Establishing category membership

ESTABLISHING CATEGORY MEMBERSHIP

Target customers are aware that ‘Maybelline’ is a leading brand of cosmetics, Cheerios is a leading brand of cereal, Accenture is a leading consulting firm, and so on. However, marketers must inform consumers of a brand’s category membership. Perhaps the most obvious situation is the introduction of new products, especially when the category membership is not apparent.

This uncertainty can be a special problem for high-tech products. There are also situations where consumers know a brand’s category membership, but may not be convinced that the brand is a valid member of the category. For example, consumers may be aware that Hewlett-Packard produces digital cameras, but they may not be certain whether Hewlett-Packard cameras are in the same class as Sony, Olympus, Kodak, and Nikon. In this instance, HP might find it useful to reinforce category membership.

Brands are sometimes affiliated with categories in which they do not hold membership. This approach is one way to highlight a brand’s point-of-difference, providing that consumers know the brand’s category membership, but may not be convinced that the brand is a valid member of the category.

Brands are sometimes affiliated with categories in which they do not hold membership. This approach is one way to highlight a brand’s point-of-difference, providing that consumers know the brand’s actual membership. With this approach, however, it is important that consumers understand what the brand stands for, and not just what it is not. It is important to not be trapped between categories. The Konica e-mini M digital camera and MP3 player was marketed as the “four-in-one entertainment solution,� but suffered from functional deficiencies in each of its product applications and languished in the marketplace.

Occasionally, a company will try to straddle two frames of reference:

A case of BMW automobiles

When BMW first made a strong competitive push into the US 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 design of its cars, its German heritage, and other aspects of a well-conceived marketing program, BMW was able to simultaneously achieve:

1. a point-of-difference on luxury and a point-of-parity on performance with respect to performance cars and

2. a point-of-difference on performance and a point-of-parity on luxury with respect to luxury cars. The clever slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine� effectively captured the newly created umbrella category – luxury performance cars.

While a straddle positioning often is attractive as a means of reconciling potentially conflicting consumer goals, it also carries an extra burden. If the points-of-parity and points-of-difference with respect to both categories are not credible, the brand may not be viewed as a legitimate player in either category. Many early PDAs that unsuccessfully tried to straddle categories ranging from pagers to laptop computers provide a vivid illustration of this risk.

There are three main ways to convey a brand’s category membership:

1. Announcing category benefits: To reassure consumers that a brand will deliver on the fundamental reason for using a category, benefits are frequently used to announce category membership. Thus, industrial tools might claim to have durability and antacids might announce their efficacy. A brownie might attain membership in the baked desserts category by claiming the benefits of great taste and support this benefits claim by possessing high-quality ingredients (performance) or by showing users delighting in its consumption (imagery).

2. Comparing to exemplars: Well-known, noteworthy brands in a category can also be used to specify category membership. When Tommy Hilfiger was an unknown advertising entity he announced his membership as a great American designer by associating him with Geoffery Beene, Stanley Blacker, Calvin Klein, and Perry Ellis, who were recognized members of that category.

3. Relying on the product descriptor: The product descriptor that follows the brand name is often a concise means of conveying category origin. Ford Motor Co., invested more than $1 billion on a radical new 2004 model called the X-Trainer, which combines the attributes of an SUV, a minivan, and a station wagon. To communicate its unique position—and to avoid association with its Explorer and Country Squire models—the vehicle is designated a “sports wagon�.

To conclude, the preferred approach to positioning is to inform consumers of a brand’s membership before stating its point-of-difference. Presumably, consumers need to know what a product is and what function it serves before deciding whether it dominates the brands against which it competes. For new products, initial advertising often concentrates on creating brand awareness and subsequent advertising attempts to craft the brand image.

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