Small But Mighty: Tiny Brand Advertising Strategies
In this guest post, Alicia Barker, a senior marketing scientist at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, asks are tiny brands always destined to stay tiny against their much larger competitors…
A commonly held belief is that tiny brands are destined to stay small. Resources are extremely limited, making substantial growth seem more challenging than the average Joe conquering Everest. But just as average Joe can scale a mountain with the right training, tiny brands can climb the growth ladder with the right marketing strategy.
Some marketers claim the answer is differentiation, for the brand to aim to be bigger within a smaller market. But while this sounds plausible, it is quickly unravelled by empirical evidence. Instead, research by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute shows tiny brands grow by expanding their customer base, and this requires growing a brand’s availability, including Mental Availability.
But how can tiny brands (with finite resources) build Mental Availability?
Differentiate and look the same
The Duplication of Purchase Law tells us that brands share customers in-line with popularity. Most people who visit their local independent coffee shop also visit Starbucks. But few people who visit Starbucks also visit their local independent coffee shop. It is completely normal (and expected) to see customers sharing loyalty across more than one brand in a category and that tiny brand buyers are generally heavy users of the category. If competing brands were truly viewed as different then we wouldn’t see nearly as much customer overlap, and especially not to such a generalisable or predictable extent.
In reality, buyers don’t perceive their brands as different to competitors. For the most part, customers view all other brands in the category as near substitutes irrespective of the positioning or marketing strategies. Both the local independent coffee shop and Starbucks sell coffee, food and have a place to sit. One is just much more accessible, for many more people, than the other.
Don’t get me wrong though, differentiation does exist! Some brands really are different. Although by that I mean functionally different in terms of products or services offered rather than a perceived difference created through advertising. For example, one of my favourite local independent cafes offers a 100% vegan menu. They still serve coffee, food and have a place to sit, but they also have a clear point of difference. Though even here, this difference is only important to some of their buyers. For most, it’s their sameness with other brands (e.g., they serve coffee) that matters.
Do factor any inherent differences into your marketing strategy*. But remember that customers aren’t that convinced or concerned if brands are different. They will naturally buy the brands they remember and can find when needed.
So, good news, you don’t need to worry about making your tiny brand different to grow! Your advertising should instead aim to build Mental Availability to remind people the brand exists when they are entering the category. Think ‘Hey, we’re here, we’re good, give us a try!’ rather than ‘We are different from other brands, this is why you should buy us!’.
But this is challenging for a tiny brand with a small marketing budget. While Starbucks can launch an international TV campaign, your local independent coffee shop might just afford a local radio commercial. So how do you allocate the advertising budget you have wisely?
Read the full article in B&T.