Sometimes I write about things I’m fairly certain about. This isn’t one of those things. This is not well thought out, but I really want your thoughts on this.
Do rivalries help brands excel? And I suppose when I say rivalries, I mean having one or two primary competitors. My initial thought is that through competing with a clear rival, a brand is able to more definitively define itself. But, while I think rivalries help brands, I don’t think they are required for the building of strong brands.
In sports, a rivalry is generally considered a great thing for both parties involved. And naturally, if a rivalry doesn’t exist, the media will attempt to create a rivalry through hyping the closest thing to a rivalry that exists.
Examples? Tiger Woods is in his own league as a player. In this era of golf, he is dominant. But for years, the media and fans of the game have looked for a rivalry to develop with another player. Does Tiger really need a rivalry? No. He defines greatness pretty well on his own. But people want to see how competition elevates the game of rivals. Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, and Phil Mickelson have all failed to live up to rival status.
A classic example of a rivalry that helped both players excel was John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. The world of tennis fans and even non-tennis loving sports fans could get into that rivalry and understand what each player was all about. Their strengths and weaknesses. Their personalities. Their exciting moments and frustrations. Now Roger Federer has Rafael Nadal.
So why would a rivalry facilitate branding? Well, let’s think about a brand without a clear primary competitor. If this brand is already the market leader, you may say that they are doing pretty well for themselves and don’t need a competitor. But in this instance, you will often see a company defining itself by its attributes. But attributes can be replicated by other companies. A brand’s value is that value above and beyond the physical attributes of a company’s offering. I first thought seriously about this idea when in a class taught by Sam Bradley. He said that Coca-Cola is just made up of ingredients, but the brand equity is that value you’d have to pay for above and beyond the physical ingredients, properties, machinery, etc. if you were to attempt to purchase Coca-Cola.
So when two competitors offer virtually the same or very similar physical attributes (product or service), it is the branding that separates them. The personalities of the brands can be held in contrast to each other. We treat brands like people. One person is easier to describe when you can compare that person to another.
So is it any coincidence that some of the world’s greatest brands have very impressive rivalries?
Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Nike and adidas. Mac and… PC?
That brings up a great example. Apple and the Mac computer decided to create a rivalry and it has paid dividends. PC was not a brand. Personal computers are a general category made up of numerous computer brands. So Mac creates a personality for itself and also for PC to help differentiate itself from anything that is non-Mac. And it worked beautifully.
Now this idea of rivalries in branding is far from the rule, or a necessity. Disney is one of the world’s strongest brands. Who is their rival? They are an enterprise and exist in many different industries. They may have a theme park rival, a children’s television rival, and a rival in whatever other industries they’re in, but as far as I can tell, they don’t have one primary competitor.
I really want to know what you think. This is something that has really been on my mind this week, and I’d love to know your thoughts.