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STOP! When Not to Market Your Brand

It's a fact that brand names fill the consumer landscape and even our daily lexicon. Consciously or not, we often use brand names to refer to entire product classes or commodities. Someone suffering from a runny nose may ask for a "Kleenex" instead of a tissue. And we're more likely to hear the words "Can I borrow some Scotch tape?" than "Can I borrow some cellophane tape?" So it may seem counterintuitive, then, to forego branded marketing if brand names so dominate our purchasing decisions and even our vocabulary. But there are specific instances when non-branded, generic category marketing — or marketing for primary demand — may make better sense for a company. If total consumer demand for a market has yet to reach its full potential, the right primary demand marketing may increase the size of the market while maintaining or even expanding a company's market share.

Some of the reasons a company might consider primary demand marketing are:

  1. If the market is completely new. Overt brand positioning may be premature in this situation, as there is no market share to be taken from competitors, per se. The strongest demand growth may be better achieved by focusing on a product/service's general uses, merits and relevance to consumers' lives.
  2. If the company holds majority market share. If a brand or product is already dominant, the long-term profits from commanding an expanded market may outweigh the initial "free riding" effect of competitors benefiting from the company's category advertising. This is especially true for near-monopolies where there is little meaningful market share left to capture.
  3. If the market is fragmented but collaboration with competitors on generic marketing is possible. This is a classic Nash equilibrium example. By cooperating to increase the overall size of the pie while maintaining respective share, everyone wins; by only pursuing individual branded campaigns, companies may be sacrificing market growth for fleeting gains in market share.
  4. If generic marketing can focus on qualities for which the product is deemed " premium." Research suggests that generic category marketing can simultaneously raise both total market demand and preference for "premium" brands. The key is advertising characteristics that consumers see as varying in quality across a product class and for which the brand in question is considered high or highest in quality. In addition, this type of marketing may soften consumers' sensitivity to "premium" brands' higher price point.

Clearly, generic advertising is not universally preferable. Instead, "Don't market your brand" should be taken as a reminder that in marketing — as in so much else — context dictates the appropriate strategy. It also underscores the importance of getting to know your customers and their needs, values and behaviors. A company must understand consumers' perception of its products and market characteristics; it must also understand which new or existing customer segments could see expanded demand and how best to educate them. This knowledge will dictate whether, and how, a company should market for primary demand.

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