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The challenges of challenger brands Discuss 0

We were invited to a pitch today. The potential client has grown quickly and out grown the agency they had. This is always an unfortunate situation, but, it’s always better to refocus early, before things get totally out of wack.

In a fast growth market, there are certain places a brand wants to be: first, biggest, most well known. Ideally, all three. The problem comes when you’re none of the above and searching for an added edge to continue your growth. This pitch was a bit different, in that we weren’t given much time (a week) and we weren’t given a brief, it was more of a capabilities presentation. Of course, the first question coming out of the audience (it’s a franchise organization so there were a lot of bodies in the room) was have you done work for someone like us before? The old catch 22 question which is why the old industry adage of  “it’s better to be lucky than good” often comes to play in matching agencies to clients. Or, as they also say- it’s not what you know, but who you know.

In our background research we were finding that they are in a segment experiencing phenomenal growth. They’re on the map as a one to watch. The problem is, the number one player in their field, carved a niche away from the original number one by offering a very clear point of differentiation and then proceeded to own the niche like it’s the main event. The number two and three brands have been busy trying to out niche the leader and our potential client was trying to play leapfrog on the very same platform.

Stop.

This is what challenger brands should never do. Don’t play follow the leader. Don’t assume that what works for the leader can be copied, duplicated or improved- need proof, how’s Barnes and Noble really doing vs Amazon in just the eBook reader market? Never mind the selling of books. If you are going to be a challenger brand, the most important thing that you can discover to build a strong brand DNA is your brands “unique selling proposition,” a concept developed by Rosser Reeves for the Ted Bates Agency in the fifties. Brands that find their USP find that their products and services are much easier to sell and have a conversation with their customers because there is no cloud of confusion surrounding their products. Apple is a great example of a challenger brand that still isn’t the biggest by market share, but has grown from near bankruptcy to the most valuable company in the world based on the USP of products that are beautiful and easy to use. Google has grown by proving itself useful. Neither were first to market, but both found that by sticking to simple messaging they could own a position that could be unique to them. You’d think that other computer companies would figure out that ease of use is important, but it hasn’t happened yet.

While McDonalds and Burger King and sometimes Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Jack in the Box and countless others fought to be “THE” burger chain, Subway grew to have the most outlets by focusing on a more approachable business model with easier entry for franchisees. Five Guys is making all the burger joints look twice at trying to be something for everyone, as they stick to the knitting of making a better burger. When McDonalds began, there were no chicken nuggets, salads or coffee bars, it was burgers, fries and milkshakes.

If you want to be a challenger brand, that’s fine. But, the truly great understand that to steal a phrase from designer/author Marty Neumeier,  in his book, “Zag“, “when others zig, zag.” He stresses the need for radical differentiation. It’s not just enough to talk about a strategy, you have to actually have one. Five Guys isn’t winning the burger wars because they have free peanuts, it’s because they hyper focused on a better burger and a simplified menu in a no-frills space.

Challenger brands that find their USP and convey it in a clear, differentiated voice, soon find themselves in a category all of their own. Find your USP, or find an agency that you can talk to about finding it, and you’ll be on your way to success.

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Signature Confections Discuss 0

There are candy stores and there are jewelry stores. Signature Confections is somewhere between the two. They make high-end, unique, and delicious chocolate that almost looks too good to eat… almost. Chocolate zombies, anyone? From the eye-catching flash cuts at the beginning to the fun music in the background, this video captures the feeling of Signature Confections being a candy store for all ages.

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Salon Ventures Discuss 0

Salon Ventures is not a traditional salon. They have a contemporary business model that allows their professionals to set their own prices, make their own hours, and be their own boss. In this video, we reflect the entrepreneurial excitement of this type of business. This video works whether you are interested in starting your own beauty business, or just a customer looking for a new stylist.

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Subtracting value: learn from Apple #FAIL with maps in iOS6 Discuss 1

m4s0n501

Apple is famously and profitably successful because of their attention to design detail and simplicity and consistency of their user interface. And while they’ve made more than a few mistakes along the way, the replacement of the Google maps application which has been a part of the iOS operating system from day 1, may become a classic business case study in what not to do.

Taking away benefits/functionality from your customers without their consent is a very dangerous move.

To summarize what happened- Apple and Google are no longer friends because the open source Android mobile operating system has gone head-to-head with the proprietary and highly regulated Apple iOS. Apple deleted the Google Maps application in favor of their own mapping software with iOS6- despite it not being either an improvement or even a good replacement for the original software. When you start making the New York Times about your product changes, it should be a bit of a worry.

Screen grab of tweet that Apple left out transit maps because Apple users only drive BMWs

Apple’s reckless deletion of functionality of transit maps in their iOS6 mapping app brings satire to the surface

Missing are the highly useful public transit details- a system that is invaluable in NYC, and much of the data that has been tweaked and refined over the years by millions of users. Frankly, Apples map program is being forced on users as an “upgrade” when it isn’t. This isn’t what the customer bought when they bought their iOS devices.

The right to take away a purchase after it’s been bought is a slippery slope, that smacks of “Big Brother” – the very same one that Apple so famously rallied against in their classic Superbowl ad 1984 that launched the Macintosh. What’s next- publishers having the right to come to your home and take back books that you bought because they were too useful? (Textbook manufacturers are becoming guilty of this- but that’s another matter).

Rumors abound that Google is going to release a version of Maps via the Apple store- however, that would and could possibly sink the chances of the Apple maps app from ever reaching parity. Digital maps data is improved by the size of the user base, a primary reason Google was probably willing to allow Apple to use their data when the iPhone launched before they had an Android OS.

Google could probably rake in millions by selling their app on the iTunes store now, but the shopkeeper, Apple, despite a chance to gain 30% of sales may still block it from happening (debate is raging on this subject).

But this is a lesson for all marketers. The restaurant that used to offer free bread that now charges, the gas station that stops offering free air both risk alienating customers by taking away something that was previously accepted. Once one fast food chain began offering free refills on soda for dine in, going back is nearly impossible as is not offering the same option.

Apple may be getting cocky at the wrong time and place as the newest king of corporate monopoly, but we’ve seen companies make potentially fatal flaws before: thinking they know what’s best for their customers and trying to force a reset. Quikster anyone?

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