Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: When It Pays Not to Follow

Magazine article Marketing

Helen Edwards on Branding: When It Pays Not to Follow

Article excerpt

Being first past the post to disclose information or pre-empt legislation is a move worth making.

The received wisdom on 'first-mover advantage' is that it often isn't Cautionary tales are told of companies that devote big resources to the development of a technology, then hurry on to launch, only to be outdone by fast-followers or 'consolidators', who come in with better, cheaper variants.

Fast-followers, which include brands as diverse as Pampers and Microsoft, have gained such a good press in recent years that there is a body of literature from academics such as Costas Markides on how to ensure you are always handily placed in the 'race to be second'.

This defeatist line of thought can be turned on its head with a less constrained definition of 'first mover'.

It doesn't always have to be based on a new technology, or even a new market space. Nor does it have to cost big bucks in development. There are many ways to make a first move - and one of the most effective is to be the first in your market to disclose hitherto concealed information.

Harvester took this route to first-mover status last week, when it became the first national restaurant group to display full calorie details on its menus.

So customers learned that its 'recommended' mixed grill would set the dial at 910 calories, and if followed with caramel apple tart, the meal would total more than half the male recommended daily calorie allowance.

In opening up calorie information, Harvester is merely pre-empting a Department of Health (DoH) initiative that would make it standard practice for the entire industry. However, by doing it first, without coercion, it makes a powerful statement about the brand: we're open, we treat you as an adult, we've nothing to hide.

The reward is a perceptual gap between Harvester and rivals such as Subway and PizzaExpress, which have taken a stand against the DoH proposal (Marketing, 9 March).

This is a low-cost, first-mover play.

In the great scheme of things, calorie measurement and menu reprinting, plus a bit of PR and some nice meal-counter apps do not constitute big investment stakes. Even so, it is not an entirely free ride for Harvester. It means that any flak about the calorific excesses of restaurant-chain food will be drawn to its brand first. Frank disclosure is never going to appeal to the faint-hearted.

It is, however, one of the few points of leverage that small brands can enjoy over behemoths. In 2007, the fast-growing household-cleaning brand Method anticipated proposed US legislation by fully declaring its products' ingredients on its packs. …

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