« April 2009 | Main | July 2009 »

1 posts from May 2009

May 22, 2009

Do Big Brands Need to Think Like Little Fish?

LittleFish

 Photo by Benson Kua

"Being a Challenger is primarily a state of mind, not a state of market"

- Adam Morgan in "Eating the Big Fish"


So once you’ve made it to the top of your category, have a dominant share and are seen as the market leader, you’ve got it made … right?  There’s no way all those pesky little fish nipping around your heals are ever going to eat your lunch. That might have been the case in Don Draper’s time, but it’s a dangerous, if not fatal, concept to hold onto in the digital age.

More than any other time in brand history, the age of digital and social media that can compress time and expand geographic reach, as well as fuel consumer influence (but not dominance) on brands, requires a “Challenger Brand” way of thinking and behaving.  The seminal work in this field is Adam Morgan’s “Eating the Big Fish” (first published in 1999) and for a deeper dive into the subject, that book is highly recommended.  But for purposes of this post, here is a “Cliff Notes” style overview of a Challenger Brand.

By definition, a Challenger Brand is neither the market leader in a category, nor is it a niche brand.  Its leaders have great ambitions and a vision for their venture that exceed their physical resources (e.g. people and money) in comparison to the Market Leader, especially if they were to be deployed against marketing tactics that mimic the leader.  The mindset of the Challenger embraces the kind of non-conventional thinking that successfully bridging this resource gap entails, a mindset that is focused on generating a “focused few” highly leverageable ideas that are immediately actionable.

Challenger Brands can be people, businesses, causes, and even countries, examples: T.E. Lawrence/”Lawrence of Arabia” (my favorite movie), Al Gore, the young Elvis, Avis (the classic example), Apple (maintained for 30 years), Nintendo, Google (in the early days), Facebook, Red Bull, Blurb, method, the Obama Campaign, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, Tourism New Zealand, and Tourism Queensland (“the best job in the world” campaign).

While a Market Leader cannot technically be a pure Challenger Brand (their dominant market share makes that impossible), they can embrace Challenger Brand thinking and behavior and continue to move quickly and surprisingly like the nimble small fish they once were.  If you are (or even are just affiliated with) a Market Leader, embracing the role of “change agent” and swimming against the conventions of your category should never be counterintuitive.

Below are seven common market scenarios/challenges, four externally and three internally rooted, that Brand Leaders may face, in which continuing to deeply embrace Challenger thinking and behavior will serve them well. To get more specific, we are going to use the yet to be launched media company/cable network OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) to give suggestions as to how the situation might be framed in Challenger terms.  OWN is selected as it is birthed in part out of a Market Leader who has retained Challenger Brand thinking and behavior (that’s Oprah herself).  But OWN is also entering and will compete in a category - cable (and digital media?) network based around “best life/self improvement” programming - in which it will NOT be the Market Leader at launch.  It has the opportunity to be a Challenger Brand infused with Market Leader DNA.

External Cause Scenarios

1. Brand exists in a category where the long entrenched rules are unraveling, with the industry experiencing rapid and significant change.

In the case of cable networks or cable/digital hybrids, it has appeared to be the norm (or even a “rule”) that viewers demand “high quality,” professionally produced passive programming. In the world of journalism (text or video), there is clearly a change underway in the definition of, and balance of power between, the relative value of quality vs. timeliness in media.  CNN leads breaking stories with grainy i-Report cell-phone video and later packages it in with professionally shot segments, graphics and theme music.  Bloggers and folks on Twitter are among the first to report and share images of events such as the Mumbai hostage taking and the landing of the plane in the Hudson River.  In these cases, timeliness trumped quality. Non-fiction TV can’t be far behind in being forced to (if not voluntarily address) this change of the  mix of professionally and consumer generated media that goes far beyond commentary shows featuring humorous and cute animal YouTube videos.

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Respect, but don't let the old production model dictate all programming experiences. Embrace a new model of relative value between quality and timeliness of media. Create new ways of aggregating “real time” content from sources other than its own, including (if not especially from) the audience. But give them a place of their own in the programming mix beyond 3 minute segment inserts in the "real show."


2. Brand is threatened by a “superior” competitor or completely new sources of competition.

The competitor that one faces does not have to be another company in the category.  The real competition can just as easily come from significant changes in audience/consumer behavior as well as from businesses and platforms outside the category.

Most would agree that the time of appointment viewing “must see” TV is pretty much over.   There is no such thing as a TV captive audience, not even for breaking events. People have many “viewing” choices and mostly multi-tasking around media anyway.  They need a reason for engagement and new tools for relevant content discovery. The “partial continuous attention” audience is a more significant challenge to creatively address than another network or show. No matter what the ratings are.   And quite frankly, how accurate are the ratings anyway in a world of multitasking vs. a world of single focused activity.

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: How do you break the “rule” of ratings as the guiding force and create multiplatform media where it’s OK if engagement cannot always be measured.  Develop the story for brand partners by which value is created when old category revenue models and measurement criteria are disrupted and become less relevant.


