Monday, December 12, 2005

Branding Mistakes - Having a "Me-Too" Brand Name

Imitating the competitor’s name is a fundamentally flawed strategy

Notice how all successful brands are so distinct. By distinct, I mean the brand name is distinct even when there is very little product differentiation. Consider the example of Nikon & Cannon cameras. Both are very successful brands - and yet there is little product difference. Yet both the brands have lots of fiercely loyal customers.

On the other hand, consider the case of Pepsodent and Mentadent toothpaste. Both are good products created and marketed by Unilever. Initially Pepsodent was a big success and captured a significant market share from Colgate. But with introduction of Mentadent brand toothpaste, Unilever lost its US market share - and ended up by selling both the brands to Church & Dwright in 2003. At the same time Arm & Hammer and Crest brands have grown in market share.

Another similar story is repeated in India. Several brands of fairness cream - Fairever, Fair & handsome, Fairone etc. were introduced to compete with the market leader Fair & Lovely. These creams were good products and was offered at a lower price than Fair and lovely, yet the brand Fair & Lovely has 80% of the market share - and is growing.

Now, doesn’t that tell something is wrong?

It does!! And the problem lies with the brand name. Having a similar brand name as that of market leader makes the product a "me-too" product - thus losing its brand differentiator value.

These "me-too" brands have just two chances. They either wither out or speed into a hard-to-grow trap. Brands such as Fairever may continue to exist - but it will not gain any significant market share. Or in case of Hycol - a competitor to Fevicol, the brand disappears. Some of these me-too types, though backed by sound business logic and spirited entrepreneurs, are sure to vanish. They might turn in money but they also ensure that the promoters do not think long-term or promotions because every move to promote "me-too" brands would only uphold the superiority of the targeted brand.

Miming names are flawed fundamentally

A classic branding mistake yet widely believed to trigger success. These brands hang on till they find the toil unworthy. The brand will have initial success if the product is good, but once they become marginally successful, it will fall into the hard-to-grow trap. At this point the market share of the brand suffers from an up-now, down-now syndrome. Beyond this point the company would find the investments in marketing not really yielding.

A few "Me-Too" brands succeed for reasons anything but the name. In fact, they succeed in spite of the name. Invariably, low price is the strategy that puts such brands afloat. In time, smartly managed ones grow till they have carved a segment for themselves. The task now on is more about defending than conquering.

Success apart, these brands lack the potential for progressive branding. Unbelievably, the cap is fixed by the sound of their name, which casts them into a default position. While the promoters may believe that their brand is a challenger, the market perceives it as an imitator.
Fairever, Fairglow and any brand that rhymes with Fair & Lovely would be perceived as underdogs and remain so.

Every move to promote "Me-Too" brands would only uphold the superiority of the targeted brand. Miming names are flawed fundamentally. Even the instant awareness they generate is intrinsically negative. If differentiation is the way to build brands, imitating the competitor’s name is surely wrong thing to do. I can almost hear arguments; how else to call a fairness cream without the word Fair? Well, the very question suggests a challenge and has an opportunity hidden within.

Way Out

What’s the way out to compete when your "Me-Too" brand hits this road block? No options but to build another brand. An independent one—not an extension—that can knock the leader off the shelves.

If CavinKare (makers of Fairever) follows this mantra, it has the potential to snatch as much share with a new brand in half the time it did with Fairever. But companies hardly learn from others’ pitfalls. Recently, Emami, a visibly brand conscious company, has launched a right product with a wrong name - Fair & Handsome. Its mistake has been in choosing the most logical and apparently right name - a name that puts the cap on the possibilities irrespective of market opportunity.

Along from a "Me-Too" brand naming mistake, the worst marketing mistakes are briefly described below.

Nine Major Marketing Mistakes

In today's world, there's so much competition that if you make a mistake your competitors quickly get your business. The chances of getting it back are very slim unless someone else makes a mistake. Hoping competitors make mistakes is like running a race hoping the other racers fall down: It just doesn't happen very often.

