This last weekend, my son and I were out grocery shopping.  A unique experience for two bachelors since my wife is still in Virginia selling the house.  As we walked down the shopping aisle, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of differentiation.  Have you ever noticed the growing number of brands for water, cookies, chips and bread?  I found myself standing in the aisle trying to decipher the benefits, costs and yes – brand – ultimately making a purchase decision.

The experience reminded me of some brand stats I used in an old presentation a few years back that highlighted the growth in “me to” companies.  The issue for many companies is that they find themselves stuck — so rather than coming up with a new idea, they copy the industry leaders hoping to ride their coat tail.  The stat’s speak for themselves ….

Products                                                  Late 70's                      Late 90's

Milk types                                                     4                                19

Bottled water brands                                16                               50

Magazine titles                                           339                            790

Radio Stations                                           7,038                        12,458

New book titles                                         40,530                       77,446

With no differentiation, the leaders and followers begin a race to the bottom.   This race towards commoditization sometimes causes management to panic.  Rather then do innovation, they cut the development budget and instead copy more.  The death cycle begins ….

It’s interesting to note that even market leaders fall into the trap.  Instead of innovating a new product, they believe they can fend off competitors by simply expanding the brand – causing ‘brand bloat’.  For example ….

Brand Extensions                                      Late 70's                   Late 90's

KFC menu items                                          7                                14

Pop-Tarts                                                       3                                29

Frito-Lays chip varieties                              10                              78

Levi’s jean styles                                          41                              70

McDonalds items                                         13                               43

Do we really need that much choice?  Or is about creating a product or service that is tailored for me?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer innovative products rather than copy-cats.


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3 thoughts on “Unique

  1. Interesting to examine are those places that have evaded the death spiral of brand bloat. In-N-Out is the top of my list. They have hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, sodas, and shakes. THat’s it. I believe shakes were added in the past 30-40 years. The other items were there on day one. Most other food establishments seem to need a new food items to think they have a reason to advertise.

  2. hi phil,
    you need to watch out for “innovation for the sake of innovation” .
    I firmly believe that any innovation should serve a purpose and fulfill a real consumer need. If innovation does not achieve the above, then any innovation will lead to wasted R&D dollars and useless academic papers.
    Take the case of the mobile phone. The ultimate mobile phone will be like a phone, mini screen TV, camcorder, mp3 player in an as small as possible package. Now “innovation for the sake of innovation” would add features that would be used infrequently and claim it as a genuine innovation. E.g. beep when someone with the exact same model is in your vicinity or buzz when u are watching the laptop monitor for too long a time etc etc.

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