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When different is good Featured

9:51am EDT July 22, 2002

A couple of days ago, I was surveying the shelves of my local pharmacy. A summer cold had gotten hold of me. While browsing through the latest cold medicines, one caught my attention: Thera Flu from Sandoz Pharmaceuticals.

This is by no means an endorsement for the product, but the name Thera Flu vs. all of the others which had “cold” in their name was the attraction. Upon closer scrutiny, I realized that Thera Flu has the exact same ingredients as most of the other cold remedies.

But it’s not a cold remedy. It’s a flu remedy. In my mind, that put Thera Flu all by itself in a whole new category. This is marketing at a different level.

Successful businesses attract competitors the way sugar draws ants. The more you grow, the more others are thinking about how they can steal away the markets you have built.

To stay a step ahead, change the rules in the middle of the game. That’s what Sandoz Pharmaceuticals has done. I can only guess that when me-too competitors started to elbow their way into the long-established category of cold remedies, Sandoz figured it may be time to shift gears and create a whole new category. That got it out of the “ours is better than theirs” trap.

In my obligation as a responsible creative strategist, I began to look for other companies that have recreated their categories. I found a financial services company that positioned itself as the leader in health care equipment leasing — even though its “health care” leases worked just like any other lease. This company was the first in this new category.

What about the first printing firm that declared itself a “quick printer?” Other printers probably had the same capabilities, but customers in a hurry will go to the quick printer first.

As I became more aware of this marketing ploy, I began to understand that when creative marketers can’t continue to create new categories, they still try to change the rules. They simply turn their weaknesses into strengths and their competitors’ strengths into weaknesses. Here’s what you can do:

Accentuate your negatives and turn them into positives. If you succeed, the competitor’s marketing of your negatives will actually reinforce your message. I remember Warner-Lambert marketing Listerine as “the taste you hate twice a day.” It’s a perfect example. What about Smuckers — hardly an appetizing name — which boasted, “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.”

If this doesn’t apply, turn your competitor’s strengths into weaknesses. When a competitor dominates the market because of a unique competency — for example, because it has a patented process — it may think it has a lock on the market. The best example? How about “7-Up — The Un-Cola?” These are opportunities waiting to present themselves to you.

Jeff Tobe, “Primary Colorer” at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, helps small businesses to be more creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at www.jefftobe.com or contact him at (412) 373-6592. For a free report: “How to be a Brand Leader”, send your name on your letterhead with the words “Brand Leader” to (412) 373-8773.