How do brands become market leaders?

Continuing our series on linking human psychology to Big Data analytics, we explore how category-leading brands connect with customer psychology.


In our previous post on getting meaning from 'Big Data', we showed how approaching 'Big Data' with hypotheses based on human psychology leads to different types of insights.

In this post, we'll look at some of those insights around market-leading brands.

Being a leading brand has many advantages - and high market share is linked to higher ROI.  But how do category-leading brands connect psychologically with customers?

Is there something about the relationships between the customer psychology, the category and the brand psychology that helps explain market leadership?

How do market leaders connect to customer psychology?

We can get some clues by looking at the psychological motivations of consumers who are 'highly involved' in a market - those who buy more and often buy a wider range of brands.

We analysed 24,000 consumers across 13 different categories - from soft drinks to sports shoes. To make comparisons across different categories, we need a general model of psychological motivations rather than a category- specific model - an advantage of using the archetypal psychology model.

Iconic frangrances

For example, we analysed at the fragrance category and saw that  people with ‘lover motivations’ are highly involved in this category so it makes sense that the category as a whole is centred on intimacy and sensuality and that leading, iconic brands reflect those motivations back to customers: the brands themselves communicate sensuality in their bottle shapes, their advertising and their point of sale material.

Leading fragrance brands create a world dominated by intimacy and sensuality.

Of course, some brands position themselves with a different dominant story: a brand like Poison tells a story of danger and mystery, triggering motivations around the outlaw and magician areas of our motivational map.

But, even this story is  linked to the dominant ideas of seduction and sensuality - "Irresistible and bewitching, Hypnotic Poison is characterised by a sensual and addictive note of Vanilla."

So, an alternative strategy for building an iconic brand is to complement the dominant motivations with a distinctive story that connects back to those dominant motivations.

The oppositional approach

A third approach is to oppose the dominant motivations of the category. In the fragrance category shown above, a brand could choose to target the motivations directly opposite the 'lover' motivations, with a story of innocence and freedom.

This is often a useful way to win in a sub-segment of the market.  For example, D&G's Light Blue, a light floral fragrance with notes of bluebell, apple, bamboo, jasmine and white rose, tells an innocence story and might be considered by some people as suitable for teenagers.

Leading brands 'reflect'.

From our broader analysis, reflection seems to be a general rule for category leaders. In other words, if you want to build a leading brand, or maintain your leadership, in any category, it makes sense to reflect the dominant customer motivations specific to that category.

Even if you want to create a positioning that is distinctive from the category leader, you need to pay attention to those dominant motivations – either to complement them or to challenge them with oppositional motivations.

Iconic brand strategies

Iconic brands understand the dominant motivations of consumers who are highly involved  in the category and reflect those motivations back to consumers with a unique brand story.

Iconic leader brand strategies are designed to own existing dominant motivations. Iconic challenger brands can aim to reshape the dominant motivations - or to create a new category targetted at oppositional motivations.

3 key questions to ask about your brand strategy:

1.  Are we targetting the motivations of highly involved consumers?

2. Which of these strategies are we playing: reflect, complement or oppose?

3. Will those motivations continue to drive this market in the future or could we (or our competitors) reshape the market by challenging those drivers?

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