Do you know who Dietrich Mateschitz is? Probably not.
But you will know the product he created. It’s orangey. It comes in small silver & blue cans. It’s supposed to give you wings.
Red Bull was inspired by an energy drink in Thailand named Krating Daeng. Mateschitz took the idea, modified the ingredients and launched Red Bull in 1987. Into a soft drinks market dominated by Coca Cola.
It worked. Red Bull is the 3rd biggest soft drinks brand in the world. It sells over 6 billion cans annually.
Rory Sutherland (the behavioural economics & advertising guru) talks about how a typical company would think about competing with Coca Cola… ‘We need to produce a drink that tastes nicer than Coke, that costs less than Coke, that comes in a really big bottle, so people get great value for money’.
He adds “What I’m fairly sure nobody would say is ‘hey, let’s try a really expensive drink, that comes in a tiny can, that tastes kind of disgusting’. Yet that is exactly what Red Bull did”.
Red Bull worked despite its taste. The research agency that did the initial testing had never seen a worse reaction to a new product. One respondent said, “I wouldn’t drink this pi*s if you paid me”.
Well, now a lot of people pay to drink that pi*s.
Red Bull has succeeded by being different not (just) better.
Why are we talking about this? For retailers and FMCG brands, the competitive landscape has changed a lot in recent years. If you were one of the big 4 retailers in the UK, you used to know exactly who your key competitors were. It was the other 3. If you were a brand you knew exactly who your key competitor(s) were. If you were Persil, it was Ariel. If you won that battle, you won the war.
But now you face competition from all angles. If you are a big 4 retailer, you face Discounters, Food Service, Specialists, Amazon and other eCommerce players. If you are a brand, you face premium brands, small start-ups, private label, tertiary brands. You have to win many battles to win the war.
It is hard to win that battle by being “better”. Better is subjective. Is Persil better than Ariel?
It is easier to be different. And by being different you can end up being better. Aldi was different first. Then by being different, it was (for many people) better.
So how can you differentiate in this competitive landscape?
BE Different. This is about your proposition. What can you do that your competitors can’t do? For big brands this is often about going back to your roots. Every new Marketing Director that goes to a brand that has been struggling says “we need to go back to what made us great in the first place”. What starts out as something very different can get gradually eroded over time. You can end up being the same as everyone else.
For smaller brands being different is the only way to challenge the bigger brands. Fever Tree is a great example of this. They were very small until they became big. Is Fever Tree better than Schweppes? Some of you may think yes. Most of you wouldn’t be able to tell. They have succeeded by being different. By focusing on quality. By getting shoppers to think differently about mixers. Being different has grown their brand. Being different has grown the category.
LOOK Different. This is about standing out on a crowded shelf or a busy screen. What has been one of the biggest incremental product launches in the last couple of years? Gordon’s Pink Gin. It’s gin and it’s pink. That’s pretty much it. Innocent have launched a blue drink. Their supporting communication…”we’ve made a blue drink. It’s blue. It’s juicy. It’s blue.”
This isn’t just about individual SKUs. Looking different is key for your brand full stop. This means consistently looking different. Across all touchpoints. So that you are instantly recognisable. In a workshop recently, we flashed a frame from a Red Bull advert on screen for 0.1 seconds. It had no branding on it. Everyone in the workshop knew it was Red Bull.
SOUND Different. This is about what you say and how you say it. Anyone can say “tastes great” or “cleans brilliantly” or “new” or “improved”. You need to say something different. Something that matters to shoppers. That is something you deliver on. That is different to what your competitors can say.
Then you need to say it in an attention grabbing way. In a style that works for your brand. A style that your competitors can’t use. Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of this. Everything about the brand sounds different. The flavour names. The tone of voice they use in communication. The way they talk about their mission. Ben & Jerry’s sounds as different today as when they started.
The old normal = you knew who your main competitor was. The new normal = you are facing competition from all angles.
Be different not (just) better.
Right, we’re off to write the next blog – anyone got a small can of orangey pi*s to keep us going…?
Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.
We are an FMCG strategy consultancy. We help companies win with shoppers & retailers in 4 main ways – Category Strategy, Channel Strategy, Shopper Marketing Strategy and Retailer Engagement.