Building strong brands as a Product Manager

image Guest post by Janey Wong.

A recent blog post titled Fighting the Fast Followers reminded me of a great book I read a several years ago called Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan. Eating the Big Fish focuses on marketing communications and how to leverage advertising and other smart marketing tactics to build your brand so you can move from being #2 player to the #1 position for your category. I’ve only take a small fraction of Morgan’s ideas and insights from Eating the Big Fish to share some of my own take-outs from the book from a Product Management perspective.

The market is saturated

The unavoidable truth is there are more products out there for any given category than ever before and the market is increasingly competitive with both direct and indirect competitors fiercely launching products to win your target customers over. Companies that were not competing with you are now becoming a threat – whether that’s Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK versus Amazon’s Kindle, or Apple’s iPad that’s taking over the eReader space, the point is you have to know how to play the game – when the market is tough, the ‘Big Fish’ can afford to play tougher. And, that’s thanks to a strong brand.

Don’t learn the hard way

On 28 April 2010, the Financial Times published a special report on Global Brands. The front-page headline, “Big names prove worth in crisis” by John Gapper. Excerpts from the article include:

  • The underlying value of any brand – the premium commanded by products and services with strong reputations and identities – has not been eliminated by the crisis.
  • “Brands outperform in good times and when there is a recession they do go down, but they come out the other side with a sustainable advantage,” says Joanna Seddon, chief executive of MBO.
  • …well-established luxury goods brands such as Louis Vuitton have kept their value, even if they have not seen the kind of growth they might have hoped for. The value of the Louis Vuitton brand, at $19.8bn, is 2 per cent up on the previous year.
  • So, despite the shock that many experienced following the financial crisis, brands are playing their traditional role of giving companies some cushion against market pressures. They have proved their capacity to retain loyalty among consumers even through downturns.
  • Many brands will experience crises, or simply stagnate, in the coming year and have to claw their way back but the aftermath of the crisis has proven once again an old lesson. Brands may suffer, but they are hard to destroy altogether.

This doesn’t just highlight the fact that strong brands survive tough times, but it also shows that strong brands make a difference to their financial value.

Read the full article at www.ft.com – search for “Big names prove worth in crisis”. There are other interesting highlights in the article.

Here’s some endearment: it’s OK to not be #1

Morgan makes a good point, “We may not be number one, but you don’t want to be in last place. You can’t just be anywhere in the middle – you need to be a strong number 2 – and you can’t do that by being like a smaller version of the big fish.”

So how do we, as Product Managers, do things different from the market leader?

Well the first thing to remember is communicating a message is hard. We have to feel some sympathy for the MarComms team. With all the noise out there we’re not just competing against competitors, we’re also competing for the target market’s attention. And, the target audience probably doesn’t have the time or energy to be completely engaged or interacting with a brand or product. We need to find ways to grab the target markets attention.

The second thing to remember is the product is integral to the brand. You can create a zillion compelling marketing messages to attract people to your product, but if your product doesn’t live up to the message – that’s BIG miscommunication! And, your brand will suffer.

Do the Product Management thing a bit differently

Eating the Big Fish has some great ideas for how to craft your marketing message and activities to capture the target audience’s imagination and grow your brand. I took a few of these ideas and applied them to Product Management.

1. Be a leader in the problem-solving space

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Find ways to break conventions and preconceptions about your product and its category to reposition one’s identity and positioning. Re-frame the category to change the rules on how the customer views your product.

Dig deeper into the consumer’s world and not into the consumer’s preferences and desires to find new insights about what they want. More and more market research is now using ethnography to analyze the consumer’s environment to discover new market problems and product ideas.

I like how HSBC plays with this concept in their advertising – for example:

image

2. Develop temporary amnesia

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Reinvent key aspects of the product by forgetting what you know.

Forget what features your competitors’ products have. Forget what solutions your product offers. Forget what is currently in the marketplace and how the market perceives a solution to a need. Go back to the market problem and find ways to offer new solutions – the solution could be a product enhancement or modification, but even small changes can have a big impact.

image For example, 3M’s Littman Electronic Stethoscope 3200. It’s not just a stethoscope – it “listens to a patient’s heartbeat, captures the sound for later playback, lets you transmit sounds real-time to your PC, which can then be further analyzed, attached to medical records, or reviewed online with colleagues… The sound-amplifying 3M Littmann Electronic Stethoscope 3200 will not only be able to catch dangerous murmurs and heart defects but will also eliminate more than eight million unnecessary echocardiograms and cardiologist visits a year, saving some $9.4 billion (http://blog.sherweb.com/top-10-tech-invenitons-shaping-2010/).

3. Let your product do the talking

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Invite customers to navigate your brand. Create an emotion-based relationship. Be intense and highly intrusive about what your brand is so your product has to be noticed.

Strong brands demand your attention and so should your product…

image Should I say more?

4. Strike a (juxta)pose

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Make people re-evaluate the product. Put two things together that you wouldn’t expect to find together in a product.

When people think of “fast food” un-favorable associations like ‘unhealthy’ come to mind, but Subway has been able to change how the public perceives their food – let alone the types of available food in the fast food category. Market research shows that Subway is the brand that is “most trusted” as offering healthier food items than any other fast food joint – largely breaking the idea that fast food only offers unhealthy meal options.

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5. Cordially invite the MarComms team

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Work closer with your Marcomms team at the beginning of the product development process to leverage advertising and publicity.

Why? Because I doubt many Product Managers do and having the MarComms team buy-in and on-board with your product could mean

  • More time to strategize the marketing and publicity for your product
  • Clearer and aligned product messaging between both teams
  • A side stash of advertising and publicity dollars
  • Creative input, which is nice to have if and when needed
  • Possible access to different ideas and customer insights, and
  • Building a strong brand together

Your product is a tangible representation of your brand to your customers, and the Marcomms team communicates your product and brand to your target customers. It just seems to make sense to work together to build a strong brand that will see your product further at launch and at top of consumers’ minds through tough times.

I’m at lost for an example here. Any Product Managers and Product Marketers out there with thoughts, suggestions, and experiences with working with a Marcomms team early on?

I’d like to thank Adam Morgan for his inspiration for this blog.

Janey Wong is a Product Marketing consultant.  Her expertise is in marketing strategy development and implementation, marketing communications, and product marketing.  She has worked for clients in the fashion, new media, entertainment, and not-for-profit sectors.


Interested in being a Guest Blogger on The Product Guy? Contact me.

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About Jeremy Horn

Jeremy Horn is an award-winning, product management veteran with 2 decades of experience leading and managing product teams. Jeremy has held various executive and advisory roles, from founder of several start-ups to driving diverse organizations in online services, consumer products, and wearables. As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person. Accelerating the next evolution of product management, Jeremy acted as creator and instructor of the 10-week product management course at General Assembly and The New School, and mentoring at Women 2.0 and Lean Startup Machine (where is he also a judge). To see where Jeremy is now check him out at (1) http://linkedin.com/in/TheProductGuy and (2) http://TheProductGuy.com

2 thoughts on “Building strong brands as a Product Manager

  1. Hey Janey,
    Great to see your writing out on the web!
    I love your point about the product being integral to the brand. I can’t think of any successful brand where the product has not been able to address a key problem in the market, even if this is just being an alternative to the incumbent market leader.
    –nick coster

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  2. Really like your 5th point about cordially inviting the MarComms Team to the product development table. I might add a good dose of digital media folks to the mix as well. So many products benefit from some sort of digital brand extension if not full-fledged continuity of experience with online and mobile features and functionalities. Think Nike+ Apple…

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