What is your company's killer marketing word?

May 16, 2012

Table of contents:

  1. A look back in history
  2. Marketing as the embodiment of a company
  3. Examples in the tech industry
  4. Other examples
  5. What can we learn?

A large part of Marketing is the perception and embodiment of a company within the consumer’s mind. An affective way of achieving this is to make a word or short phrase so synonymous with your company, that any mention of it instantly conjures the vision of what you represent to the market. Although this is considerably easier said then done, there are many examples of companies that have remained ahead of their respective industries, in part by becoming the percepted leader within the consumer’s mind.

The examples of companies in this post that have adopted a common word or phrase to be the embodiment of their company’s vision have done so with huge success. Obviously I can’t give you a checkpoint list of how to achieve this, but I think I can highlight a number of interesting observations on the subject and a clear objective for making the most of your Marketing opportunity.

But first, why is becoming synonymous with a word or phrase such an important goal to have?

A look back in history

Over the last 100 years or so, consumer brand recognition has become increasingly important as competition has intensified and products have become comodotised. From consumer brands like Heinz or Pampas, to luxury car manufacturers like Porsche or Range Rover, company brand recognition and product brand recognition have played an important role in allowing certain organisations to maintain their premium pricing and market leadership.

Marketing as the embodiment of a company

There is usually at least one clear leader within a category, and that leader has often become synonymous with a world that embodies that product. For example, Heinz has become interchangeable with the word Ketchup. Once a company or product has become that ingrained into the psyche of the consumer, it is incredibly hard to oust them. How many competitors are there for Tomato sauce? Yet Heinz Ketchup remains the undisputed market leader after all these years.

You don’t have to look very hard to find more examples of companies and products that have created such a stranglehold on their category by becoming synonymous with a word that represents that industry. It just goes to show that it’s not always the better product, or most creative marketing team or campaign that will win market share. “The best” is a subjective term at best. By becoming the focus of your audiences attention, you can become “the best” and the undisputed leader in the minds of your consumers.

Examples in the tech industry

There are many examples of companies that have found a word to dominate within just about every industry imaginable. However, I thought I would focus on the technology and Internet niche because that is the industry that I know best.

Here are 5 examples of companies that have become so synonymous with a key word or phrase from their industry that as undisputed leaders, they look unbeatable.

Facebok = “Social”

Facebook has been the industry darling of the rise of the “social web”. Whilst there are many examples of websites that can be categorised as “Web 2.0” or “Social”, Facebook has been by far in a way the undisputed gorilla in the room. Facebook has not only dominated the word within the industry, it has also come to embody the meaning of the movement of the social web.

Facebook is nothing without it’s user base. But by dominating the world “social”, Facebook is becoming increasingly sticky within the minds of it’s users, something MySpace was never able to achieve.

Google makes for a particular interesting case study on the effectiveness of becoming dominant in the minds of it’s users. Google was not the first Search Engine. In fact it was a good 5 years late to the party! But Google was able to provide it’s users with such a better product that Google quickly become the de facto Search Engine in the collective mind of the Internet. Google has held a dominant position in the Search industry for many years now, and they look unbeatable what with their huge source of revenue in Google Ad Words.

Google is particularly interesting however because, like Xerox, FedEx and Kleenex before it, Google’s name became the verb used for the generic term for searching the web. When a phrase like “Just Google it” enters the lexicon of the average user, it becomings immensly hard as a competitor to oust them.

GMail = “Email”

Hotmail was a revolution in Email as it was one of the first web-based email applications. Hotmail spread like wildfire due to the “Sent by Hotmail” signature, and so during a brief period of the Internet, it felt like the entire world was a member of it’s service. Hotmail was a great free email service, whilst Yahoo offered a premium service for those high usage users. However, all that changed in 2004 when Google launched GMail.

GMail was such a huge disruption in the web mail industry because it offered an unprecedented (for the time) amount of storage “so you would never have to delete an email again”. In comparison, competing services like Hotmail and Yahoo had tiny storage capacity. Coupled with Google’s ability to search, GMail quickly become Google’s second most popular service.

Although still behind Hotmail in pure numbers, I believe GMail has become the default web mail service for the majority of Internet users today.

eBay = “Online Auction” - PayPal = “Online payments”

Since 1995, eBay has been the creator and undisputed leader of the online auction industry. It’s really hard to imagine that anyone referring to an online auction could mean anything else other than eBay. Much like Google, eBay has also entered the English language as a verb, as in “I’ll eBay it”.

PayPal launched in the year 2000 and was quickly the main payment facility used by over 50% of eBay users. After 2 years, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion. Thanks in part by the huge usage of eBay users, PayPal quickly become the default payment method for online commerce. PayPal secured the “Online payment” keyword phrase partly because of it’s affiliation with eBay, and partly because it made online payment so incredibly easy and secure.

Over 10 years after launch, PayPal is still the number one online payment method.

Other examples

There are so many other examples within the tech and Internet industry, photography for Flickr or daily deals for Groupon for example. I’m sure you’ll agree that by capturing the vision of a company with the connotation of an industry related word, it becomes a powerful marketing tactic to build future campaigns on.

What can we learn?

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I obviously can’t give you a step-by-step guide to positioning yourself in this way within your industry. If I could do that I’d be sipping Margarita’s on my own private island right now. What I can give you is some things to be aware of, and what we can learn from the many examples of companies that have found them self in this enviable position.

1. Achieving this is hard

Don’t underestimate how incredibly hard this will be to achieve. Facebook did not set out to become the first thing you think of when you say the word “social”, it was merely a by-product of a very successful product. If you try and engineer yourself into a position it will likely come across as sleezy. One of the beautiful things about market dynamics is the auto-leveling effect. By this I mean, the market will decide what is right and what is wrong and there is nothing you can do to change it. If you are fortunate to be bestowed a key word, appreciate it, but don’t try and game it.

2. Only one company can own a word

For all the social web products and applications out there, how many have dislodged Facebook as the embodiment of “social”? None, exactly! It is seemingly a hard and fast rule that only one company can own a word, so you are wasting your time trying to compete for a word that has already been chosen.

3. If you can’t win, find a new pasture

The whole point of this article was really to emphasise the point that Marketing is more about getting into the mind of the consumer, rather than necessarily about the company, the products or the services that are competing. Once a company has already dominated a word within an industry, you’re not going to dislodge them so it’s not worth the effort to try. However, you can win if you choose an unoccupied territory. In this way, you become the number one within your niche, which is far more important than being number two in someone else’s niche.

What other ways are good for establishing this kind of position within an industry?

Philip Brown


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