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Imitator brands in times of crisis
By Carole Ayoub, Brandcell

To be successful a brand needs to stand out from its competitors by promising relevant yet distinctly different benefits to its target market. It also needs to convey these benefits in everything from its brand name and identity to packaging and product performance.

By carefully selecting these benefits the brand not only sets itself apart as the preferred provider but also as the only viable solution for its customers’ needs.

In other words, consumers are convinced this brand alone delivers what they’re seeking and they won’t accept substitutes even if it is not available. It is through this differentiation strategy that the brand becomes, in the minds of consumers, unique.

Take a look at the retail landscape today, though, and you’ll find that more brands than ever before are vying for attention, and, the degree of differentiation between one product and another has been diminished. In such a cluttered marketplace, a brand needs to work even harder to stand out, and having a distinctive name becomes more important than ever to asserting a brand’s status as in a class of its own.

In Lebanon, where a recent scandal sent shockwaves through the population, a number of brands may have learned an additional lesson about the pitfalls of not having a distinctive name. When a list of food brands that had been found to have contravened health regulations was released by the Health Minister, the public reacted with horror as the realization dawned on them that the food they had been buying and consuming for years from trusted names had been contaminated or past its sell-by date.

This scandal also triggered some reactions from a cluster of similar brand names that had initially adopted what is known as the “me-too strategy”. It’s a strategy that can seem smart to start-ups or emerging companies, who adopt the rationale that customers may be easily duped into thinking they are buying the products of the larger, more successful brand; however, these newer brands lack the potential for progressive branding as no two brands can own the same concept in the consumer’s mind.

Contrary to popular thought, the imitator’s fate is sealed by the similar sound of their name, which casts them into a default position. While the promoters themselves may believe that their brand is a challenger to the market leader, the consumers merely perceive it as an imitator.

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When these brands adopted the “me-too strategy”, their eyes were fixed on the quick wins and easy gains but overlooked the risks involved with tying their destiny to that of the established brand. Just like a marriage is for better or worse, so these imitator brands found themselves in the wake of the food scandal having to communicate and explain to their customers that despite the similar name their brand was in fact different to the other brands that stood accused. Yet, for all their proclamations of being safer and cleaner, consumers remained blurred and confused and this undoubtedly impacted their behavior and perception of those brands.

For these brands such a public debacle could or should provide a branding lesson and be the awakening point for the initiation of a proper rebranding and re-positioning exercise to gain back their customers’ confidence and differentiate in the right way while delivering on their values of honesty and transparency to demonstrate these are more than just words but rather a prime commitment never to be betrayed.
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