Brand Positioning in Noodles Market

In a very pioneering move Nestle created instant noodles category in mid 1980s when they launched Maggi brand. Being the first mover the brand become category representative. To many people instant noodle is Maggi. It has become generic to the product category. Positioning is an important aspect of marketing strategy. Market segmentation is first step in strategy development. It is impossible for one marketing package to make sense to everybody. By dividing customer on the basis of their similarities, it becomes easier for a firm to decide where to direct its marketing efforts. This allows better allocation of finite marketing resources by maximizing efficiency and effectiveness.

Nestle also had a lot of options. The noodles market can be divided into different groups depending upon the choice of segmentation variable. For instance, there is domestic and professional segment for noodles. The market could be divided on the basis of age of consumer, r consumption quantity, geographic location and culinary treatment. Market segmentation is a matter of perception. There are people who look at the market the way everyone sees, whereas a limited few are able to uncover new customer groups who have not been uncovered by generally followed basis of segmentation. Nestle chose to target the children segment. Children frequently demand something to eat. Back then the market of snacks was not evolved. Therefore whenever mothers were pestered they were forced to provide home cooked snacks or light food like parantha, pulav, pakora, sandwich and vada

The next question was to decide upon its value proposition and positioning. How should the brand Maggi be placed in consumer’s mind? Essential to positioning was that Maggi must be perceived distinctively and of relevance to target market. Maggi was positioned as ‘fast to cook and good to eat’ 2 minutes noodles. It offered distinctive advantage to mothers in terms of ‘fast to cook’ proposition. The Maggi noodles unique formulation reduced the long grind involved in making traditional quick food. All that Maggi needed was two minutes boiling time and adding of a tasty masala called ‘taste maker’. For kids, the brand offered ‘good to eat’ proposition.

Maggi opened an entire new market for instant noodles. The next brand to arrive in the market was Top Ramen from Nissin. The challenge for the brand was how to position itself so that it could create a distinctive position. It tried to take at dig at Maggi by directly calling itself ‘ Smoodles’ or smooth noodles. It urged customers ‘Don’t be a noodle. Be a Smoodle’. The brand adopted product attribute based positioning and highlighted its smoothness.

Sensing the opportunity, HUL jumped the fray and entered the market with their Knorr brand. Knorr, originally a soups brand in HLL’s portfolio was extended to noodle category. Knorr Soupy Noodles also targeted the in home children market. It boasted of a unique product in instant category and aimed at combining the fund of noodles with the health and goodness of soups. The brand positioned itself as noodles with soup for children to satisfy the in between meals hunger pangs. The brand’s communication focuses on a situation where a child demands something to eat before dinner at about 7 o’ clock.

GSK the makers of Horlicks entered the instant noodles market with their Foodles brand. GSK continuing with health and nutrition platform created Foodles. The brand’s launch was based on research inputs that instant noodles were not considered healthy and serving them induced guilt in mothers. The key ingredient in instant noodles, maida or refined flour, was not as healthy as whole wheat. While the positions of convenience and taste were already occupied, Foodles sought to play the game on nutrition positioning. Foodles tried to break into the monopoly of Maggi with Foodles positioned as nutritious instant noodles. The company used its Horlicks brand as mother brand to support its noodles brand..

Homegrown cigarette giant studied the instant noodles market and discovered some ways to cut into Maggi’s dominance. Its studies found chinks in Maggi’s armour. Maggi came in rectangular shape. It needed to be broken into two pieces for placing it in the pot for boiling. Pots used in kitchens always come in round shape like frying pan and cookers. This broke noodles and rendered them small in length. Second, kids often do not eat the noodles immediately. Noodles are also taken to schools in tiffin. Maggi noodles if not eaten immediately tend to turn lumpy and soggy with time. They stick together which was not really a fun to eat. Maggi’s masala contributes major share to its sale.  ITC leveraged its skills and created two tasty variants to give customers a choice.  ITC extended its Sunfeast brand into instant noodles category by launching Yippee. Yippee was positioned as noodles for the curious kids as long noodles which can be played around with while eating. The brand communication very cleverly but subtly aimed to promote its unique points of differentiation as longer non sticky tasty noodles which are ‘play’ to eat.

A market is an evolving organic system. There are many other brands which wrestled for share in the instant noodle market. One of the innovative concepts was launched by Nissin Cup Noodles. The brand point of difference was its out of home access to noodles when kids are on a picnic or an adventure trek and need an escape from the cooking process however small.The other brands which operate at small scale are Ching’s Secret, Smith & Jones and Wai Wai noodles. Future Group competes with its Tasty Treat brand which is sold in its retail chains like Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar.  These brands are pushed through the retail and compete on price positioning.

The story of noodles shows positioning is not about product because instant noodle is an instant noodle. How it is converted into a consumer relevant and competitively different concept is the question.

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Corruption Yatra, Positioning, Endorsement and Brand Anna

Mr Advani expressed his desire to undertake a ‘corruption yatra’. It certainly has political overtones. But that is not the point I wish to discuss on this page. Let us look at this announcement from a purely marketing perspective.

In marketing ‘imprinting’ is a very important concept. Each brand seeks to imprint something (a proposition) in prospects’ mind which is relevant for customer and different from competition. Consider the following brands and think what immediately comes to mind:
• Dettol
• Close Up
• Orient and
• Ujala
• Johnson & Johnson
Without much stress what flows is: antiseptic, fresh breath, PSPO, liquid fabric whitener and baby care. And now consider Anna. It seems the word anti corruption is appropriated by Anna in the perceptual space of people. What happens when a new brand seeks to affiliate with a concept already occupied by a first mover? Two things happen:
First it immediately acts as a clue to mentally rehearse what has already been stored which makes the connection even stronger.
Second the late entrant is perceived to be a ‘shadow’ or ‘me too’ or ‘also ran’ or ‘copy’ of the original. It does not go down well in the cognitive system. Let us go to the above examples.
Savlon failed to appropriate what Dettol stands for, attempts by Colgate to enter into ‘freshness’ haven’t met with a great success. There is only one PSPO fan. Tens of brands were lured into liquid fabric whiteners only to be non entities. And finally Wipro’s Baby Soft brand could not give J&J an effective challenge.

