Differentiating in increasingly undifferentiated markets

In the increasingly cluttered world of branded packaged goods it is quite common for brand managers to say in frustration that a category has become commoditised and that there is absolutely no possibility of creating a sustainable functional brand differentiator. 

But here are 2 examples which show that that need not be so. 

As we all know the starting point for functional differentiation is to offer some product attribute that meets a consumer need. However, to expect research to discover any substantial unmet needs nowadays is often too ambitious - in fact much research on cluttered categories comes to no other real conclusion than that all the consumer needs is a better product at a lower price. 

Hence it is more realistic to set out with the declared objective for your research to search for any insight on a new facet or extra dimension to a consumer need to help your brand stand apart.

To illustrate this, recent research conducted on the crowded toothpastes market revealed that consumers had no real unmet need - and that the only call from consumers was the old story that the benefit of brushing one's teeth should simply last longer.

More exploratory work on this theme led to the insight that consumers believed that toothpastes work best during the process of brushing and immediately afterwards - but that the benefit of the toothpaste vanishes immediately the user consumes the first morsel of food/drink thereafter.

This insight led to the creation of a "brush brush" audio mnemonic (i.e. the sound of brushing every time users in the ad opened their mouths ) that told the consumer that this toothpaste continues working for a full 12 hours regardless of whether the user is eating, drinking or sleeping. Evaluation of this as an ad concept revealed that consumers did indeed believe because of the "brush brush" mnemonic that the therapeutic effect of this brand of toothpaste continued working even after eating/drinking.

This produced one of the most memorable ad campaigns ever in the category - and subsequent brand tracking revealed high identification with this benefit, and an increased brand share.

Our second example comes from a category that you might expect would be an even greater challenge - the household insecticide market.

Advertising for mosquito coils typically talks of increased efficacy and lasting longer - and every brand in the market says the same things. However, a stray consumer comment in research, that smoke from the coil does not penetrate curtains (where mosquitoes are believed to hide) because the smoke loses its strength by the time it reaches the corners of the room, led to the development of an ad campaign that spoke about new properties in the smoke that took it to the furthest corners of the room and able to penetrate the thickest of curtains.

This attribute quickly became the acid test of efficacy for the category and single-minded communication on this property led to our brand being uniquely associated with it despite other brands trying to jump on the band wagon later.

Summing up :
• In many product categories these days all functional needs that were there to be discovered, have already been discovered

• Insights therefore are no longer so much about discovering new consumer needs...but about exploring well recognised needs to greater depths to uncover a hitherto unused facet or dimension.
This means:

• looking for a new dimension to the functional brand benefit

e.g. goes on working despite eating - as a new dimension to the works longer need;

e.g. penetrates curtains - as a new dimension to the efficacy need

• discovering an executional device like the "brush brush" mnemonic to express this new dimension of the brand benefit.

As seen by these 2 case studies the dimensions and the executional device were new - not the basic underlying consumer needs themselves.

When you have nothing new to say - as is the case in most cluttered branded packaged goods today - then say it differently. Scope for brand differentiation will rarely lie in addressing a new need, but more and more in presenting a solution to an old need from a new angle.

In other words in the world of brand differentiation today the 'How' has become more important than the 'What'.

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