We are all in the business of changing people's behaviour. We want them to buy more, buy more often, or buy for a first time. So logically our starting point has to be customer behaviour. And in doing so, we have to conclude that every brand is "substitutable".
Most shopping lists will have a list of categories interspersed with a handful of brands. Brand substitution is why the fastest growing sector in grocery are the discounters. By providing well-priced brand substitutes, Aldi and Lidl have become the game changers in retail.
Similarly, lots of brands operate in repertoire markets where substitution is the norm. Take casual dining – we see customers having several brands in their repertoire and happy to eat at any one of them.
Most FMCG brands operate in repertoire markets. Customers aren't loyal to the brand but the category and the choice of brands within it.
Take a confectionery brand like Yorkie, a household name with lots of brand differentiation investment over the years. It has a household penetration of 50% but still operates in a repertoire market of 10 brands. Consumers are just as happy buying any one of the other 9 as they are buying a Yorkie.
The brand decision is made in an instant at the point of sale. The truth is that consumers rarely spend time comparing brands in a category. The big decision is whether to buy in the category or not, to eat out; to buy some chocolate. In these markets, and many more, brands don't have to convince, they are different in order to be bought.
Much more important is that brands stand out so that buyers can identify them. Distinctive brand assets help customers notice them throughout the customer journey. Such assets are colour palettes, logo's, end lines, shapes, delivered coherently over time and along the customer journey; in ads, POS, sponsorship, digital and social.
A brand looking and behaving like itself. A brand being distinctive.
Distinctiveness is about the fastest speed of recognition and what we used to call top of mind recognition. It's about consistent use of the distinctive brand assets. It's our job to understand what these are before we let designers and advertising agencies tamper with them in an attempt to stay "engaged in an ever changing world". Many a brand asset has been thrown out with the brand refresh bathwater – at huge commercial cost!
Too often differentiation is the holy grail of marketing when customer behaviour tells us it's not as important as we think. I have no idea how brand Nike is different to brand Adidas, but I do know which brand has the fastest speed of recognition, is the most distinctive, is ever present and is, funnily enough, brand leader.
Posted by Paul Watson – Managing Director