Brand-Building In Mature Markets, Part II

“It’s new categories that drive publicity, not new brands.”

by Michael Cooney

Last month we discussed how education leads to differentiation, an important aspect of brand building in any market. We looked at Sony, which now sells its line of dry batteries here (such as the AA, C and D batteries you commonly use).

Sony is entering a saturated market where every consumer who needs batteries is already using a competitor’s product. What might Sony do—and what can you do—to build a brand and gain market share in a mature, saturated market?

At this early stage, Sony has some decisions to make. For example, will it engage in regional or national advertising to differentiate itself from Duracel, Energizer and Ray-O-Vac? Or just allow the Sony name itself to generate some sales?

Assuming competitive pricing, the Sony name would be enough to motivate some consumers to try the new brand of batteries. That approach, however, will not carve out significant market share.

For Sony to grow its brand of batteries in the U.S., it must take a bolder approach. For this saturated market, there are three interrelated tactics Sony could use, as a start, to gain publicity and customers. They are tactics you can follow as well. There are a dozen more, to be sure, but three important and basic tactics are: create a category; dominate that category; and own a word. Let’s look at each one.

Create a new category

If corporations want to build a brand, they must look at brands the way consumers do. For example, let’s say photography is your hobby. Think of all the brands of film cameras you could buy: Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Leika, Pentax, Mamiya, Konica, Minolta, and many more. Now, if a new brand were entering that market, what would your level of excitement be? Perhaps mild curiosity. But true excitement? Highly unlikely. It’s just another film camera.

Now think back to the creation of a new category of photography -- digital photography. Did that create excitement? You bet! In just a few short years, the sale of digital cameras has come to equal the sales of film cameras. That’s an amazing accomplishment. Why the excitement? It’s still just photography, after all. The answer is that consumers -- and the media -- don’t get excited about new brands, but they do get excited about new categories.

On the Sony website, numerous attributes are given to their line of batteries. One in particular caught my eye: they are claimed to operate reliably in temperatures ranging from –4 degrees to 158 degrees F. This is important because that claim could form the basis for a new category of battery: “the battery that’s reliable under the most extreme temperatures” or “extreme temperature batteries.”

Such a category would be irresistible to the entire outdoor industry (camping, hunting, skiing etc.), among others.

Importantly, it doesn’t even matter if the competitor’s batteries can do the same thing -- if Sony is the first to make the announcement and promote the benefits, it will have created a new category. And that, in turn, generates excitement with the media that will publicize it, and with consumers who see the publicity. A few decades ago, it was longer-lasting alkaline batteries that became a new category. It generated huge publicity and Duracell, “the copper top battery,” took the lead. It’s new categories that drive publicity, not new brands.

Dominate the category

After a new category has been created, you must dominate the category. In Sony’s case, that would mean first working the media to generate publicity for the new category, while claiming its leadership role in that category. Following publicity, advertising which focuses on category dominance must be implemented to maintain that newly perceived leadership. After a while, the public would associate that category with Sony. Once that happens, it becomes extremely difficult for a competitor to dislodge that association.

Own a word

Finally, you must own a word or two in the consumer’s mind. Example: how did BMW become known as the “ultimate driving machine”? Because that slogan has been in every BMW ad and commercial for the past 25 years.

With Sony batteries, the word(s) may be “extreme temperatures.” Again, once the word is “owned” it becomes “branded” to that product, which is exactly what you want from a brand. That is accomplished through consistency in advertising.

Successful brand building must be based on understanding how consumers view brands and why they choose one over another. Using these three tactics can help you create a successful, long-lasting brand when faced with the challenge of breaking into a mature market.