Managing a leading brand is a privilege, but also a challenge.
Some brands are perceived as “number one” in quality, customer service, warranty, or distribution.
But the true, undeniable category leader is the best-selling brand.
The leading brand usually has enough resources to continue building on its success and pursue further growth. Equally important, enough resources should be allocated to defend its leadership position.
What should be part of a leading brand’s defensive strategy? Here are six strategies that should be on the brand manager’s radar:
Communicate the Good News
Brand managers know how hard it is to build a category leader. Once you get there, you have to behave like one. Part of the defensive is communicating the fact that you are number one.
All your marketing materials should reflect this privileged status, including your slogan. This strategy provide reassurance to existing consumers that they made the right choice, and builds trust with new ones.
Move to an Emotionally-Engaging Positioning
In case the category leader uses a product oriented positioning strategy, it’s now time to transition to a new, evolving one that focuses on intangibles, for better and long lasting customer engagement. The move makes sense: your customers are already very familiar with the product (that’s why the brand is number one), so why not become a more sensitive, caring brand?
At one point Ariel, the laundry detergent brand, lost its leadership position in Germany and Austria, in part due to its “problem/solution” communication strategy. The brand was able to recover by changing its positioning to a more engaging, emotional one.
Match Your Competitors’ Moves
A category leader is the most exposed brand to competitors’ attacks, including the challenger brand but also new entrants into the category. These brands will employ various strategies to convince your customers to switch camps. In your defense, you have to match your competitor’s moves, even the more aggressive ones.
If one competitor decides to lower the prices you should follow suit, even if your margins become very thin. You should also respond to an innovative new product being launched, by making sure you have something similar available soon. Your customers will remain loyal as they don’t have any reason to switch.
Don’t Use Comparative Advertising
A communication trap many leading brands fall into is the use of comparative advertising. That is, using head to head comparisons between their products versus competition.
A category leader is in a league of its own. Such a brand should act with class and not get dragged into competitive “dirty wars”. A comparison strategy could make consumers uncertain of the brand’s superiority.
Invest in Innovation
Typically the category leader commands the highest margins. Ideally your strategy will include re-investing some of these funds in innovation, to meet the (always) higher customer expectations.
You should be the first to introduce innovative products and services and create new categories. Apple is the leader in portable music devices and tablet computers by constantly reinventing these categories.
Educate the Market
The best selling and most recognizable name should also be the category’s thought leader. The leading brand is responsible for setting the market trends and helping consumers make informed decisions. With a wide array of options available, from blogs and YouTube videos to live webinars, this strategy should be easy to implement.
One more thing: brand confusion always favors the category leader. If you are lucky to have competitors that don’t stand out for anything you will be able to enjoy the leadership position for a long time.