The Inferior Brand

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Not everyone works for Apple. Not everyone has a brand like Google.

In fact, the vast majority of us probably don’t work for the superstar brand in our industry. Sure, there are challenger brands, startups and more that have the potential to find their niche, build a market and be the quintessential contender, but there is a very real reality that most people don’t like to face: your brand may, in fact, be inferior. Sure, there are countless sales people who will pinch and moan when their numbers aren’t rolling in (this isn’t who we are talking about). There are, in fact, many brands that are simply inferior to their competition and – to this day – they’re doing everything they can to maintain (or grow) marketshare.   

It’s hardly any fun, but it is reality.

We all want to believe – desperately – in the companies that we represent, but I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t asked for counsel – on a frequent basis – about how to market what these individuals would call "the unmarketable." So, before you quit the gig, ask to be transferred to another brand or give up entirely, here are some things to consider about dealing with an inferior brand:

  • The truth. In many instances, the brand is just poorly positioned and the brand perspective is tarnished. This is something very fixable (it’s not easy, but it is doable). If the brand is truly broken, take a look at senior management. Are they delusional? Pragmatic? Visionary? Have candid conversations and figure out what the truth is. Is there a roadmap to upgrade the brand or is the plan to drive it into the ground. Here’s why: while the product or service may be flawed, if you believe in the management and their will (and action) to change, it may be a good idea to stick around and see it through. If the truth is that the senior most executives don’t care and are milking the company for all it’s worth, you will have to make a decision based on your own, personal values… which is, usually, a pretty easy thing to do.
  • The position. Is the brand fishing in the wrong sea? This happens more often than you might imagine. Many brand can’t connect who they want to be with who they truly are. This disconnect can be adjusted. Speak to clients who actually use (maybe even love) whatever it is that you’re selling. Ask them why? Identify their industry. Target this industry more aggressively. Figure out which other markets are similar and build a story around it. You would be surprised how often an inferior brand in one market can become a more valuable brand in a secondary or niche market.
  • The location. We live in a globally connected community, there is no doubt about it. From the plumber down the corner to the multi-national home hardware store, a bad review is a bad review in a world of blogs, online social networks, and social media. It’s hard to hide. Still, maybe the brand needs to adjust and figure out a better location to sell. I’ve seen marketing agencies known for one thing in North America, turn around by hiring a senior creative lead in Europe, open an office there and suddenly they went from a tired direct marketing shop to being a global leader in creative advertising. So yes, think about the digitization of your brand, but try to find a new home for it before putting it out to pastor.
  • The belief. It’s hard to market and sell something that people don’t believe in. So, ask yourself: what is there to believe in? Is there a certain industry? Location? Functionality? Value-added service? Anything that you can sink your teeth into? What is the one thing that your inferior brand actually does better than someone else? If you can’t identify that, spend some time with your team and dig deep. Make a list. Check it twice. If there truly is nothing to believe in, it may be time to move on, but there’s usually something in there that everyone can hang their hat on. It may not be the sexiest thing, but a truth is always better than sexy.
  • The narrative. How do you tell and sell the story? Most assume that the brand narrative is set in stone. It isn’t. We live in a world where brands can come to life – in text, images, audio and video (instantly and for free to the world online). Too many brands have no idea how to create, nurture and share a strong brand narrative. They are trapped in the dogma of their website copy, brochures and tradeshow floor banter. If you can figure out a newer (and better) brand narrative, the brand could find a second life. It will also be a happier life.
  • The show. That website copy, brochure and tradeshow banter may not be able to save an inferior brand, but make no mistake about it: having the right tools can sometimes make all of the difference in the world. Note, this isn’t about marketing and advertising that embellishes or lies (those days are done… or should be gone). Having the proper materials that reflect the new truth, the new position, the new location, the new belief and the new narrative will – without question – pull everything together. It will help your peers better understand how to sell the brand, and it will help your customers better understand why the best brands may not always be the best solutions.

The truth shall set you free…

Everybody wants their brand to be the belle of the ball. It’s not always the reality. Many people (it maybe you) are working for inferior brands. It’s on us, dear marketers, to turn that story around. To fix the product, price, promotion and place to tell the right story for the brand. It may not be the prettiest story, and it may be slow going, but if there’s a future for these brands, it will be us who must Sheppard the cause.

What’s your take? How would you market an inferior brand? Do you just give up?


  1. I love this honest conversation. I figure anyone marketing for any real period of time has been in this situation. It starts with an honest look at things. I’m with you in that I try to find something worth talking about. Then I set realistic expectations. If I can’t find something positive to talk about or the decision makers don’t want to face realistic goals and expectations then we’re not a good fit and I look for the door. That’s rare though. Most times we can find something.

  2. Being brutally honest with yourself is usually harder than doing the same for another, simply because you got in the position you are in whilst trying your best, and it is a hard pill to swallow that it was simply not good enough.
    Most need assistance to see that they were fishing in the wrong pool (to continue your metaphor), and when they do, it is often like the sun breaking through the clouds!
    Alternatively, if the product is not up to the game, the sooner that is accepted, the better.

  3. I like the train of thinking here. I have definately worked for brands that have an inferiority complex, (rather than simply being inferior) where their moves were governed by fear rather than strength. That was a far greater hurdle for them to overcome, the fear that they would upset the number one brand by being too provocative. I know that’s a slightly different beast than what you are speaking of, but the same obstacles apply.

  4. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Mitch. You show a deep understanding of real life challenges.
    I once worked for company whose competitors could afford national advertising in print and even on TV. We could not. Instead, we focused on a niche. We developed apps to make the sales process simpler for the independent distributors. This worked. Perhaps that’s what you would call utilitarian marketing.
    PS In The Dip, Seth Godin talks about becoming the best in the world. The secret is finding a small enough world to dominate.

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