maintain or increase market share. But for the positioning process, their messages and signals – and the perceptions of their market targets – are where I believe you should focus.

There’s a lot of work involved here, but its certainly worth it if in the process you find a great unfulfilled position within your product category that your product can occupy with credibility and stamina.

Martin Jelsema

Brand platform: the competitive plank

for a B2B marketer

If you’re a business to business (B2B) marketer, gathering and using competitive intelligence for your brand platform will be entirely different from the process of Looking at how competitors brandinformation gathering I outlined earlier for a retail establishment.

First of all, you probably won’t have near the number of significant competitors a retailer has. I suspect you’ll have less than eight significant competitors to profile.

But as with a retail establishment, the reason for profiling and integrating this information into your brand platform is to better position your company. You don’t want to take a position already occupied by a strong competitor. It’s almost impossible to dislodge an aggressive competitor from an existing position. You end up being a “me-too”, or in the B2B world, a second source.

Significant information to determine a competitor’s position

First of all, you don’t need to know the confidential information industrial spying might uncover. Nor is financial data all that important to establish competitive positions.

You want to know two things from two points of view:

* How each company wishes to be perceived by its most important stakeholders?
* How successful does each company believe it is in fulfilling the promise of its brand.
* How stakeholders (usually customers and prospects) perceive each competitor.
* How stakeholders believe each company is fulfilling the brand promise they believe each company has made.

Competitor-generated information

To get each competitor’s insight into their branding and positioning goals, plans and actions, turn to the materials and messages they send to their various stakeholders – prospects and customers, investors, the media, their suppliers, their distribution chain members.

Check annual reports of publically-traded companies. Then track down articles written by management, press releases, association papers and panels, promotional materials of all kinds. Study material for at least four oe five years duration to get a feel for what they’ve promised and felt they’ve delivered. Also, look at the products they’ve introduced and how the companies have spoken about them during their lives.

It is likely there are ex-employees of your competitors working for you or for companies allied with you. Take the time to interview them and ask questions specific to branding and positioning.

If a competitor has a multiple-industry, multiple-category presence, attempt to isolate those aspects of the brand that are applicable to the industry/category in which you commonly compete.

Trade shows are a good place to both gather competitive materials and hear competitive points of view about the industry.

Try to determine the strategies competitors have developed to promote their brand(s). Most of these are self-evident with some study of their history and current situation.

External views of your competitors

Your prime source of information will probably be the customers and prospects you share with your competitors. Those folks will usually be helpful, as long as you’re not asking for confidential information. Purchasing personnel usually encourage competition, so if you’re a newbie, they’ll welcome your short, to-the-point questions.

You’ll probably want to begin with a questionnaire and telephone. Ask the easy questions first. First ask them to name your most significant competitors once you’ve informed them of your particular product/service category. Then for each they name, ask what their particular strengths are. Then probe about other competitors they haven’t named. It’s best not to ask about negative experiences, and be careful not to begin comparing your company/products with others. You’re gathering information, not making a sale.

From this questionnaire you’ll get some feel for how customers and prospects believe your competition is positioned. And positioning, when all is said and done, is a function of the collective minds of your market participants. You’ll also get a feeling for what gaps in the positioning grid are still open.

You’ll probably want to follow up the telephone interviews with a dozen face-to-face interviews with significant customers. Here you can probe more deeply to elicit stories about dealing with competitors, both the good and the bad.

I’d supplement these interviews with talks with editors of trade publications in your field as well as association execs, standards committee members and if appropriate, government regulators.

Sift, consolidate, compare, summarize the data

Once accumulated, your task is to determine for each competitor:

What position are they after.
What they’re doing to capture or defend that position.
How their stakeholders perceive them.
How their stakeholders think they’re doing.

From this info you can determine if you currently have a strong and defensible position. You can identify attractive, unfulfilled positions to which you can aspire. You can forge branding strategies that differentiate your business/product/service in unique and productive ways.

In short, this competitive intelligence and analysis can lift and separate you from your competition.

And coupled with the other planks of your brand platform, your brand could well become stronger and more durable than your competitors.

Next week, the competitive platform plank for consumer products.

Martin Jelsema