As more and more vertical industries become oversaturated with competing brands it becomes harder to differentiate yourself in the eyes of the consumer. Some brands lurk in the shadows of the more successful leaders attempting to draft off their success. These parasitic brands come in three different flavors, but they all have one thing in common. They will never achieve the success they strive for.
In the world of office supplies Office Depot is king, or is it Office Max? I’ve never been able to keep the two straight, and that’s because they both lack differentiation. The logos bear a similar look, the store layouts are practically clones of each other, and the fact that they often are located relatively close to one another can leave any office supply consumer confused about which is which. Though neither company set out to copy the competitor, the truth is that the overall generic approach to branding has led both companies to blend into the mundane world of office supplies. Staples has introduced just enough differentiation throughout their brand that I always buy my office supplies with them. Plus, it’s a little embarrassing for your customer to not know what store they are in.
Sometimes it’s so tempting to emulate the brands that get it right. Even though your visual identity looks exactly like your competition, your different name will be enough for your consumers to pick you over them, right? Pinkberry was one of the first big national brands to ride the wave of the frozen yogurt resurgence, and despite the fact that we didn’t have a Pinkberry in Dallas for years I was somehow familiar with the brand as “the” place for frozen yogurt (my true weakness.) Yogurtland opened a few miles from my house, and I couldn’t help but notice a striking resemblance to the Pinkberry visual identity. I imagine the project brief meeting to go something like this. “We’d like a fresh, approachable visual identity similar to what Pinkberry has.” Admittedly, the looks are different enough from a legal standpoint, but from a consumers standpoint it’s clear that Yogurtland is the little sister in this scenario.
In some cases, the parasitic brands know exactly what they are, and they embrace it. Why not just copy a brand in hopes that unknowing consumers will mistakenly buy your generic brand and fall in love with it? This would be the marketing managers who say their customers are stupid. The generic soft drink market is rampant with examples of this marketing tactic. President’s Choice is probably one of the most familiar examples with options like PC Cola, Spritz Up, and Mountain Mania. The packaging and names at a quick read could easily trick an unsuspecting consumer into buying these cheaper knockoffs instead of the Coke, Sprite, 7up or Mountain Dew they wanted. President’s Choice puts out a whole line of products that look like the more familiar bigger brands, so at least they have pride in being the parasite they are.
Parasitic brands attack the very principle of successful brand-building, differentiation. They are satisfied to remain a second-tier product in their category, because you can’t follow anyone if you’re a leader. Unless you plan on never taking a market lead, avoid becoming another parasitic brand in your vertical space.
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