Brand v/s Counter Brand

 When your business category is dominated by a single brand and all the other brands put together don’t equal them, it’s time to create a counter-brand.

Counter-branding – business judo – is rare and dangerous. But when you’re overwhelmingly dominated, what have you got to lose?  As in Judo, the secret of counter branding is to use the weight and momentum of your opponent to your own advantage. In other words, hook your trailer to their truck and let them pull you on their own fuel.

The steps to create a counter brand  are these:

  • List the attributes of the master brand.
  • Create a brand with precisely the opposite attributes.
  • Without using the brand name of your competitor, refer to yourself as the direct opposite of the master brand.

When you’re up against an overwhelming competitor, you don’t need to name them. Everyone knows who they are. Traditional wisdom tells us to :- 1. Study the leader; 2. Figure out what they’re doing right; 3. Try to beat them at their own game.

This strategy can actually work when the leader hasn’t yet progressed beyond the formative stages,but when overwhelming dominance has been achieved, such mimicry is the recipe for disaster. As long as  the master brand is rocking, all the other competing brands will be doomed forever to occupy the sad “me-too” position in the shadow of the master brand. Yes, until one of them launches a counter brand.

Counter brands succeed by becoming the Yin to the master brand’s Yang , the North to their South, the equal-but-opposite ‘other’ that neatly occupies the empty spot that had previously been in the customer’s mind.

Let’s look at the classic Coke vs. Pepsi cola wars. You probably can’t describe the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Perhaps one cola seems sweeter, but you couldn’t certainly distinguish them in a taste test. Yet you know without a doubt which one you like more. The fierce brand loyalties of Coke vs. Pepsi are a marvel of American marketing.  Slightly older, Coca-Cola was always the dominant brand. Pepsi gained market share in the middle of the century with a series of ad campaigns. In 1975 the first Pepsi Challenge claimed that people preferred Pepsi in a blind taste test. The brand was also marketed as the soda of the new generation, with celebrity spokespeople like Michael Jackson.

Pepsi built a  “young and irreverent” counter brand to Coca Cola’s “mature and sophisticated” brand.

Another important aspect. If you want  to attract customers to your brand, again and again, you need to reward their loyalty. Every consumer, has this radio station running inside his head – WIIFM , What’s In It For Me. Reward them and you got them hooked for life. By rewarding them, I don’t mean have some dumb contest on,  where the chances of winning are 1 in a gazillion. Reward them for their loyalty and not their luck.

No matter how big a brand might be in the public’s mind, there’s always an open spot for the exact opposite. When the circumstances call for it, be that opposite. Create a counter brand.