Ethan Decker started a Twitter thread: « Brands trying to ‘own’ category attributes are pushing water uphill, esp in mature categories, esp without unique & protected IP. »

He attached a graphic titled What Attributes Can Brands Really ‘Own’?

  • The top word associations for Crest toothpaste: toothpaste white teeth clean fresh whitening minty white teeth bright smile tooth shiny mint clean teeth sparkle…
  • The top word associations for Colgate toothpaste: toothpaste teeth clean white fresh tooth tooth paste minty white teeth Crest smile total paste bright…

Basically the same.

This reminds me of what Byron Sharp wrote about in How Brand Grow regarding the importance of distinctive brand assets rather than differentiation:

“In spite of nearly every textbook telling marketers to strive for differentiation, real-world competition is largely about competitive matching rather than avoiding competitors by delivering differences… What marketers should worry about is whether or not their brands are distinctive. Are they easy to recognize and distinguish from others?”

Sharp also points out that distinctive brand assets can be trademarked, whereas differentiation can cannot. (Descriptive marks can be protected if there’s secondary meaning to consumers as a brand. Generic marks cannot be protected.)




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