Brand-Building in Mature Markets, Part I

“Sony will have to gain market share the old-fashioned way—by slugging it out….”

by Michael Cooney

Market penetration and brand building -- particularly in mature markets -- can be tough to accomplish. Let’s take up the challenge and explore how to build brand presence and market share in an already saturated market. To make it more interesting, we’ll use a real-life example.

On December 1, while in Tokyo, I was honored to be the dinner guest of Mr. Shun Fujishima, his wife Tsujiko, and their teenage son, Kenta. Mr. Fujishima is Deputy General Manager of the Sony Corporation Core Technology and Network Company. Our discussion included future plans by Sony to build its brand of dry batteries (such as the AA, C, and D batteries you commonly use) in the U.S. market. This is a daunting challenge.

How would you go about it? The consumer market for batteries is already saturated. Everyone who needs them for portable tape and CD players, flashlights, and so on is already using them. If you peeked inside most such devices, you would find Duracell, Energizer, or Ray-O-Vac brands.

The market for batteries is probably growing primarily in two ways: first, by virtue of the average family buying more battery powered products, and using them more, thus wearing out more batteries. And second, through the few million kids who turn 11 or 12 each year and start buying their own battery powered devices.

This is a far different marketing problem than inventing a new product category and getting consumers to buy into it for the first time. Since this is a mature industry and market, where everyone is already using a competitor’s product, Sony will have to gain market share the old-fashioned way -- by slugging it out and taking customers away from Duracell, Energizer and Ray-O-Vac. Which brings us to the problem of overcoming the brand loyalty attached to those three companies.

A fundamental purpose of marketing, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, is to ethically alter or manipulate consumer’s perceptions. It’s the old question of which product is “best.” Is there truly a “best” battery? Or will one simply be perceived as “best” and therefore gain an advantage?

How can Sony establish its brand as the preferred brand? How can it get millions of consumers to switch? More importantly, what would it take to get you to switch? I frame the question that way because establishing brand identity and gaining market share means conquering one mind at a time. Each individual must make a decision to switch to, or at least try, Sony batteries.

Overcoming competitor’s brand loyalty

Sony is one of the most recognized brand names in the world. It enjoys a positive image and good reputation. Although these are strong building blocks, more is needed, because Sony is not known for batteries. Therefore, education would be key to Sony’s success. (Education as a powerful selling tool was discussed in last month’s Business Builder column). Education builds trust, and trust is the single most powerful motivator in a buying decision.

Sony could effectively use education to attack the brand loyalty enjoyed by Duracell, Energizer and Ray-O-Vac. Many consumers are indeed willing to switch when a competing product demonstrates a clear advantage, done typically through publicity and advertising which educate the buyer. That advantage may be in perceived quality, price, construction, reliability, durability, and even in appearance. But in any case, to counter existing brand loyalty, education is paramount.

I would first ask Sony: Does your battery possess a technological advantage in its chemistry or construction? Is it superior for certain types of devices that make special demands on batteries? (For example, batteries used in clocks undergo a miniscule but constant, 24-hour-a-day drain; batteries used to power toy’s electric motors must deliver much larger current, but for shorter periods of time. A battery’s chemical composition may favor one type of use over another). Can these advantages be explained, or demonstrated? If so, education can be used as a potent marketing tool.

Advertising in this instance must answer the same question all advertising should answer: why should I buy from you instead of from someone else? It’s the consumer’s “what’s in it for ME” question. Why switch? What’s the reason? Without answering that question, Sony would simply be another player in a saturated market. Therefore, it must differentiate itself from its competitors. And education is a highly effective way to achieve differentiation.

Next time, we’ll continue with this example and look at several more principles of brand development Sony -- and your company -- could follow to attack a saturated market.