Understanding Drivers – ‘Make or Break’ for your Brands

One of the most important ingredients in successful Brand Positioning is fully understanding both Category Drivers and Brand Drivers. This alone can make or break a Brand, and is surprisingly often not well understood.

  • Category Drivers are motivations behind participation in a Category. People buy laundry detergents to clean clothes. People stay in hotels to get a good night’s sleep away from home. Ironically, Category Drivers are often not drivers of Brand choice. A hotel that emphasizes a good night’s sleep won’t get my business because all of the hotels in my consideration set provide this.
  • Brand Drivers determine which Brand a Category consumer will select. In Laundry, if most Brands meet or exceed cleaning expectations, this lead Category Driver may not discriminate Brand choice. Instead, drivers of Brand Choice may be scent or color protection.  I prefer to stay at the Ritz because they treat me like royalty. That’s the Brand Driver and their Point-of-Difference.

A classic positioning dilemma is whether to try to establish differentiation on key Category driver(s). Two questions on Category and Brand drivers can help sort this out:

  1. Is the primary Category driver ownable by anyone or has it become table stakes? In oral care, cavity protection was once the key Category driver and a differentiator between Brands; however, over time, it has become table stakes — a necessary Point-of-Parity for all Brands and not differentiating for any Brand. This explains Crest’s broadening of its positioning to “Healthy Beautiful Smiles for Life” and launch of new products such as Crest White Strips®.
  2. If the primary Category Driver is up for grabs, is your Brand able to take this on? In general, a Brand that enjoys or desires leadership, can try to ‘own’ the key Category driver. Johnnie Walker® knew that the whisky key Category Driver was success, most powerfully expressed as ‘progress’. The ‘inspires men to progress’ positioning — brought to life with the highly successful Keep Walking campaign — is an excellent example of a leading Brand ‘owning’ a category driver.

In contrast, a Brand that aspires to be a meaningful albeit not top Category player may be well served establishing a Point-of-Parity on the key Category Drivers and a strong POD on a secondary Category driver (e.g. – Gain® in Laundry with a POD on Cleaning and a POP on scent).

Why do consumers participate in your Category? And what drives their Brand selection? Can you establish superiority on a key Category Driver? If not, what Points-of-Parity will be required to ‘play’ and what secondary Category drivers can become primary Points-of-Difference and drivers of Brand choice for your Brand?