Brand USP redefined


The consumer has only one core benefit, one main reason, for buying into any category most of the times. But the core benefit might have slightly different expressions. The core reason for buying a detergent is ‘removal of dirt’. An alternative expression for the same core benefit could be ‘whiteness of clothes’. In addition to the one or two core benefits, there might be a few secondary benefits for buying into any category. The secondary benefits may be, the detergent category might have less important benefits like fragrance, unique packaging, and low prices and so on.

The brand could also have different emotional benefits besides these functional benefits, based on the role of the brand in the target audience’s life. A detergent might have an emotional appeal for the housewife who manages to help keep her husband’s clothes clean or to a mother who manages to keep her child’s clothes clean. But a permutation and combination of these functional and emotional benefits would generate only a few unique ‘positions’ for brands.

This has a huge significance in demolishing one of the grand old marketing theories the theory of differentiation. According to this theory, the first brand to build a relationship with a benefit would appropriate that relationship for posterity. Hence it was postulated that a new brand that needs to differentiate itself from the old brand would have to appropriate a different benefit.

Today there are hundreds of brands competing against each other in any category in any market. There was no need to question the veracity of this theory as long as there were only two or three brands in any category in a market. But today the reality is different. New brand has to be launched among hundreds of other competing brands. If it has to be successful then it has to be identified for a different function considered as something special by the consumers. The theory of differentiation advises the brand manager of this new brand to identify and occupy a benefit that has not been identified by the intelligence of the hundred other brand managers in the market.

A new brand has to enter a category which has just one or two core benefits, a handful of supplementary benefits and a few emotional benefits and has to compete with the hundreds of competitive brands that have been in existing in the market for years.

The solution to this huge problem faced by most brand managers across the world lies in the swimming actions of a one-month baby. A one month old baby with face down in water displays coordinated swimming actions whereas a 12 month old baby may simply drown. This is because every human child is born with neural connections that enable it to survive in this world. Neural connections that help a child breathe on its own, or suck at its mother’s breast. Similarly every child is also born with the neural connection that enables it to swim. But since almost no child come across a situation that requires it to swim so early in life, the neural connections for swimming are not used and thus weaken. That is why after 12 months with the neural connections completely weakened, the child is unable to swim.

Neural connection in the brain is like walking paths in a field. If a path is used daily, no grass grows on it. But if the path is not used for a long time the grass is overgrown. Similarly, if a neural connection is not used regularly, it becomes weaker and weaker and after some time period. No stimuli will pass through that particular neural connection. It has been proven that neural stimuli always pass through the neural path that is used often and is thus clearer.

It is important to understand that the passage of a neural stimulus is not based on the longevity of a neural connection but the strength of the neural connection, which is built through constant reinforcement. A neural connection however, old (like the neural connection that enables a one-month baby to swim) will not be as strong as a neural connection that is used often and strengthened constantly.

Based on this neurological understanding, brand managers can now chart a new course in brand management. It is no more about going after the less important category benefits just for the sake of differentiation. It is all about occupying the most consumer relevant category benefits, even if it has been ‘occupied’ by its competitors for years. What matters is whether the new brand will be able to build a stronger relationship with those benefits through constant reinforcement of this relationship. Reinforcing the core benefits of a brand in the minds of consumers and not emphasis on how it is different is the key to creating a stronger presence in the marketplace. This is the new brand management theory.