Turn a perceived deficiency into a differentiating strength by telling a narrative that alters negative perceptions of a brand may help.
Volkswagen introduced the Beetle to the American market in the 1950s. The general public in the United States strongly preferred flashy, high-powered vehicles. And here was an automobile that stood in sharp contrast to that trend. It moved more slowly and was small. Volkswagen and its advertising agency, DDB, decided to develop the “Think Small” campaign, which played on Beetle’s small size as a selling point.
The story emphasised the vehicle’s modest size and the practical advantages it provided, such as being simpler to park, getting better mileage, and requiring less maintenance. This turned a drawback into an advertisement for the car’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Often, a product’s (or brand’s) perceived weakness can be turned into a competitive advantage by telling a good story that changes how the audience thinks.
There has long been a perception that Heinz Ketchup is difficult to pour because of its thick consistency. Heinz, meanwhile, has consistently embraced the topic to defend the superiority of its product. Instead of figuring out how to change the ketchup’s ingredients or packaging to make it runnier, Heinz came up with a brilliant marketing campaign, praising itself as the “slow, rich, thick” ketchup that’s “too rich to run,” and telling consumers that the wait is worth it. It even slanted the labels on its bottles to ensure they were horizontal when held at the optimal pouring angle. Heinz turned a bad thing into a good thing by saying that his product’s high price was worth it because it tasted and felt better than other products.
For years, Listerine had to fight the stigma of being a horrible-tasting mouthwash. Actually, consumers were unable to rinse for the whole 30 seconds. But Listerine persevered, bolstering its reputation as the brand that really cleans your mouth rather than only covering up foul breath with a minty aroma, as is the case with many other mouthwash companies. Branding efforts paid off, and consumers now believe that using Listerine is essential to maintaining a healthy mouth free of germs.
The mission of the British firm Get Wonky is to bring attention to the problem of food waste by producing juices from imperfect fruits and vegetables. It changed its name to “Flawsome” to reflect its dedication to the notion of imperfect food, converting a negative into positive and encouraging others to reconsider imperfect produce.
Brands have components of their brand that are seen adversely, but unlike people, brands frequently don’t know how to fix these problems. Much of branding and marketing hinges on how things are seen, so it’s important for brand managers to keep in mind that weaknesses may be turned into advantages with the right approach.
The idea is that savvy businesspeople in this field know that every weakness can be a strength if they know how to use it to their advantage and that any danger can be transformed into an opportunity with some creative thinking.
Brands with a reputation for being pricey, like Louis Vuitton, serve as a gentle reminder that what matters most is not the price you pay upfront, but the value you get out of owning a high-quality item that will last for years to come (and wow your friends).
The goal here is to turn a possible negative into an advantageous strength for the brand. When the consumer can personally feel the “weakness,” this strategy becomes very effective.
Taking Action Steps
- List all the negative opinions people have heard about your brand.
- How would you turn each brand’s flaw from the preceding list into a significant selling point?
- Convert this selling point to appropriate positioning.