Reading about Tempur-Pedic’s woes in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of an important marketing principle – one that we consistently preach:
Attributes can be mimicked. Benefits can be matched. But brand ideas are the ultimate asset.
The Journal reported that Tempur-Pedic’s shares fell 49% as the company cut its second-quarter outlook, blaming tough competition in the memory-foam business it had until recently dominated. Tempur-Pedic is quickly losing share because competitors are introducing similar (cheaper and often better) products. The company’s marketing efforts have been focused on the memory-foam mattress, which as it turns out provided only temporary success.
Companies make this mistake over and over again. Think about the free continental breakfast at limited-service hotels, or free bottled water at airport parking lots, or cup holders in cars, or diet sodas. The list goes on and on.
Products and features can be easily replicated by competitors. A brand idea cannot. Think Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, and GE. They aren’t promoting their shoes, or computers, or soda, or servers, or light bulbs. They are promoting what they believe in, what they stand for in the marketplace. Your brand (the core idea behind your business) is your intellectual property, which shouldn’t be easy to copy. And it should lead the way in your marketing efforts. (Don’t get me wrong. There’s a time and place for product-driven marketing, but it should always reinforce your brand idea.)
Car manufacturers have figured this out. Think about BMW’s Mini. It owns the idea of FUN! The car itself is fun, its billboards are fun, its apps are fun. Everything it does is fun. Of course, Mini also produces brochures that highlight the car’s products and features for those that are seriously considering buying one. But people don’t get interested in a Mini because of a list of features. They get interested because they want a FUN car.
Instead of merely touting a memory-foam mattress in its advertising, Tempur-Pedic should continually reinforce what the brand uniquely stands for it – be that comfort, peace-of-mind, serenity, or any other of a number of relevant, compelling ideas. At the moment, the company is caught in a battle it can’t win; as soon as it rolls out the next great product or feature, the competition will follow and the cycle will continue.
We encounter this conundrum often as we work to revitalize stalled, stuck and stale brands. Companies come to us when they’re unsure what to do to get their brands up-and-running again, and one common trait among many is that they only market their “stuff”. We work diligently to help them discover (or rediscover) their reason for being, then build upon that foundation a long-term integrated marketing program. It’s hard work and heavy lifting, but it’s a proven approach.
Temper-Pedic’s situation is unique, but it’s challenge is not. By reconciling why people buy with its reason for being, the brand can become more relevant and compelling than ever. And that could awaken a host of new customers.