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Big Brands. Big Trouble. Part 2.

Brand Shorthand

This week, Mark and Lorraine continue with mistakes 3-7 from Jack Trout's Big Brands, Big Trouble: the "Truth Will Win Out" Mistake; the "Other Guy's Idea" Mistake; The "Go Opposite" directive for those who are #2 in the market; the "We're Very Successful" Mistake; and the "Everything for Everybody" Mistake. The positioning duo talks big trouble from brands like UberEats to Raos, and why examples from Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise taught us a lot about how to navigate Marketing Warfare's rule that if you're not #1 or #2, it's time to find something new!

30 min

Mark Vandegrift
Welcome to the latest episode of the Brand Shorthand Podcast. I'm your host, Mark Vandegrift, and with me today is big trouble, Lorraine Kessler. Thing one, we are back as our second part of talking about the book, Big Brands, Big Trouble, and updating it for our new 2024 edition by Lorraine and Mark.

So as we mentioned last week, this book came out in October of 2001, just four weeks after 9/11. And we decided to do a revisit because we keep hearing of big brands today making the same mistakes that Jack codified 23 years ago. So if you recall, last week we had nine mistakes that Big Brands, Big Trouble cover and just to put it on the screen again, the mistakes are the Me Too mistake, the What Are You Selling mistake, the Truth Will Win Out mistake, the Other Guy's idea mistake, which is where we'll start today, the idea of going opposite, which is Lorraine clarified last week, is not actually a mistake, but just a move that you make if you're number two.

Number six, the we're very successful mistake. Number seven, the everything for everybody mistake. Number eight, the live by the numbers mistake or what we also call the Wall Street mistake. And number nine, the not attacking yourself mistake. Now, if you need a dictionary definition or a Lorraine-definition of these, just watch last week's episode where we gave a short description for each of these mistakes. And then we started to cover each mistake with some examples of brands that either made the mistake in the past or are doing so today. So last week we dove deep on Me Too Mistake, the What Are You Selling Mistake, and the Truth Will Win Out Mistake. So we're going to pick up with number four today.

And Lorraine, I usually take a rabbit trail somewhere else, but we're not going to do that today because we have five more mistakes to cover. Plus, we're going to add our own big trouble mistakes to this list that we think Jack would accept if he were still around today. So let's start on number four and we'll cover the other guy's idea mistake or what you might call the copying mistake. So Lorraine, give us some brands and some more detail on this particular mistake.

Lorraine Kessler
Yeah, this mistake really relates to trying to own the same idea that a competitor owns in the same category. So a couple of examples, one that shows how this doesn't work, and one that shows when this can work. So the one that doesn't work, which is most times the case, so I want to make that point to anyone listening, is Duracell and EverReady.

Right? Duracell came out and they only focused on one type of battery, the alkaline battery, and it was long-lasting. EverReady makes all different types of batteries, and they tried to follow Duracell to own the same idea, longer-lasting, with the Energizer Bunny. Well, people know the Energizer Bunny, but they still credit Duracell, according to research, with longer lasting batteries. So, you know, that's a mistake where I don't think it works out. So, if someone in your category has the same idea and they're saying it really the same way, it's not wise to go after that, particularly if they have more share of voice and more time in the market and spent more and have been fairly clear with how they've advertised their message.

Now, a case where this worked is really Subaru versus Volvo. Volvo, as you and I know, we used to be able to ask 20 years ago in our sessions, what car is known for safety or what's a safe car? And most people, almost, I would say nine out of 10 at that time, would say Volvo. And then if you said, what's Volvo's position most would be able to reverse that and say, well, they make safe cars. So that was pretty tight. 

But as the years went on, and we would do that in the Appreciative Discovery™, the response got all mixed. And it might be five to 10 versus nine to 10. And that's because Volvo hasn't done a terrific job continuing to own its idea. And Subaru comes along and as well as it's, you know, they started out with a car, I think, that had more about affordability, right? A quality car for less, something like that. But they quickly shifted to more of a safety proposition. And I think it's the new Subaru ad that has an accident and the child and the husband emerge unscathed. That's not, you would think that should be a Volvo ad. So I think you can take an idea, the other guy's idea, IF the other guy abandons it.

