Monday, January 10, 2011

The New Colors of Brand Success: Black & White

One of my favorite brands, Southwest Airlines, continues it's brilliant assault on the airline industry. First, it was no bag fees. Now, it's no ticket change fees. Fish in a barrel.

It's true, virtually every domestic carrier is serving it up on a silver tray table for Southwest. But I bet your competitors are as well. Perhaps, not so overtly. Perhaps, you don't yet recognize it. But they are. You just need to know what to look for and how to exploit it.

So, where is the first place you should look? Not at your competitors but inside them to see their true colors.

Too often, I encounter clients/prospects that either fail to do their competitive homework or do it wrong. You can't truly understand their brands just by looking at their websites and advertising. What they claim to be, and what they really are, is often different. Fox NewsChannel says "Fair and Balanced." But most people think "conservative" or "Republican." That's a big difference in an image, and important to know, to effectively take them on.

Once you truly understand the perceptions of your competitors' brands, then you can attack their position provided your brand provides real contrast. Or you can create the position from which to attack.

Take Bing. It's lumping all search engines into the "cluttered and confusing" category. How? By positioning itself as "decisive." How's that working for Bing? Born mid-2009, it's now the third most used engine and is quickly closing the gap on Yahoo! While the chasm between Google and everyone else is the size of the Grand Canyon, Bing is carving out territory.

By reinventing (and a new use for) the wheel, Dyson is making every other vacuum look like a typewriter compared to a laptop, much like what Swiffer has done to the mop. Dyson has nearly 25% share of its market, and Swiffer has been so successful it's now part of pop culture.

At the risk of glossing, many of my competitors - and there are a lot of them these days - claim branding as a service offering. It's on their business cards, websites and office doors. But they are really just delivering back-end tactics like design and campaigns. When I meet with a prospect, I use this to my advantage by demonstrating the contrast between what I do - real brand strategy built from within organizations out to customers - and what most competitors do - logos, slogans, ads, web, etc. I relish every opportunity to compete for business because they keep doing their thing which allows me to keep doing mine.

I'm also not soup-to-nuts. I'm a brand strategist. Period. Specialization is yet another opportunity to show contrast between me and them. The more services they add to their business cards, the more I look like a brand expert. Well, at least I hope so. If nothing else, I'm a rival rather than a competitor. That's what creates a powerful brand.

What makes your company, product or service distinctive must be what black is to white. Otherwise, it will be difficult to create contrast and separate yourself from competitors.

Finally, when it comes to fighting competitors on marketing and advertising battlefields, your attack should actually never be directly at them. What about Southwest you might ask? Isn't it smacking competitors right in the chops? Yes and no. In truth, it's using the entire industry to create further separation and strengthen it's position in the minds of customers and prospects.

Southwest's competition isn't on runways. It's in the terminal known as the "mind." As is yours.

These are my Guts Feelings.

BTW...check out my just launched Website at!