Toothpaste as a product category has a long history. Colgate brand was first to come to rescue humanity from problem of oral hygiene way back in 1876 when it began to sell toothpaste in jars. Later the product packaging was changed to easy to use to tube. Ever since the time of its launch, the brand continues to lead toothpaste market. Currently in India Colgate enjoys a market share close to 55%. To many people Colgate still means toothpaste. The link between the toothpaste (product category) and the brand name is to strong that distinction between the two is blurred. This situation when a brand becomes generic to a product category presents a unique challenge to marketers.
This phenomenon prima facie appears to be strength but in reality it may not be so. But one thing is clear; Colgate achieved its leadership by being the first brand to imprint its name on a new category that it created. This bestowed the brand a unique first mover perceptual advantage. This means whenever consumer thought of toothpaste, Colgate was first hit the mind. Mind dominance is a good strategy. When a brand manages to soak consumer mind with its presence like a dripping sponge very little is space is left for other brands to occupy. Brand dominance is a good preventing the competition strategy. If a brand manages to monopolize prospect’s mind, rivals brands end up being present in the market but not in mind and hence do not move off the shelves.
Brand dominance is much more than brand recall. In a typical branding situation, brand name (Coke or Dettol) signifies an offering of a company which participates in a category (Cola and antiseptic). It happens when a brand becomes synonym of a product category in consumers mind. It manifests in when consumers use brand name to refer to a product category. For instance this kind of situation was faced by brands like Dalda (vanaspati), Xerox (photocopying), Amritanjan (balm) and Tinopal (fabric whitener), Remington (typewriter). This may a situation also with brands like Google (search), Maggi (noodle), Nirma (washing powder), Coke (cola), Bournvita (malt beverage), Sintex (plastic water tanks), Tullu (small pumps), Burnol (cream for burns) and FedEx (overnight delivery). Brand dominance is good as long as consumer remains insists on the asked brand. Most of the above mentioned brands have enjoyed share advantage in their category.
What is common across all the brands mentioned above as dominant brands? Answering this question is likely to give a clue to achieving brand dominance. Most of the brands are category creators. These brands created category and imprint their name on it in prospects minds. They leveraged the ‘rule of being the first’ to their advantage. Psychologically firsts are always remembered. Therefore it is not difficult to recall first president, prime minster, first governor, first man on the moon, first to climb Mount Everest and first date. Late entrants have difficulty in registering themselves. This is the reason why the first three brands end up dominating the market.
So what do you do if you are not the first or among the firsts? It makes little sense to enter in a crowded category. The belief that a (perceptually) strong player can be dislodged out its position by a better product can turn untrue in marketing. Marketing is little about objectivity and more about subjectivity, it is a perceptual game. So if German cars are perceived to be superior or perfumes mean French, the consumer has already made up his or her mind. The entire external world is seen though this lens and information that contradicts or challenges is filtered or adapted. So the way out is to create a category out category and assume its ownership in consumer perception. Category slicing is the strategy.
Consider the following:
If you were to buy a toothpaste for sensitive teeth, which one will you buy Colgate Pro Relief or Sansodyne? Or if you want to buy a toothpaste with breath freshness benefits, will you buy Colgate Fresh Stripe/ Max Fresh or Close Up? Or if you need an ointment for back aches, will you take Iodex or Moove ? The answer probably is going to be in favor of brands which are mentioned later. All of these brands have sliced a share of the market (which tends be the first mover) by creating a sub category and becoming the first mover in their category. Category fragmentation is a natural outcome of competitive system. The latest to join the toothpaste industry in India is a toothpaste brand, Parodontax. This toothpaste by GSK has further broken toothpaste category by creating specialized toothpaste for bleeding gums. So the question is if you have bleed gums, which toothpaste would you prefer Parodontax or Colgate Total Pro Gum (Colgate Palmolive) or Pepsodent Gum Care (HUL). The choice is likely to go in favor of Parodontax. Both Colgate and Pepsodent become weak by becoming big. Isn’t it?