Brand owners often see strong brands in their category as the unobtainable goal and unbeatable competition, but the small brand can not only learn from strong brands, strong brands can also provide a very good slipstream.
The strong brand is very important to its industry. Having a category leader that invests in research, product development and marketing, actually gives an unfair advantage to those who can learn from it – and that without paying the tuition.
I am of course not talking about creating cheap imitations of strong brands, but rather making the most of your brand by learning from the category leaders. For me a strong brand is not only about volume and sales, but also about quality perception and credibility.
Let’s look at a category leader in the wine industry. Concha y Toro is definitely a leader within the Chilean wine industry and has done a lot for the perception and credibility of Chilean wines internationally. While other wines from Chile might be of exceptional quality, a strong brand such as Casillero del Diablo has created trust in Chilean wines and as a result, wine buyers might be more open to explore other Chilean options.
The competition element does, of course, stay a challenge for the small brand. Consumers might request the trusted brand and retailers and restaurants might only have a limited space for products from a certain category, ie Chilean wine. Strong brands are strong for a reason and rather than compete with them, smaller brands should make the most of capitalising on the road they paved.
Being a category leader is a big responsibility. Much of the perception and credibility of the category are based on the strong brand. Industry and even government support of strong brands are therefore important. Category leaders have a vested interest and their input and learnings are invaluable for the category as a whole.
For the South African wine industry, strong brands are very important. Brands that can take South African wine to a better price point, to a quality expectation that is more than value for money. Most wine drinkers will pay more for a French wine, because the quality perception is based on the wines from famous Chateux and not Vin de table.
We all know that exceptional wines are expensive and often available in smaller quantities, but it is these wines that set the scene for an industry. Then, despite the importance of the category leader, it is also the responsibility of all the players and producers to fulfill the expectations. To provide quality, even when it is in another style and at another price point.
Just like the stronger cyclist’s slipstream can help the rest of the field, it is not enough to to make them complete the race. Strong brands might lead the way and bring opportunity, but it is still up to each participant to take the guidance and to not only serve its own purpose, but also that of the industry.