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The differentiation strategy of mainstream brands – how to stand for something without alienating anyone

By Magda Adamska / 22 June 2021 The differentiation strategy of mainstream brands – how to stand for something without alienating anyone

In one of our previous articles, we explained how challenger brands, by being daring, cheeky and rebellious, attempt to stand out from the crowd in an effort to be noticed and remembered. We analysed why, when they succeed commercially and wish to continue to grow, they need to start targeting a wider audience which often means diluting their brand’s unique proposition for the sake of being more widely acceptable.

We also mentioned how the best and biggest brands do not differentiate in terms of their positioning in an attempt to appeal to everyone. This strategy can be explained by research conducted by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute proving that differentiation not only fails to help big brands, but also, in some cases, it might even hinder their performance (unlike distinctiveness, which is almost always good).

The challenge that large, mainstream brands often face is how to stand for a universal concept, which does not alienate anyone, but at the same time does not feel like a generic category descriptor.

Today, we are writing about Walmart, Gordon’s and Toyota – leaders in their respective categories which have managed to achieve this.

1. Walmart – helping families save money and live better.

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and the world’s largest company by revenue, according to Fortune’s Global 500 ranking. It hires more than two million people globally and has an unprecedented impact on a huge number of suppliers (including such FMCG giants as Procter & Gamble and Unilever) as well as on local communities.

Walmart’s business model and its brand strategy are based on the promise of the lowest prices. This proposition has proven to not only affect all Walmart stakeholders (it is a great offer for customers but a challenging position for suppliers) but also the US economy, contributing to the low inflation rate and increased productivity. Until 2008, Walmart primarily targeted the lower end of the market, that is, the most cost-conscious demographic. The company’s messaging was focused on the fact that it offers low prices, which was encapsulated in the tagline: “Always Low Prices. Always”. Walmart realized that in order to grow in the future, it had to widen its target audience so that it also included customers, who want great value but not necessarily the lowest prices. In order to achieve that, it revised its brand strategy.

With the help of the branding consultancy Lippincott, Walmart changed its approach to messaging and instead of focusing on the low prices, it started emphasizing the emotional benefits of saving money. Lippincott explained on their website: “We looked to the most important outcomes of saving money: feeling smart for making the right choice, spending more time with family, and, to simply live better.” The company also changed its tagline to “Save money, live better” and went through a rebranding process, which is believed to be one of the most successful rebranding stories of all time.

2. Gordon’s – the world’s favourite gin

Although the roots of Gordon’s gin date back to the 18th century and its heritage is one of the key pillars of its brand equity, it is not the most important aspect of the Gordon’s brand strategy. Gordon’s is positioned as “the world’s favourite gin” and “the ginniest of gins”. The brand has a light-hearted character and emphasizes that it is “a gin for enjoyment”. Such positioning has allowed Gordon’s to build a perception of an “easy-going” product that could be enjoyed by everyone, achieve the status of a timeless icon and as a result become the world’s best-selling gin.

Gordon’s brought its positioning to life via a number of communications platforms and creative ideas. In 2016, the brand launched its long-running campaign, “Shall we…?” with the objective of encouraging people to choose Gordon’s and tonic as an early evening drink to be enjoyed with friends. The creative executions under the “Shall we…?” umbrella always have a playful and humorous tone. However, what makes them different is that gin & tonic is the main hero of communication, not people drinking it. The “Shall we…?” platform is used by Gordon’s to this day.

3. Toyota – mobility company standing for reliability

Toyota is the biggest car manufacturer in the world and a textbook example of a mainstream brand, which for decades has been a benchmark of reliability and trustworthiness. In 2011, after a challenging period and facing both quality and financial problems, Toyota introduced changes to its business strategy and announced a new corporate vision. The central premise of the vision was Toyota’s repositioning from a car manufacturer to a mobility company, that is widening the brand’s scope beyond the automotive industry to categories such as intelligent transportation systems, personal mobility solutions, smart grids, robots, etc. Key themes of the vision include enriching people’s lives, safety, commitment to quality, constant innovation and respect for the planet. The company also started building more excitement around its brand and adding new, more emotional elements to its brand equity. Toyota’s President, Akio Toyoda, explained that the brand’s focus is “moving people” both literally and metaphorically.

Despite all the changes in the brand’s positioning and messaging, the backbone of the Toyota brand is still its heritage. The set of principles developed by Toyota’s founders, which focus on quality, reliability and responsibility, still guides brand development.

WalmartGordon’s and Toyota are three examples of mainstream brands which have succeeded in positioning themselves so as to have a wide appeal without being overly generic.

If you want to read the complete brand strategy case studies of all brands mentioned in this post, subscribe to BrandStruck.

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Magda Adamska is the founder of BrandStruck.

BrandStruck ithe only online database of brand strategy case studies.
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