But generally, it's not a good idea to do if that idea is still vibrant and in the mind.

Mark Vandegrift
Very good. Yeah, it's interesting because Kia has also tried to do that, but they just do it with safety ratings. And I think ratings are, I don't know, they go right through, right in one ear and out the other now. I like that Subaru is taking the deeper meaning of safety, which is protection of life and dramatizing that, because who came out with the crash dummy ads? Volvo, right? Who came out with the front and side airbags, right? Not at the same time, but you had front airbags where it was Volvo, then the side airbags was Volvo. The way the frames were made for receiving impact and the shock that it took, that was Volvo, but they just completely got away from that. And I think all they're pushing now is style of some sort.

That's all relative, right? You know, your style is different than my style. That's why we buy different clothes. You know? So from a car standpoint, trying to copy what they're doing is just deadly. So this isn't a hard one to understand, but even today we have clients that say, well, you know, ABC company over here is doing this. We need to do that. And that's just a copying mistake that is deadly. But like you said, if I do this, you immediately want to do that. It's innate in us. So we really have to fight this mistake because we're built to copy because we think that's the way things work out because it's safe. Someone else did it. So now if I do it, I'll at least be safe.

Lorraine Kessler
Right, that urge to copy is such a human reaction, as you said. But what it leads to in brand categories is commoditization. And then it messes up kind of the profit margin for everybody at that point.

Mark Vandegrift
Well, the one that I think is funny, and they must have the same agency, but it just doesn't come out the same way. So, you know, the toilet paper brand, if I say it, you'll know it, and I'll say “for the go,” right?

Okay, well, now one of the hotel brands is using “for the stay.”

Lorraine Kessler
Well, you know, when you're in the stay, you probably are going to need for the go.

Mark Vandegrift
I don't remember who it is. I know Charmin's for the go, right? But I can't remember which hotel brand, and I should, but I don't because I think it's just, it's such a bad application of the same. It's a copied idea that just doesn't work really well.

Lorraine Kessler
And this may be off a little bit, but Charmin had one of, when it was introduced, right? Mr. Whipple and it was so soft, he couldn't help. Mr. Whipple, for those who don't know, because this was years ago, was a grocer in a grocery store who couldn't keep his hands off the Charmin because it was so soft. I thought it was the most annoying, dumb commercial I ever saw, but it was effective as heck, and this is a point for anyone doing advertising. It's not whether you like it. 

Like, you know, we always ask the wrong questions, so we get the wrong answer. We might ask a client when we're presenting a concept, which one do you like? That is totally the wrong question. It's which one do you think will be most effective in getting or conveying the product benefit. Effectiveness and likeability can be two very different things.

Mark Vandegrift
Yep, very good. Yeah, it's a good thing to bring out. 

Okay, let's go to the next mistake, number five. Well, this isn't the mistake, this is the clarifying one you mentioned last week. And that is, if you're not number one, then “Go Opposite” if you're number two. And so that's from Marketing Warfare, by the way. I think you asked last week where you remember that. But from Marketing Warfare, know your place in the category. If you're not number one or number two, do something new. Well, this impacts number two. The leader attacks, number two goes opposite of number one, and then the others flank with something new, or they go guerrilla, which is to narrow the battlefield to where you can have, you know, superiority of force. So we have a really good example of this, I think, which is Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise.

So give us an example of going opposite with them.

