Strategist Michael Poter surposes that the essence of competition is to be distinctly differentiated from competitors. According to Porter’s theory of competitive strategies, there are three strategic approaches to outperform competitors. They are overall cost leadership, overall differentiation and focus (i.e. either particular differentiation or cost leadership in a specific segment rather than in overall market).
In cellphone market, late-born Apple’s smart phone quickly takes share of giant Nokia with their both functionally and emotionally differentiated Iphone. In the retail industry, which brand can be cheaper than the market leader Wal-mart? In Vietnam, Air Mekong brand is a typical success of focus competitive strategy. This new-born Vietnamese aircraft brand Air Mekong happened to be under the headline of newspaper in late 2011. Reason? they were chosen by Hollywood golden couple Brad Pit & Angelia Jolie when they took a flight to Phu Quoc island on their family holiday. Why they did not use national flag Vietnam airlines? what special is Air Mekong? very simple! . This brand’s business strategy is to provide non-stop flights on niche routes to remote areas (Phu Quoc island is one of them). Well done! they did a right thing – to be differentiated from the market leader in a niche market that they can dominate.
The success of brands’ adoption to Poter’s competitive strategy is evident. However, the reality is diverse and there are successful brands that do not seem to fall exactly into his approches.
Chinese sport brand Lining dominates the mass sport market with 30% on-average annual growth rate. Noticeably, Lining is broadly known & criticized for their slogan and logo that is imitated to Adidas (“Everything is possible” vs “Nothing is impossible”) and Nike. Communication can speak as louder as they can while Lining has got benefit of this “imitation” strategy. Undoubtedly, Lining brand has been recognized and recalled every where thanks to spontaneous association to giants Adidas and Nike.
Similarly, while Vietnamese telecommunication brand Viettel is renowned for their slogan “say it you way”, very few people know that this slogan sounds as the same as that of well-known Burger King “have it your way”. Obviously, in the domestic market, while Burger King is not aware by most people, Viettel does not need to resort to this fast-food brand to get into customer mind. Nevertheless, Viettel can capitalize on their “me-too” slogan to shorten the long journey of branding when they go to global market. The issue is that consumers attitude towards this Viettel’s message may be not positive if Burger King’s “have it your way” is already popular there.
Imitating successful brands is tempting and can initially be rewarding. On the other hand, this approach will not make a brand unique, instead signaling customers of an inability to originate ideas, making sustainability unlikely. Ultimately, the decision of the brand owner rests on how far they want their brand to go.
Nguyen Duc Son
Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates