Branding Doesn’t Create Competitive Advantage, Consistency Does

My version of brand theory. When settlers came to North America in search of a new life, they brought with them cattle because they like to have a little milk in their tea in the morning, and there weren’t any corner stores or milkmen in the New Land. And some of these cattle got away or were abandoned by settlers who decided that being able to buy milk for their tea at the corner store was more important than living on the New Land.

These cattle roamed free on the range, unencumbered by fences, and doing what cattle do, they had baby calves, growing the herd. Young men from Mexico, caballeros (which became cowboys) discovered this resource and rounded up the cattle and drove them to market. As time progressed, these cowboys began to husband the cattle to increase the size of the herd and increase their profits. Without fences, the cattle would get mixed with other cowboy’s herds. So to create ownership, the cowboys would brand their cattle with a unique imprint.

The cattle buyers overtime would learn which cows had the best treatment, better food, water, and care resulting in tastier steakes. They would say, “I want that brand.”

Branding became the promise of an expected outcome, and expected experience. That’s still true today. When you buy a specific brand, you have clearly defined expectations of what that buying experience will be like. Whether it’s canned soup or a celebratory supper, you make the choice based on past positive experiences with the brand. And it only takes one bad experience for all of that hard work to be devalued.

When your repeat customers buy from you, they have a set of expectations around what the buying experience will be like. To be CompetitionProof, you have two choices: meet those expectations or exceed those expectations. Anything less, and you’re opening up the opportunity for a competitive attack.

Keep in mind that exceeding expectations can create enormous competitive advantage as long as you can sustain the new level of expectations. If you set the bar higher and then later decide to lower the bar, you become open to competitive attack. You can’t go back to the old service level without some negative impression on your customer.

If you want to be CompetitionProof, deliver consistently so that your customers get what they expect.