Branding Positions

Branding and positioning during the bowling alley effect

“Branding is making the market think and feel what you want them to think and feel about you and your products.”©

We are currently mentoring a London client as they work through their go-to-market strategy. Ground-up strategy development is not a simple process even for well-defined markets. These chaps are in an early adopter arena, and likely in a specific niche. Knowing their product category has been a challenge as even the analyst groups have not yet bothered to classify the space our client is staking out.

Yet they are already mapping their next segments to achieve the Bowling Alley effect described in Crossing The Chasm.

This situation has brought their branding mission to the fore because of the difficulty of branding a product in an undefined space, and branding it for a larger set of market segments. In a word … messy.

Branding and positioning during the bowling alley effectAs you no doubt recall, market dominance is achieved by dominating all the important segments within a market (or all the subsegments within a segment). What the Chasm Group taught us is that the rate of acceleration of market dominance increases like the way bowling pins knock one another down. Your bowling ball never touches all ten pins. It has to hit the head pin in such a way that it launches that pin into the neighboring one. That neighboring pin then clips two other pins. And so on, and so on …

Branding can help or hinder the process. Branding is important to solidifying your product’s position in the mind of buyers. It is also viable for foreshadowing your next market position. Herein is one of the seldom mentioned rationales for making adjacent market segments your next growth direction. It is far simpler to extend a brand to an adjacent segment that it is to communicate a brand across two non-adjacent segments.

This is where even large companies get into trouble. HP, which has traditionally been a hardware vendor, desperately wanted to first be a services company, then a software vendor. Being known for neither, past CEOs tried to force-fit not only the product line and culture, but to prematurely communicate to the world that HP was a services/software company while limply proclaiming to still be a hardware vendor. Their macro markets were related but not “adjacent”; not quickly bridgeable like adjacent segments. Branding HP prematurely as such was a losing effort.

The key lesson here is to follow Chasm bowling alley theory foremost, and gently extend your brand accordingly. You can risk extending your brand to new segments before being completely ready to conquer it if the new segment is very similar to a segment you already dominate. Otherwise, augmenting your brand at the point of whole product readiness for the new segment is the right timing. In some very rare instances, you may need to lag your brand extension when a much larger competitor is very slowly entering the new segment (i.e., do not alert a sleepy giant that you are stealing its gold).

“Branding is making the market think and feel what you want them to think and feel about you and your products.” This includes both old and new segments, all at the same time.


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