Category creation is the path to sustainable growth
Emergent has extolled the virtue of category creation as a path to sustainable growth for some time. In essence, we routinely look for ways to dial a client’s brand positioning to the right or left far enough that a new category of one is created.
For the most part we find that food, beverage and lifestyle brands, however, prefer to focus on being better than the competition, or even the best – which is better attired in a nice new suit.
Better is an alluring idea. Brands almost naturally feel drawn to say faster, cheaper, easier, more of this and less of that.
The problem with better is it casts the business in a comparison-anchored fight that never goes away. It gives strength to the competition by keeping them in the conversation and requires routine return visits to make sure the specs are always optimal. In fact, the specs become the defining narrative of the business, a more analytical style of communication that lacks emotional resonance.
A form of polite mudslinging goes on continually as the better or best mantra is applied and justified through ranking of achievements and advantages. Marketers may think that users care most about better, but that’s only because they haven’t given them something different to believe in. At least not yet.
Are brands merely a list of features and benefits?
- The primary difference between being brand led versus sales driven begins with recognizing that a strong brand always goes to market with a point of view. The best brands have an opinion that is expressed early and often, and a vision of what the future looks like. Strong brands offer a way forward for their users and help them understand what before and after looks like.
Your brand is ultimately a belief system. In today’s redefined world now founded on substance and authenticity rather than gloss and prestige, belief is the new benefit.
Another way to look at this is the power and importance of different. Superior will lose out to different every time. Emergent’s goal as expert guide is to help marketers define what different looks like and then map how to own it.
Balance sheet challenges aside, the Casper mattress category creation story isn’t really founded on offering a better mattress. They’ve been successful by marketing a point of view and beliefs around better sleep. Their principles and values led to creating a new category and channel for mattress sales that overcame the inability to trial (lay down on) a mattress before purchase.
Your strategic thinking time is best invested looking for powerful ways to be different rather than better or best. Here are four examples of how different can be brought to life.
- Create a new category everyone else is blind to
You can choose to play ball outside with competitors, watching their moves and looking for advantages in formulation or superiority in other areas of the category value proposition that people expect. Or you can create a new playing field that’s your very own.
Legacy beauty brands have forever looked at their role as something magical you apply to achieve their definition of beauty. It is created on the surface, on the outside of the user. New more purposeful emerging brands see it differently. They believe beauty comes from inside and operates with a wider lens around wellness. Beauty is achieved through respect for and balance of the mind, body and spirit. This is rich territory to carve a new voice, to change the value proposition and to be different.
Different is easier to remember and gets traction more quickly than better, which always requires some brain taxing analysis to do the math of superiority.
- Create a lifestyle brand
Lifestyle brands recognize the role they can play as enablers of consumer passions, and their ability to inspire users to a better quality of life. Lifestyle brands literally insert themselves into important life moments for consumers. These are life events and experiences that mirror the brand’s guiding beliefs and reason for being, which is nearly always attached to a deeper meaning than just the product itself.
Yeti is a super-premium cooler brand that is heavily invested in lifestyle positioning. The brand is a study in active participation and storytelling around life moments that matter. Its methodology has been expressed on more than one occasion as celebrating “freedom of the human soul in nature.”
Sure, they could devote their marketing energy to technical descriptions and specmanship around the product design. Instead their focus is on the special moments of human relationship bonding on a river at dawn while fly fishing. Is this a prestige sale? $350 or more for a cooler is a leap in price point. No. It is a cult favorite among construction workers because the brand identifies so fully with a life worth living.
- Change focus and the conversation
Many brands ill-advisedly devote their marketing plans and tools to revealing themselves to the customer. When you talk continuously about your accolades and advantages, you are expressing who and what you are.
However, brand led businesses on the other hand show their difference by expressing who the customer is and can be. The nuance is showing them how your brand beliefs will change them and improve their lives.
When you talk about yourself, you position the brand as the hero of the story you’re telling. That is upside down and puts the brand in competition with the consumer for the hero role. Users should be the hero of all brand storytelling, with the brand positioned as expert guide, there to help them on the journey and solve problems.
Hotel companies are famous for talking about themselves, the facilities and amenities. The similarity between hotel web sites is striking, as if there were one design firm knocking them off along a cookie-cutter pattern of feature lists. The game to settle who is better or best is played against a backdrop of great-looking pools, spas and culinary offerings.
Then along comes Airbnb. This brand rose above the fray by being different in every way. Here Airbnb inspires a dramatically different picture of what travel is. While hotel companies try to beat the competition with amenities, spacious rooms and gardens, Airbnb turned the industry inside out by being different.
The magic lies in how you travel and what you experience when you’re there. It’s a decidedly human story that builds on the personal adventure you create rather than property specs.
- Change the reality
Different can come to life when a brand reframes the long-accepted reality and creates the ‘Oh my God we’ve been doing it wrong all this time’ moment.
Step One Foods in Minneapolis is an early player on this front, pioneering a new category entitled Food-as-Medicine. (Disclosure: Emergent has done some project work with this company). Step One was started by a Cardiologist, Dr. Elizbeth Klodas, who hails from a long line of family bakers.
Dr. Klodas empathetically aligned herself with patients suffering from high cholesterol and the prospect of future heart disease. Dr. Klodas wanted to find a way to improve and change her patients’ lives, not just medicate. Cholesterol lowering drugs, by the way, are the most prescribed medications in America. As is always the case, drug therapies come with side-effects which can be debilitating in their own right.
Dr. Klodas looked at the linkage between food, diet and disease and embarked on a journey to create a food-based solution. Remarkably, she found an effective recipe using real food ingredients in proper proportions to create a line of packaged foods including bars, smoothie mix, oatmeal cereal and other assorted products.
Step One became the first packaged foods company to participate in a double-blind clinical trial of the products, that effectively proved consuming the foods (no other changes to lifestyle required) met or exceeded the cholesterol lowering outcomes achieved by drug therapies, but without the side effects.
Step One has created an ‘OMG we’ve been doing it wrong moment,’ reframing what we know and understand about the role that food can play in addressing disease.
- Different is a reframing reality. It is a paradigm shift and as such it flies against the natural tendency to fall into better, best or both.
- Different and its cousin new category creation, are pathways to sustainable growth that end the connection to competitive comparison while achieving true separation and distinction.
The question marketers should be asking: can I help make people care about something different that what they prioritize now? The answer is yes, this can be done. Owning different will change the conversation with consumers and usher in an era of brand leadership.
Can we help you identify your path to brand-led strength? Let’s talk.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.