The success of a concept is a big draw for others to jump in. But mentally the early mover in the perceptual space is protected by what can be called the ‘perceptual advantage stemming from imprinting’. Human mind resists forgetting or unlearning especially when new brand constantly sends the reminders by becoming similar to the original brand. Consider how the first movers react: Coke communicates that it is the ‘real thing,’ Levis is ‘the’ jeans and then there is iPhone and phones.

Let us explore how prospects receive and evaluate communication. Most of the brands seek to communicate a concept by a variety of appeals which include: slice of life communication (showing a typical user like Tide or Surf does), celebrity endorser (like Amitabh Bacchan in Navratan oil or Shah Rukh Khan in Linc pens), expert endorser who is an expert in the field (real doctor endorsing Sansodyne tooth paste), testimonial (an actual user who provides testimony to product efficacy as in the Dove ads) and spokesperson (a known person who becomes the mouthpiece or advocate for the brand like Aishwarya Rai for Longines watches). In communication two factors determine source effectiveness: source attractiveness (looks and physical attractiveness), source expertise or knowledge.

The announcement by Mr Advani to embark upon a ‘Corruption Yatra’ has to been seen from above two angles: the first mover perceptual advantage which Anna seems to have preempted. Second how well will this idea be perceived by the filter of people of endorsement?

Anna and Competitive Response (3)

The competitive response to Anna has been very poor. It is bad retaliation and poor counter strategy. The competitive assault by dissenters like Ms Roy and people in power seem to miss the entire essence of on what the retaliation strategy should be based. All the counter assaults seem to be devoted  to fighting the Anna Brand’s manifestation- the person in flesh and blood. If brand Anna is equated with Anna, the person,then you get involved with the shadow or symbol. It is shadow fighting and it does not take you anywhere. If fact the more you fight a shadow the weaker you become. It is gross wastage of resources.
Brands are perceptual entities. Brands inhabit the perceptual space. Brand Anna has appropriated an idea which enjoys huge resonance with the people. For some it may also be a dissonant idea (people in disagreement) but probably these are few in numbers otherwise Anna would not be what he is today. He would not have been a serious challenge for the establishment. Anna in this context now owns a ‘first mover advantage’. In positioning terms he ‘identified a mental slot and filled it’. Now brand Anna singularly and very powerfully ‘owns’ a position just as Dettol owns antiseptic position and Nirma ‘economy’. Brand Anna not only resonates but it is highly different from current brand of political brands, be it parties or individuals. So Brand Anna is highly differentiated on a dimension that is significant for people. It is visible how Brand Anna is favorably discriminated by people.
Once a position has been occupied it is not a good idea to copy that or come near that position because the challenger becomes  dwarf in the mind of prospects. Therefore the brands that borrow ideas and copy, end up becoming shoddy ‘me too’ with a very low appeal. Now the opportunity for parties in power or opposition or people in search of establishing political credibility is lost. They probably cannot own ‘anti corruption or freedom from corruption’ position. When it comes to thinking  soap for beauty ,‘Lux’ dominates the mind and when one thinks of PSPO ‘Orient’ springs up. You can’t just ‘rub off’ the brand from the mind. It requires ‘unlearning’ which is extremely difficult if perpetual references are made to what one is trying to ‘unlearn’. You remember how ‘Devdas’ was reminded of ‘Paro’ when he saw ‘Chandramukhi’.The more she tried to occupy her positionthe stronger became the image of ‘Paro’.
You can’t fight a brand which resonates with its target audience. Brand gains its strength from the value delivery which could be physical or perceptual. Had it not been true all mega corporations would have killed all smaller players. There would not have been any Chik shampoo, Priya Gold biscuits and Action shoes, and Micromax mobiles. If the prospects have ‘made up’ their minds it is extremely difficult to change.
Many people argue that it is media created mass hysteria and frenzy. This thought undermines the human intelligence. As if people cannot make a conscious choice. If this were true then why could Coke not create mass hysteria for its New Coke which set the company poorer by close to $600 million. Why could Apple not turn Newton into a huge success? Why Sony lost on its Betamax technology? These are all big corporations capable of pumping in millions of dollars capable of whipping up hysteria. Out there, in the market cold blooded customer logic prevails. You either make sense or don’t. People are rallying behind Brand Anna probably not because he is a magician (‘gili gili gili and you are sent in a trance’) but because what he signifies makes sense, that too without paid advertising. Mind you, you are dealing with present day generation which is more discriminating (try getting a small child into liking what you want him or her to) and is better  informed. The information is just a click away.
For all times when ever the word ‘corruption’ would be mentioned the name ‘Anna’ would also get activated. These two are now closely tied in memory. So what are the options for the competition? Anna is imprinted in minds as ‘anti-corruption’ or ‘corruption less India’. This advantage belongs to Anna. It can’t be stolen like a physical object because Brand Anna belongs to perceptual world.
One of the strategies in this situation is not to contest rather to leverage upon the strengths of an established player. I am reminded of Avis when it faced a huge giant in the name Hertz, it impressed upon customers:
“We’re number two, we try harder”
There is no point in taking ‘against’ position because there is no slot like that. Instead build your brand by relating to Brand Anna, not by challenging but by relating.
Can you think of a proposition?