Lorraine Kessler
Hertz was first to mind in the category with some powerful advertising in the age of mass media, when everybody had three TV networks. And their idea was we put you in the driver's seat, you know, so it was a pretty good idea. And they had a very dramatic way of showing that they actually had a guy kind of dropped into a car … a convertible. It was, it was, I still remember the commercial today. So Avis comes along and one of the things that they were brilliant in identifying is even leaders have vulnerabilities, right? You can't be all things to all people. So if you're a leader in your strong year, you're going to have an inverse weakness. Let's call it that. An inherent weakness is the best term, because inherent is a weakness you can't fix without giving up your leadership. So it's not just being friendly or it's just, it's not just that, it has to be something else. So what Avis noticed is just by observation when they went to airports and whatever, Hertz had the long lines, which meant it took a lot longer to get a car. And so they basically came out with a service message that was come to Avis, our lines are shorter. That's kind of how it first started.

And then they morphed into this whole service position about Avis being a better customer service experience. And so that was genius. They attacked an inherent weakness in the leader’s strength. That's a principle. So anybody listening should write that down. Attack an inherent weakness in the leader strength. And they did it in such a way that Hertz couldn't really respond quickly to it.

And of course, this is a day before technology. Today, that'd be a little dicey because technology allows a lot of marketers to adapt a lot quicker to problems like that. Because you could do pre-, you know, boarding or pre-car on an iPad today. You couldn't do that then. So that was a brilliant example.

Mark Vandegrift
Yeah, and then Enterprise, speaking of flanking, this doesn't necessarily speak to the go opposite move, but Enterprise did flank them by coming out with “we pick you up.” So they changed the service model. Just like, you know, Uncola to Pepsi and Coke, 7Up comes out with the Uncola. You have to really, really be different if you're not number one or number two. So, just a really good example, the younger people probably won't remember Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise in their great years of advertising, but you can certainly find all their ads on YouTube.

Lorraine Kessler
Well, and as I said, Avis kind of morphed from, you know, our lines are shorter to we're number two, “we try harder,” which made them very endearing to the public. It was kind of this humility with, you know, right? And what happened is, as I was saying before about Volvo and Subaru, they stopped trying harder. So Enterprise found that little piece of turf that they could own, which is if you're really trying harder, deliver the car to my house.

Mark Vandegrift
Yeah. Yeah, that was great. Good. Okay. Well, number six, and you kind of just touched on it by rusting on your laurels. The number six mistake is the we're very successful mistake. Success often leads to arrogance or complacency, if you want to look at it that way and then arrogance to failure. So I think one that we could mention that falls into this, I think you were thinking Yeti and Stanley cups. So give us some perspectives on that.

Lorraine Kessler
Sure, well, you know, Yeti jumped on the scene. What? I don't know. My concept of years is messed up. I might say five years ago, 10 years ago. Yeti jumped on the scene and leapfrogged Coleman, right? Coleman was a standard in coolers and had all these cool coolers and a neat name, I mean, a fabulous name, and all these new looking products and charged a premium price. And all of a sudden everything's Yeti, Yeti, Yeti.

And then they got caught flat-footed. And this is what happens when we're very successful. You start to stop innovating. You start to stop continually to bring, seeing yourself as leading rather than leader. And you kind of get caught checking your balance sheet instead of checking the market. And so all of a sudden Stanley Cup, who also was leapfrogged, Stanley was an old tool brand and whatever, comes up with this cup that has taken the world by storm. I mean, I got one as a gift from Innis Maggiore for its 50th anniversary. It's almost too heavy for me to lift. It's like, I use it in weightlifting actually, because once I fill it, it's like five pounds. But it's just amazing how like there's this back and forth and Yeti kind of got schooled on its own lesson by Stanley. So I think that's a good one.

But I happened to work in the early part of my career with some companies that really suffered from this problem. One was Sears. I used to call them Sears Automotive in the tower in downtown Chicago. And the buyers, we would talk about the future and how to do this and how to re-market their automotive services differently and new ideas. 

And they, the buyers, were totally disinterested totally disinterested. And I could not understand it. And my clients who brought me along were like, they're making a good salary and he's 55 years old, really doesn't care, right? We're 60 years old, not going to be there. And that's kind of, that's a real problem. And I think a lot of people won't remember, but it's a point of history that's really important. 

