Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: Win by Finishing Second

Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: Win by Finishing Second

Article excerpt

All marketers want their brand to be a consumer's top choice, but runners-up can wield more power.

The biggest objection to the proposed AV electoral system appears to be that it will lead to the triumph of 'everyone's second choice'. Welcome to the little-studied, but curiously pervasive, world of consensus brands, the secret of which is to pull off this very trick: turning 'second' into a winning position.

A simple way to get a feel for consensus branding is to imagine a group of friends arranging to meet for a drink. The choice of venue will be a negotiated decision. Destinations will be suggested, lobbied for, resisted, defended and modified until consensus is reached. If you eavesdropped on those discussions, you would probably notice that first-choice brands tend to polarise. Characterful and distinctive, they are loved by their supporters for the same reasons that they will be resisted by detractors.

You will also notice that detractor language is more vehement than proposer language. Proposers might open with 'What about ...?' Detractors counter with 'I can't face ...'

The outcome is that groups fall back on consensus brands - those that strike the balance of being attractive enough to get into everyone's consideration set, yet not so extreme in any one direction to put off vociferous minorities. This helps explain the success of brands such as JD Wetherspoon; they might not be anybody's all-time favourite, but make for a popular second choice.

The concept of consensus branding is influential in a wide range of sectors. Virtually the whole B2B market is consensus territory. Brands here normally have to cling to a lengthy buying chain where one unsupportive link could mean sudden death. Better to be acceptable to all than the subject of a struggle between strong pros and equally obdurate antis.

In consumer markets, holidays, family cars, and food and drink choices involving hospitality are all areas in which it pays to be acquainted with the principles of consensus branding. These principles more or less amount to a reversal of the normal marketing instinct, with its drive for distinctiveness and strong individual appeal:

It is more important to understand what people don't want than what they do. This is a big one, to do with defusing the power of veto. Underlying it is the asymmetrical repertoire of human emotions, in which positive emotions (joy, surprise) are outnumbered by negative ones (anger, sadness, fear, disgust and contempt). …

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