Don't Be A Jack Of All Trades At Retail

By Steve Marzio

You have, in all likelihood heard the expression “Jack of all trades….Master of none.”  You may have found personally that this is not an enviable position to be in when it comes to many areas of life such as in your career or your aspiration to be an NFL football star.  If you are a college football player who can throw the ball pretty well, run at average speed, tackle the opponents with average ability and catch the ball relatively well, you may be the 1st pick in your local YMCA league, but you probably will not find yourself signing a NFL contract anytime soon.  Conversely, if you can catch any ball thrown to you within a 10 yard radius or have 4.2-40 blinding speed, with little/no other football abilities, you may find yourself soon wondering who took that photo of you toasting champagne in the hot tub with 5 of your closest new friends celebrating your recently signed NFL deal.

“Jack of all trades…master of none” is also the worst position to be in as a challenger brand.   It is where retail leverage is maximized and your leverage as a small (in relation to a dominant market leader) challenger brand is minimized.  There are many ways to be a 5 share national brand, some of which are destined to be failures within the next 3 years and some who are destined to be a thriving, profitable brand and one on a growth track to be a serious threat to the dominant market share leader in the near future.

I have never been one for a long, round-about way to make a point, so here it is challenger brand marketers, if you don’t read this whole article, read the next two words….  OWN SOMETHING!

Your widget, knick-knack or bottled solution may in fact make sense for all consumers in the marketplace.  If you were selling your product door-to-door, you master marketers could have a pitch ready for any age, demographic or socio-economic class of the individual who answers each door.  That’s great, that’s wonderful, congratulations.  That does NOT mean you should take on the market leader(s) head on from day one.  Maybe someday, but all in due time.

To state the obvious, stronger brand positions, or leverage vis-à-vis the retailer, means having a strong degree of consumer PULL.  Retailers come to you and want your product, when customers come in droves to their well-lit, organized boxes asking for your product…by brand name.  Even if your national brand position is small, your consumer pull should be strong in some way shape or form.  OWN SOMETHING…or perhaps more correctly….OWN SOMEONE.

If you have a 5 share nationally, have all 5 of your share points some from females under 30, or from a particular tri-state area, or from consumers who make $1M+ annually, or from a minority demographic etc… Don’t lose sleep that your marketing budgets aren’t large enough for a superbowl ad to show how much better you are than the dominant brand, or that you can’t afford to give outrageous margins to make it easier to get on national chain shelves.  You should lose sleep thinking about how you can own one piece, even if it looks like a very small piece, of the overall marketplace.  Put another way, get a foothold and national growth will surely follow.

Own (60+ share) just one small segment of the population or of the market and you will have more leverage in retail negotations, even with the large national chains.  These chains are constantly looking on how to get incremental growth year on year, more consumer trips, unique first-time customers and innovative ways to increase the market basket size.  Challenger brands with a pinpoint strategy and a strong appeal with a particular group or in a particular geographic area, will represent an opportunity for retailers for which the dominant brands cannot offer.

I will follow up this article with some case examples but they are many across all kinds of categories.  Whether you are new athletic brand staring Nike and Reebok in the face (heard of Under Armour?) or a new breath mint that wants to be the next Tic Tac (heard of Altoids?) your long term success in becoming your own national powerhouse needs to start small but start with a consumer appeal that the big guys can’t match.  Do this and then start calling the shots with retail and not vice versa.

Note – this post is from special contributor Steve Marzio.

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