The big three automakers in the time in the 70s, GM, Ford and Chrysler, the big three CEOs, met with Richard Nixon in the White House for the purpose of stopping imports in this country, to try and stave off imports that were coming from, largely then from Honda, who identified that there was a market for smaller cars, more fuel efficient, smaller cars. That's an example of the big three who got really stuck in their leadership and thinking that monolithically, they could control the whole market forever. 

And I was just thinking about this the other day. One of the companies that was in Canton, Ohio that I think fell victim to this is Hoover. The Hoover vacuum was absolutely the most unevolved piece of machinery that I as a homeowner or a homemaker could, terrible word for me to use, somebody's going to say homemaker. 

But it just was so old, and the only way you could own a Hoover, and this is a good example, we were talking in the other version of this, part one, I think about Kodak and digital. This is another good example of a company that refused to attack itself. Hoover, their whole thing was protecting their dealers. So they kept selling you really heavy metal vacuums that you had to take to a dealership when it broke. People don't want to do that. They want vacuums for good or bad. It's not my place to judge people who want a disposable. It doesn't work, get rid of it, buy a new one. I don't want to have to look for a service station, wait for a belt, wait for a mechanic. But I'm thinking, you know, then Dyson came along and totally shook up the market with its technology, which actually I believe, I actually believe that technology was an early Hoover technology. They never capitalized on it, I believe. So Dyson, right. And I think Hoover's the one that first, but they didn't bring it to market. So now you have Dyson doing that. But guess what? There's an opening here. Dyson's are super pricey. They’re overly expensive. 

Someone, now what's happened is one Chinese company has bought like all these brands like Shark and they own like I don't know three, four brands and they've commoditized them all. So they have very similar technology and looks and whatever and they're terrible. They're not good at all. So I think there's opportunity for someone to come along with an affordable Dyson product one that really hits a more, a higher volume market. So someone out there, I think that's the opportunity. And just don't call it Hoover. Get a new name, something sexy.

Mark Vandegrift
Great, well this next one is certainly going to be easy to explain to a lot of people because I think most big brands have done this. And that is number seven, the everything for everybody mistake, trying to be all things to all people and what we like to call unfocusing. So Lorraine, give us a few examples and then we can continue on this one probably for a while.

Lorraine Kessler
Yeah, well what's happened is that there's been enormous sophistication in the markets as we've grown up and in part because of all the competition too, but basically this principle is that you can only stand for one thing in the mind. Now in the early days of the positioning works that this one idea to one product category, right? So ketchup is ketchup and mustard is mustard and mayonnaise is mayonnaise and et cetera. And there's still some value to that. And the idea that they talked about was if you stand for, and I think they, Trout used Heinz and he said they used to be number one in pickles, right? And then they got big into ketchup and that's what they promoted more. And now they're ketchup and pickles, they're number two, right. 

And so it's not that line extension, which is the number one reason for unfocused within a branded, in the branded space, not talking about companies that get diversified, but just talking about product categories that have brands. The main problem is, it's not that it's always terrible, it's that it has to be done intelligently and with really a lot of thinking about what does the brand stand for. And I'll give you an example because we now today know mega brands, what I call mega that have enormous varieties of products and even own a whole space in the grocery store or in the home goods store.

And we know them, Lysol is one of the brands. Like Swiffer is one of those brands. And Tide is one of these brands. Why does line extension work? I think it does work for those brands, why? 

It works because the idea they own isn't just laundry detergent, or it isn't just Swiffer, a mop, like one single product or Lysol, one way to clean your bathroom and kitchen and toilet bowl. They own a bigger idea. Like Lysol's killed germs, and Tide is simply the leader in laundry. Not everything whitens. The original Tide is all about whitening, but some are about now allergy, good for allergy, and some are about scent. But the line is they really are the leader in laundry and whatever they come up with, you can trust is going to be the best. 

And then Swiffer is easy cleaning. And so these mega brands have been able to do line extension because within that concept it works, but I'll tell you where it wouldn't work. I don't think it would work if Lysol went into laundry. I don't think it would work if Swiffer went into toilet bowl cleaners, right?

