30 years ago, the American brand strategists Al Ries & Jack Trout, introduced “brand positioning” term which is still the lodestar for marketing and the bedside book for global marketers. He summed up the principle of brand positioning in the book “Brand positioning: the battle for your mind”: a readily acceptable message is the one that talks about what is already in the customer’s mind.
This rule has become the Northern star for any brand positioning activities. However, just like any rule for any category, all theories are relative and there is always exception for success. The innovative brands are born to break the rule. Instead of being merely follow the demand, they create the demand and navigate the market trend.
The story of Sony Walkman
Anyone knows the one-time famous Sony Walkman product. It is one of breakthrough invention that changed the human’s style of music enjoyment. And, few people knows that Sony Walkman was born without any market research.
Mr. Morita, the chairman of Sony group, predicted that Sony would create a cultural style of music enjoyment in the world. “Be careful when observing the way people live, feel what they want and what can be associate with them. Don’t research the market,” he said.
After its launch, Walkman quickly became a new trend and style of music enjoyment (it was only replaced by Apple’s iPod later on). Since then, the company has continued following its guts to create advanced products like compact disc and Play Station.
Apple’s “Think different” story
Regarding creative breakthrough, there has been hardly a brand that was on a par to compete with Apple. Apple’s products are absolutely always on a line with the brand philosophy of “Think different”.
Steve Jobs shared their philosophy as follows: “We think that Mac will gain the market share. We do not create Mac for anyone, but ourselves who evaluate whether this design good or bad. We will not research the market. We only want to create the best we can.” (Playboy, 01st February, 1985)
This philosophy seems to contrast the rule of customer-focused product development?
The common path of many brands in the world is maximising the inherent demands of customers. Before launching a new product, the success rate will be higher if the brand meets the core value of certain categories. To find the answer for this basic issue, market research is essential.
However, it is not necessary for brands to follow the majority, especially breakthrough ideas are needed. Henry Ford has a great saying that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said about a faster horse”
In reality, series of Apple’s creative products from iPod, iMac to iPhone are oriented technology products in stead of following market demand. In stead of asking what clients want, Steve Jobs and his creative team always asked themselves what they want to make creative products, which is inherently in their minds. Apple understands that even asking clients, they are hard to describe such hidden demands.
The rule of frame of reference change
In branding, frame of reference is customer’s associations when a certain product comes to their mind. If the brand is successful in changing the frame of reference, it is possible to become the leader in a certain segment.
Henry Ford is not the inventor of but the one who changed the automobile industry with the invention of Ford Model T in 1908. Before this 950-USD car was introduced, no American can imagine that ordinary people can also have a car instead of the classic horse carriage (Car is for the rich). That’s the reason why Ford had a famous quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said about a faster horse”
Before the introduction of Walkman, no one can imagine how they can listen to music anytime and anywhere with the headphones. Similarly, the launch of Apple’s iPhone and iPad has changed the habit of using cellphones in modern world. These days, we can surf the Internet, process documents or share videos, photos with friends from anywhere instead of sitting in front of the PC.
Even in Vietnam, the introduction of Pho 24 also changed the opinion and habit of “eating pho” of a part of urban residents. In the majority’s opinion, the traditional Pho restaurant is on the pavement or in the crowded, even dirty alley as long as Pho is good. In contrast, Pho 24 changed the frame of reference for Pho with clean and luxury restaurants for those who care about amenity and food hygiene. In addition to the existing traditional Pho restaurants, Pho 24 certainly becomes a leader in an entirely new segment.
The successful stories of Ford T Model, Sony Walkman, iPhone or Pho 24 simply proved a rule of branding: All rules are relative. To become a leader, a brand needs to make breakthrough instead of meeting the customer’s certain demands.
Nguyen Duc Son
Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates