Corporate Eye

Brand Confusion Always Benefits the Category Leader

question-mark-confusionEvery marketer should know the theory that a focused brand is usually a stronger brand.  But what happens when the entire category is unfocused and confusing to consumers?

The leader always wins.

Here’s why — the majority of consumers aren’t interested in doing the research to figure out claims, terms, guarantees, and so forth.  If they feel overwhelmed within a category, they’ll usually choose the most well-known brand assuming there must be a reason why it’s the most popular.  The problem is that the leader isn’t always the right choice for every customer.

That’s why it’s essential that you make sure your category is not confusing to consumers, particularly if your brand is not the category leader.  Sure, in so doing you might actually lose some potential customers who realize another brand is better for them, but in the long-run, you’ll do better because consumers who may have settled for the category leader in the midst of confusion can now make an informed choice and choose your brand.  These customers are more likely to be happy, make repeat purchases, become loyal customers, and spread the word about your brand.

The wireless carrier market is a perfect example of a category that is incredibly confusing to consumers.  No one really understands all the fees, terms, and conditions in wireless carrier contracts, so consumers typically choose a category with a brand name they’re more familiar with.  That brand instills more trust in consumers than the lesser-known brands, even if one of those lesser-known brands has a better plan for a specific customer.  It’s just too confusing to compare plans, so consumers settle for one of the leaders.

The same could be said of financial companies that offer mortgages, bank accounts, and other financial products.  Financial contracts are impossible for most consumers to understand, so they stick with leading financial institutions even though a smaller bank might have a better product or option for them.

The lesson to learn is this: if you’re not the category leader, make sure consumers can easily understand the various brands and products offered in the marketplace so they can make informed purchase decisions.  Be honest and you’ll be more successful than if you simply try to persuade consumers to choose your brand without all the facts.

Afterall, 2010 is the year of brand transparency, honesty and trust!

Image: stock.xchng

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.