Sunday, February 5, 2012

Do You Know Your Brands G-Spot?

Kevin Keller and Frederick Webster mention that “one of the realities of modern brand marketing is that many of the decisions that marketers make with respect to their brands are seemingly characterized by conflicting goals, objectives and possible outcomes. Unfortunately, in our experience, too many marketers define their problems in ‘either/or’ terms, creating situations where one idea, one individual or one option wins out. Opportunities are missed for finding an even better solution, a new idea that could have been discovered and developed by combining and refining conflicting points of view. As a result, resources may be squandered, consumers may be left unsatisfied or confused and the organization may find itself struggling with lingering internal conflict,” p.13).

In fact Keller and Webster highlight the following representative marketing trade-offs (p.15);

Strategic (targeting and positioning)
• Retaining vs. acquiring customers
• Brand fortification vs. brand expansion
• Brand awareness vs. brand image
• Product performance vs. user imagery
• Points of parity vs. points of difference

Tactical (design and implementation)
• Push vs. pull
• Continuity vs. change
• Existing vs. new channels
• Direct market coverage vs. use of middlemen
• Selling systems vs. selling components
• Creative, attention-getting ads vs. informative, product-focused ads

Financial (allocation and accountability)
• Short-run vs. long-run objectives
• Revenue-generating vs. brand-building activities
• Easily measurable marketing activities vs. difficult to quantify marketing activities
• Quality maximization vs. cost minimization
• Social responsibility vs. profit maximizing

Organizational (structure, processes, and responsibilities)
• Central vs. local control
• Top-down vs. bottom-up brand management
• Customized vs. standardized marketing plans and programs
• Internal vs. external focus

Now it’s possible that some may think that some of the ‘highlighted’ trade-offs – don’t have to be trade-offs at all and can be developed and incorporated within the strategy independently of each other. Retaining and acquiring customers for example, where marketers can develop strategies for each; however the issues Keller and Webster are raising is that the ‘marketers’ need to be aware of the potential cross-over implications of the ‘independent strategic plans’ – and in these cases simply asks the question;  have we considered any multi-collinear implications in our model development.

To understand the nature and extent of the marketing trade-offs, Keller and Webster highlight some key questions that must be answered: “How severe are they? Are they unavoidable, inherent in the nature of the decision problem and situation? How have they been dealt with before? Of particular importance is the ability to recognize whether the trade-offs result from internal, organizational considerations or external, structural issues inherent in the marketing environment where management has less control. Next, marketers must develop effective means for achieving marketing balance. Given the wide range of marketing tradeoffs that exists, it is perhaps no surprise that a correspondingly wide range of solutions is also typically available,” (p.15).

As an example, Keller and Webster remind us that “when BMW first made a strong competitive push into the U.S. market in the early 1980s, it positioned the brand as being the only automobile that offered both luxury and performance. At that time, American luxury cars were seen by many as lacking performance, and American performance cars were seen as lacking luxury. By relying on the incomparable design of their car—and to some extent their German heritage too—BMW was able to simultaneously achieve (1) a point of difference on performance and a point of parity on luxury with respect to luxury cars and (2) a point of difference on luxury and a point of parity on performance with respect to performance cars. The clever slogan, ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine,’ effectively captured the newly created umbrella category: luxury performance cars. Product differentiation can occur through technological innovation or creative repositioning,” (p.16).

The concept of an organisation taking the time to identify the ‘right’ marketing balance can often be missed in today’s fast paced business world, where many organisations who are not actively ‘forcing’ the pace as leaders – simply react to changes in the market place. It’s in these very instances that organisations should take the time to assess the potential trade offs – so that they can in fact develop a strategy to achieve market balance and in doing so reach the brands g-spot.

To achieve that market balance Keller and Webster highlight 6 factors that will help;

Breakthrough product or service innovation;
Improved business models;
Expanded or leveraged resources;
Embellished marketing;
Perceptual framing;
Creativity and inspiration.

In conclusion Keller and Webster state that “there certainly may be times that given extreme circumstances, dire straits or an overwhelming need to achieve one objective at all costs, radical solutions are warranted. But even in these cases, marketers would be well-served to recognize exactly the extent and nature of the decision tradeoffs they face, and the consequences of ignoring other options. Radical solutions should be thoroughly vetted and contrasted to more balanced solutions that offer more robust and complete solutions,” (p.17).


Keller, K.L and Webster Jr., F.E. (2009). The Branding Sweet Spot.  Marketing Management; Vol. 18 Issue 4, p12-17.

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