Here are the blunders that are the most prevalent in today's hyper-competitive world.


Many people believe that the basic issue in marketing is convincing prospects that you have a better product or service. They say to themselves, "We might not be first, but we're going to be better." That might be true, but if you're late, and you have to do battle with large, well-established competitors, then your marketing strategy is probably faulty. Me-too just won't cut it.

What Are You Selling?

This may surprise you, but a good bit of my time over the years has been spent figuring out exactly what it is that people are trying to sell. In other words, trying to capture the category in a simple, understandable way. Companies, large and small, often have a very tough time describing their product, especially if it's a new category and a new technology. Your biggest marketing successes come with simple, but powerful explanations of what you're offering. Don't get cute or complex.

Truth Will Win Out

Not understanding that marketing is a battle of perceptions, is a simple truth that trips up thousands of would-be entrepreneurs every year. Marketing people are preoccupied with doing research and "getting the facts." They analyze the situation to make sure the truth is on their side. Then they sail confidently into the marketing arena, secure in the knowledge that they have the best product and that ultimately the best product will win.

It's an illusion. There is no objective reality. There are no facts. There are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion.

The Other Guy's Idea

It's bad enough to launch a me-too product, but equally problematic is a me-too idea. The reason is that two companies cannot own the same concept in the prospect's mind. When a competitor owns a word or position in the prospect's mind, it is futile to attempt to own the same word.

Volvo has pre-empted the concept of "safety." Many other automobile companies, including Mercedes-Benz and General Motors have tried to run marketing campaigns based on safety. Yet no one except Volvo has succeeded in getting into the prospect's mind with a safety message.

We're Very Successful
As I've written in the past, success often leads to arrogance and arrogance to failure. When people become successful, they tend to become less objective. They often substitute their own judgment for what the market wants.

As their successes mounted, companies like General Motors, Sears and IBM became arrogant. They felt they could do anything they wanted to in the marketplace. Success leads to trouble.

Everything For Everybody

When you try to be all things to all people, you inevitably wind up in trouble. Better advice comes from one manager who said, "I'd rather be strong somewhere than weak everywhere." This kind of "all things" thinking leads to what we call "line extension," or trying to use a successful brand to mean more than it can in the mind. It's a very popular mistake.

Live By The Numbers

Big companies are in a bind. On the one hand, they have Wall Street staring at them asking, "How much are your sales and profits going to grow next month, next quarter, next year?" On the other hand, there are an endless number of competitors staring at them saying, "We're not going to let you grow if we can help it."

So what happens? The CEO lies to Wall Street and then turns around to the marketing people and tells them what is expected in terms of profit and growth. They in turn scramble back to their offices and try to figure out how to make those unreasonable numbers. Brash predictions about earnings growth often lead to missed targets, battered stock and even creative accounting. But worse than that, it leads to bad decisions.

As panic sets in, what often happens is that they fall into the line extension, or the everything for everybody trap. Rather than stay focused on being strong somewhere, to drive their numbers up they opt for weak everywhere. Their only hope is that they will be promoted before it all hits the fan.

Not Attacking Yourself

Much has been written about the likes of Dell, Xerox, AT&T and Kodak, and their efforts to move from slow growth to high growth businesses. When this is exacerbated, companies are faced with what have been called disruptive technologies. Dell facing the desktop computer revolution. Xerox facing the surge in laser printing, and Kodak facing the digital camera.
Though difficult, a leader has no choice in this matter. They must find a way to move to that better idea or technology, even if it threatens their base business. If they don't, their future will be in question. Especially as that technology is improved and picks up momentum. The trick is how to do it.

Not Being In Charge

When the CEO or very high level management doesn't take charge of strategy, things rarely go well. In today's rough and tumble world, marketing strategy is too important to be left to middle level management.


Natti said...

True Arun,
Coincidentally, starbucks has won a lawsuit against a chinese company recently. The company had totally lifted the Starbucks logo.

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