Competitor Repositioning

In some product categories a disproportionate number of purchase decisions are based on a habitualized -- and unthinking/uncritical -- repetition of "the brand I always buy." It's an involuntary, knee-jerk reaction that perpetuates the dominant market share held by brands whose name had almost become synonymous with the category. Brands like "Bud" -- as in "gimme a...". Clorox. Crest. Crisco. Draino. Kleenex. Marlboro. Off. STP. Maybe even Windows.

In low-risk situations where little or no mental involvement is involved in the repeat purchase decision, it is necessary for a new brand to undo the default presumption of superiority favoring the incumbent brand. Only after the wake-up call has registered and the prospect is mentally involved in processing a purchase decision is it possible to introduce the new brand as a candidate to occupy the newly created need gap. It's a stratagem dedicated to repositioning a competitor, not merely offering "me-too" comparisons and the distinction is important. Core perceptions of the incumbent brand cannot be changed by a Johnny-come-lately claiming parity -- or even superiority -- for a very basic reason: The intended recipient of the message is not willing to even listen to the virtues of another brand. The only message that penetrates the mind is the one that challenges the pre-conceived values attributed to "the brand I always buy."

To change perceptions of the dominant brand NPD managers must search for the Achilles heel of a dominant market leader. Then discover new product technology and/or brand values to exploit the discovered vulnerability.

In categories dominated by a brand whose repurchase is an automatic, habitualized repetition of past action, NPD managers must do more than find and fill unoccupied gaps. They must create a gap -- by displacing the dominant leader and stepping into the newly created vacancy with a product technology and/or brand image that undeniably fills the newly created gap.

The primary emphasis is on discovering the dominant brand's point of vulnerability. Then finding the technology, brand image -- or both -- to exploit the previously undetected flaw. The insight suggests new product concepts with the power to create massive brand defections from the ranks of habitualized users.

Repositioning a major competitor's brand works because it leverages human nature. People like to see the high-and-mighty toppled -- particularly if they feel their loyalty has been deceived. Think Nixon vs Watergate investigators. Charles vs Di. Cowboys vs Packers. Apple's "Big Brother" portrayal of IBM. Hertz vs "Avis is only #2 so we try harder." Smirnoff vs Stolichnaya "vodka made in Leningrad Russia -- not Hartford Connecticut."

To accomplish a repositioning objective it's necessary to first undo the unquestioned presumption of superiority that dictates an automatic, unthinking repeat purchase that goes -- by default -- to the brand to which users have become habitualized. It's done by revealing a previously unconsidered flaw in the dominant brand that betrays the user's blind faith and unquestioned loyalty. Since hell hath no fury like a loyal consumer betrayed, it only requires a relatively uncomplicated -- and often low-budget -- effort to step into the newly created vacancy with a product that actually does what its predecessor was presumed to do.

The methodology involves looking at both sides of the brand loyalty equation, first from the perspective of habitualized users and then from the perspective of the few brand defectors who broke the habit. To provide the insight, qualitative Discovery interviews using photo projection techniques are conducted to identify the personality characteristics and product motivations of stereotypical users and defectors. Somewhere in what can be an acrimonious self-justification of the user's blind loyalty -- or disillusioned defection -- the point-of-vulnerability is revealed. And the Achilles heel of the dominant brand lies exposed.

Bolstered by qualitative insights from the Discovery groups, NPD managers may elect to brainstorm new concepts or limit participation in ideation functions to screening/adapting the ideas generated by the concept team.

The tool targeted "The King of Beers" and discovered rice is a wimpy substitute for the barley that betrayed Bud drinkers mistakenly believed to be their brand's primary ingredient. The concept launched Miller Reserve: "beer with genuine character...brewed with 100% barley, hops, water." Had Miller not flinched at the prospect of antagonizing August Busch and dropped the real stinger, "and -- unlike Bud -- not a grain of rice," managers might have derailed the juggernaut. The process attempted to unhorse the Marlboro Man with Command -- a new brand with a unique all-tobacco filter smoked by honest-to-God, real-life heroes: firefighters, cops, search & rescue personnel. In spite of highly positive qualitative reactions, management dumped the concept as "unseemly."

The process could support a Colgate periodontal care new product entry positioning Crest's cavity fighting claim as irrelevant to boomers -- "Kid stuff!" And experience with Raid tells us the brand's cartoon positioning is vulnerable to a competitor who suggests roach infestation is not a giggle.

return to new product development tools menu
return to main tools page

homesite mapcompanyservicesexperiencecommentarycontact

copyright © 2002 Polaris Marketing All Rights Reserved