3. Brand is faced with potential “commoditization of the category.”

What is unique about how the Challenger brand thinks about and lives in their category? Defining and understanding the category you want to compete in is critical. (Remember the story of trains saying they were in the "train" business and not in the "transportation" business?) Additionally, if all the participants in the category define it in a similar manner, the product they deliver begins to become indistinguishable except for the network brand logo. In the world of cable TV, how many  look alike “life improvement” shows can really be “consumed?”

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: What's the category in which you want to define yourself and live?  Is it non-fiction cable TV network?  Probably way too narrow, especially if you think about what time constraints and life experiences you are competing against for the "audience's" attention. (For me, you wouldn't be competing just against TV time, but against going to yoga class, walking my dog and reading my RSS feeds - things that I see as "life enhancing/self improvement.")

And regradless of subtelty or breath of the category definition, there are ways to think about programming development that fends off commoditization.  That is: Don’t always go with the expected heavy hitters; use the media and the "audience" to incubate your own next generation of “trust agents.” (Isn't that one of Oprah's greatest strengths afterall - trust?)  Trust can be built and vetted within communities online before migrating to cable distribution.


4. Brand encounters situation where the greater social ecosystem or public opinion is set/moving against it.

OWN isn't a political movement, so you might ask how this situation might be relevant.  This scenario can also be framed as the friction or resistance one might encounter when trying to expand audience apart from a well-understood core to include a group that might seem to be counter intuitive to the core.   While I don't have access to the stats, it's my understanding that the show "Oprah" on broadcast TV has an audience dominated by urban females, while OWN has a goal of a broader audience (including male and I assume non-urban if significant cable audience is to be found.) 

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: If the brand "Oprah" is to be a catalyst in the launch of OWN, then it is important to understand what part of that "Oprah" DNA will work for and against that goal. I am NOT of the mindset that "Oprah" is a female only brand.  Highlighting the Challenger brand aspect over the industry "Goliath" story will be important.  And that is based around a story NOT of Oprah's media dominance and finances, but of her ability to create and rally community and engagement.  And that is neither male nor female.

Internal Cause Scenarios

1. Brand allows its own complacency or even arrogance to lull them into a sense of security and permanence of success.
Success can be a problem if it is seen as an end product and not a transitory state.  Market Leaders, and sometimes their “spawn” who are closely identified with a predecessor’s DNA, can be lulled into complacency or a sense of invincibility by confidence that comes out of years of success documented by boatloads of press clippings and awards. There are times when that comfy seductive sense of security is exactly what a Challenger needs to battle against.

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Remember that “category inexperience” is often what powers Challenger brands at the beginning, enabling them to bring vitality and new possibilities to play.  A novice’s perspectives can come both from “new blood” outside the industry brought into partnership in the venture, and also can come from the “seasoned pros.” For the Pros, they need to be willing to take the time to temporarily set aside their knowledge and vested interests and “walk in the door” afresh, questioning their own assumptions about the business.  As for ”new blood” from outside the industry, well that requires some expansive Pixar style thinking that asks: “How do you hire/partner for a task that has never been done before?”  Answer: Look for people who have demonstrated mastery in another area – personal or business – outside your category, as well those who have demonstrated the ability to convert failure into success.  That’s the criteria by which NASA found the first astronauts – who were test pilots.


2. Brand believes none of its competitors are “significant” anymore.
When a Market Leader owns the category from a market share or share of mind perspective, what is left to compete against?  I say there’s plenty – it’s just not as obvious as someone with bigger ratings or ad sell throughs.  So how do you find your new “enemy?”

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Oprah as a brand has successfully redefined “the enemy or monster” that she competes against innumerable times: so there are already great lessons here for OWN.  That which she competes against is no longer other daytime talk shows. The “enemies” are the bigger causes and issues she brings to light and around which she rallies her constituency.  OWN needs to think about not only what it fights for, but what it fights against.  That may be bigger global social or economic causes, intimate personal battles, and yes, even sometimes, the direction of an industry.


3. Brand becomes shackled by its own success and fears breaking the “magic formula.”
Remember that in the digital age, where just about everything is transitory, there is no longer such a thing as a “magic formula” (at least not one that lasts very long).  Clinging to that notion and becoming loss or risk averse creates behavior that is counter to what usually gets a Challenger to their success in the first place.  

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Don’t let an affinity for old models and paradigms be your undoing.  It’s great to leverage what has worked in the past, especially as television is generally a medium of familiarity and predictability.  But what new models or paradigms might you create, which of course, you eventually will have to destroy when they also become conventions?

I offer up the following as one.  Use the fact that you are hopefully building digital from the starts as a vibrant component (rather than the conventional “site brochureware” of many cable companies), and incubate and mentor new talent online (not just TV talent transplanted into the digital arena). Communities are the natural petrie dishes for new “trust agents” to evolve against specific areas of expertise.    Be conscious to create mechanisms to identity and platforms to cultivate this, and bring that talent into other media at appropriate times.

Lessons learned as to why it's a good idea for Big Brands to think like little fish?

You can retain your status quo of Market Leader (or offspring of the same) by being willing to constantly question, evolve and transcend the category conventions in order to be the change agent in partnership with your audience/customer. Doable.  But not easy.  Egv_tiny_blogicon

 

    Or

Liz Gebhardt


  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.