In branding – look to success in the margins

In the real world, competitive brands seldom differ much from each other. Any market successful innovation tends to be quickly cloned. Nor does much advertising give very different images or values to functionally similar brands, despite what tends to be said about this.



It is often said that brands need to be differentiated.  In a differentiation strategy, a firm seeks to be unique. it selects one or two attributes that many buyers in an industry perceive as important  (Michael Porter, 1985).


Differentiation which is successful (in terms of sales) asks to be copied.


If we steal a lead we find the advantage is only temporary. So we rapidly lose our edge and off we go again, striving to get ahead once more. Thus the battle of the brands continues, with broad competitive parity/ over time the normal and natural state of most of our markets.


Me-tooism remains the dominant force in competition. Being competitive means cashing in on one’s competitors’ successes.


So innovation may  not the stuff of effective long-term competition, except defensively. One probably cannot afford to be left behind..


The key strategic objective needs to be remembered – to gain a sustainable competitive advantage by building sustained customer loyalty with products (goods and services)


What is brand salience?


According to Neil Barnard and and John Scriven (Ehrenberg, A., Barnard, N., and Scriven, J. (1997). ‘Differentiation or salience’, Journal of Advertising Research, 37/6: 7–14.)  If Brand A has more salience than B, it has more people who:


  • Are “aware” of it (for just about any awareness measure)
  • Have it in their active brand repertoires (for frequently bought products)
  • And/or have it in their consideration sets (i.e., brands they might buy)
  • Are familiar with the brand
  • Feel it has brand assurance (e.g., retail availability, after-sales service, etc.)
  • Have positive attribute beliefs about Brand A
  • Regard it as value for money
  • Harbour intentions to buy and/or to use it in the future (and do so)
  • Would buy-A-if-their-usual-brand-wasnot-available
  • Choose A in a named product test
  • Note and recall its advertisements (by and large)
  • “Talk more often and more richly about it in focus groups
  • Are “loyal” to A (by any measure of loyalty)


Salience is about how many consumers regard it well, or “well enough,” or see it as “salient”


So – the real differences need to  occur in what we see as the margin .  That is ensuring competitive brands will differ in emotional features (e.g., brands have different personalities) which link with specific target segment desires. The real differentiation is understanding that a brand’s true salience and value lives inside consumers minds and help them identify products that promise them a certain set of benefits.

Dr. Brian Monger


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