Playing it safe loses market share
In a world of message overload, a brand must often break the rules if it wants to elevate above the competition. For an upstart brand to gain market share, first determine the conventional wisdom of the market leaders, then run in the opposite direction.
One lesson of effective brand strategy is: do not play it safe. If the upstart brand plays it safe, the market leader ALWAYS wins. And if an established brand plays it safe, savvy upstarts will come along and steal market share away from it.
In creating an effective brand promise resonating with the market, what is constantly reaffirmed is how often 0,000 of intelligence beats million in advertising to create 0 million in annual sales.
An example is the Swiss fashion brand, Akris. Akris has quietly gained market share by doing what its competitors do not. For example, rather than compete with the advertising spends of St. John or Escada, Akris runs in the opposite direction. They do not advertise. The Wall Street Journal reports other differences as well:
Akris, the 80-year-old Swiss fashion brand…is becoming a quiet must-have among American businesswomen.
…Most designer brands…focus on younger customers, and look to more mature clients as an afterthought. [In contrast] Akris, with its sleekly tailored suits and classic dresses, has long looked to the working woman as its muse, and is only now courting the fashion crowd.
And while most European luxury brands — from Jil Sander to Prada and Giorgio Armani — were well-established at home before getting U.S. exposure, Akris owes its rise to a carefully honed U.S. business, where the brand’s prices are often higher than those of its European counterparts.
…High-end U.S. retailers such as Neiman Marcus and…Saks Fifth Avenue now rank [Akris] among their top-selling designer labels….
…Akris is unusual in that it sells no profit-boosting accessories, no namesake fragrances. By relying on a few key U.S. retail accounts, subtle marketing and just one brand, Akris tests the industry notion that multibrand conglomerates are the best route to growth….
“A successful collection is less about advertising than about the special relationship between our sales associates and our clients — that’s what gets the product sold,” said James J. Gold, president and chief executive officer of Bergdorf Goodman. “The people at Akris have their ear on the sales floor.”
…Rather than relying on trends or advertising buzz, Akris has gained steam in the U.S. mainly by word of mouth…. “I used to wear Armani only, but I got bored with it,” said Mindy Ross, a managing director with Citigroup in New York. Like many other clients, Ms. Ross said she appreciates Akris for its insider appeal.
Akris cut against the grain in women’s fashion apparel with a one-brand focus in an overlooked and underappreciated consumer niche: apparel for businesswomen. With an emphasis on personal customer relationships and a tight focus on the clothes rather than accessories, taken together these components create a clear point of difference for the brand (in contrast to the multiple brand approach of, for example, Liz Claiborne).
The Akris brand strategy is a Whisper. When you whisper, people are forced to pay attention, to lean forward, to become engaged. To whisper is to exchange valuable, privileged information, to be let in on the secret, and to make yourself heard without beating your chest and yelling yourself hoarse.
For an upstart brand, it’s a very effective way to gain market share. Just look at Akris, an 80-year old upstart.