And I don't think it would work if Tide went into surface corners, right? So that's where the line extension starts to break down. And so what you have to think about is, what do people think is logical? Is it logical for Lysol to add a wipe to their line as well as a spray, as long as it cleans surfaces and toilets and bathrooms and kitchen? Yes.

Does it make sense for Lysol to have laundry detergent? It starts to get squishy. And so the caution is for marketers is the more you add, the more you detract. So you have to really have a tight focus and try and manage it with a lot of astuteness to where the customer and the competition will allow you to move.

Mark Vandegrift
Yeah, I think, on the Super Bowl, we had a couple examples again, because we were talking Uber Eats versus DoorDash. And both of them are spreading their wings, if you want to call it that. And I think you felt like DoorDash would win that war because of the fact that they delivered food and now they're getting into delivering everything versus Uber was a taxi service, a different kind of taxi service, but now they're trying to get into delivering everything.

Lorraine Kessler
Yeah, exactly. And that's a really, here's how simple that is. Uber equals taxi, alternative to taxi. That's how the mind thinks. And door dash equals delivery. So now I'm trying to say Uber's delivery, like delivery, like transporting people is delivering people. Doesn't really work, right? Delivering people is called babies. I mean, it just, it just doesn't work. Right. And it may seem overly simplistic, but that's really the concept of how the mind works.

Mark Vandegrift
Yeah, yeah. And I think another one you saw recently, well two, there was Panera Bread and there was Raos Sauce. So speak to those.

Lorraine Kessler
Oh, yeah. Well, Raos, I think, has gone bonkers crazy beyond what I would call mega brand space, because they've gone into so many things like balsamic oil, even some aprons and spoons and, gosh, frozen entrees, dinners, frozen pizza…

And while you, I mean, that's an expansion beyond what I think makes sense. I think it's devolving the brand. It's pulling away from the brand's roots as a great Italian sauce pasta. You could go with the pasta and the sauce, they go great. But each, and like I said, it's not only what the consumer will allow you to do mentally, but it's the competition. They just went into the frozen pizza space, which is so competed and has DiGiorno who really has a high stock. So what would happen is people within Raos might argue, but you know, that's sales we can pick up. We can pick up sales. At some point, there's a cost to those sales you're picking up in the long-term in how it devolves the brand. How well can you market to own a mindshare in that category? Not very well if you're spread that thin.

Mark Vandegrift
Well, and what does it correspond to? It corresponds to Campbell's buying Raos, and now this is what they're doing with the brand. And it's because Campbell's can't think any other way. They got to be all things to all people or this everything for everybody mistake.

Lorraine Kessler
Right. And I think that that's going to really hurt their cache as being part of Campbell's. I think they were sold for like, what, two billion or something. But the Sovos that bought them from the original, I think, Raos family had taken them up to $600 million and believe they could be a billion-dollar brand. I just think they're going too far, too fast, and it will end up cutting into the mystique of the brand. And I know that's, for people who are dollars and cents and accountants and controllers, they don't understand that. They don't understand how powerful mystique is because it's so hard to quantify. But once you lose it, then you don't get it back. Yeah, at least not easily.

Mark Vandegrift
That's for sure. Well, Lorraine, we got through number seven today and we still have two more mistakes to go from Big Brands, Big Trouble, as well as a few of our own. So next week is the big eclipse, which goes right through our neck of the woods here on April 8th. So next week we'll talk a little bit about that and then we'll also finish out number eight and number nine mistakes.

And then I believe if I'm not incorrect, we have four or five of our own mistakes that we're going to add to our 2024 edition of Big Brands, Big Trouble. So again, I hope you stay out of big trouble this week, Lorraine. Easter was yesterday, so hopefully, you know, it was all good.

And thanks to our listeners for joining us today. If you haven't liked, shared, subscribed, or told your friends about the Brain Shorthand podcast, please do. Until next time, have an amazing day.

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