Does your brand adhere to people’s pecking order?

Where are you on the brand hierarchy for your product category, and how do you improve or maintain your current position – so that people will pick (and not peck) you?

Consumers are like chickens. They have a pecking order – and a picking order – of brands in their mind. Where are you on the brand hierarchy for your product category, and how do you improve or maintain your current position – so that people will pick (and not peck) you?

Are you the first in people’s minds? Then you’ll have an easy ride. Brands who get there first have the leading advantage over followers for a long time. A classic example is the soft drinks category / cola subcategory, where Coca-Cola is still number 1 and Pepsi is still number 2. After more than a century of Cola Wars, Coke (established 1886) still has a bigger share than its rival (introduced 1898 as Pepsi-Cola). If you’re a leader, your brand name might even become the category name. Has anybody ever asked you for ‘a facial tissue’? Probably not, right? People might ask you for ‘a tissue’, but many will refer to ‘a Kleenex’. Some of these generic trademarks are being used as verbs. If you’re searching information online, it’s normal to say: ‘I’ll google it’, even if you would (also) use Yahoo or another search engine. I’ve never understood why some brands discourage the use of generic trademark verbs – I think it’s the best compliment (and free marketing) you can get!

The only defense against information overload is a mental filter.

What if you’re not number 1 in a category? If your product is not really different from that of the market leader, you could become number 2 or 3 in the leader’s category and get secondary mindshare. Most people won’t recall more than these 3 brands per category. They get bombarded by thousands of messages, day in, day out, through many channels. The only defense against information overload is a mental filter, so there’s Coke, there’s Pepsi, and… what else? In Holland, where I grew up, we had Dr Pepper. Bwlllaaahhh! For my buddies and me, Coca-Cola truly was ‘The Real Thing’, even if Pepsi threw in hundreds of radio spots and TV ads, trying to convince us that they were ‘The Choice of a New Generation’ (implying, very intelligently, that Coca-Cola would be the choice of our generation’s parents, and therefore old-fashioned).

Time is money, and timing is everything

My friends and I would buy a Pepsi occasionally, if there was no Coke around, but we had already made our basic choice – and we were teenagers; part of that ‘The New Generation’. It goes to show how long it may take to change a brand perception (and consumer behavior) if you’re not a category leader. Most European advertisers focus on stations for a 20-34 or 20-49 audiences, but I think that they should include younger demos for sure. Teenagers may not have much to spend now, but they will have that money later. It’s way more difficult to change people’s minds after they have made them up! And it will cost a you a lot (if it’s possible at all). The secret to marketing success and sales revenue is to get into people’s minds as soon as possible, practicing forward thinking and long-term investing. Time is money, and timing is everything.

Reposition the competition, and position your brand as the alternative.

What if number 1, 2 & 3 in a product category are taken already? To use a popular marketing phrase, it’s differentiate or die. More than finding a Unique Selling Proposition, it is about finding a strategic brand position. You can pull off a stunt like 7-Up did with its classic ‘Un-cola’ campaign, which placed their lemon-lime drink in the mega-selling cola category, shooting it to number 3 (right after Coke and Pepsi). Because most people thought of ‘cola’ when they wanted a ‘soft drink’, 7-Up made the genius move to instantly collecting mind share from most cola (and many soft drink) consumers. They related themselves to all colas by saying ‘we are not cola’. Despite this brilliant move, 7-Up only emphasized what they were not tasting like, and forgot to position what they were tasting like (lemon). It could have been better to combine both thoughts (not cola, but lemon) in their positioning, with a slogan like ‘the cola sparkle with a fresh lemon taste’. Strategies like these help you to reposition the competition (‘they are X, were are Y), and position your brand as the alternative (to X).

It’s a narrow focus that creates broad results.

Another way of positioning your brand is to become number 1 in a new category, which you own. 7-Up could have done this by not only positioning their brand as ‘the un-cola’, but by (also) claiming to be ‘the first fresh lemon soft drink’. It might have helped them in a battle with Sprite, launched by The Coca-Cola Company in a competitive move. Creating a new product category is easier when you’re starting on a small scale. Being everything to everyone is being nothing to no one; it’s a narrow focus that creates broad results. If the top 3 ‘beer’ positions in your market are all taken, you can launch ‘the first alcohol-free beer’. If all 3 ‘non-alcoholic beer’ spots are filled as well, you can differentiate even more with ‘the first 0% alcohol beer from Germany’ or ‘the first alcohol-free, home-brew beer’. You might also want to launch your product in a key market first, and roll it out on a larger scale after it became successful in the trendsetting market.

Base all your marketing tactics on your defined strategic position.

Before you even think of a marketing strategy, you should know your current brand position. Are you in the mind of your target demo already, and if so: how are these (potential) consumers thinking of you and your competitors today? After all, successful positioning is relating your brand to other brands in a way that confirms the ‘image’ that all of you have in people’s minds right now. So you might want to invest in market research, like perceptual mapping and focus groups. Seek answers to questions like: What is your target demographic, and how do these people think of you and other brands? What are every brand’s strengths & weaknesses? What are potential market holes (thus open positions) that you could own? Who is your average consumer? Think of which marketing strategy may work for this consumer and determine your position. Base all your marketing tactics (like advertising) on your defined strategic position.

Never argue with people’s beliefs.

The famous ‘No. 2’ campaign was an exact match with the overwhelming mind share of Hertz and secondary brand awareness of Avis – and it triggered people’s natural sympathy for the underdog. Unfortunately, after ownership changes, they became a bit too ambitious and decided to advertise their aspirations, changing the headline into: ‘Avis is going to be No. 1’. When seeing this, consumers would silently think: ‘No, you’re not (because Hertz already is)’. The consumer’s picking order (‘Hertz is number 1, Avis is number 2’) had not changed. Perception is reality, so therefore never argue with people’s beliefs. Understand and accept that people’s perceptions are their (and therefore the) reality, and look at your brand from the consumer’s perspective. Only then you can make sure that your marketing approach fits into people’s ‘pecking order’ so they will ‘pick’ you (as their favorite brand or a great alternative) and not ‘peck’ you (as their belief-challenger). Successful marketing is the sum of perception-based marketing strategies and consistent brand positioning.

Post by

Thomas Giger
Editor-in-Chief, Radio))) ILOVEIT

Thomas Giger has been ‘radioactive’ for over 20 years, holding multiple positions in radio, both on and off air. Today, Thomas is an account manager at leading radio imaging & branding specialist PURE Jingles. He combines his love for radio with a passion for writing, sharing inspiration & resources for radio professionals on his personal website,

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