unfair-competition SUMO

Branding as an unfair advantage

There was an interesting point made at the previous Zürich Lean Startup meetup event (slides are available here), Michael Wiedemann argued branding could be used as an unfair advantage.

If you’re not familiar, the concept was introduced by Ash Maurya in his book Running Lean (quoting Jason Cohen):

A real unfair advantage is one that cannot easily be copied or bought.

There’re few examples mentioned in the book, such as insider information, personal authority, community, etc. I read that as something that cannot be quickly acquired even with a lot of money. Ash says it’s the hardest section to fill, so I was intrigued by how branding be used an unfair advantage.

The first argument was that only a handful startups do any branding so if you do it, you’ll be way ahead of others. That sounds more like a competitive advantage.

The second argument made more sense and went along these lines. In any new market, there’s an unused space to be filled, and usually whoever does that first will have a big advantage. Take Google for example. The word/brand has become a synonym for search. Or skype – to call someone (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/Skype).

Focusing early on branding might have another benefit: to force entrepreneurs to think about how to tell their story, and which idea to sell. This is nicely explained in Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars. We don’t buy bottled water because it’s better than tap water, we buy it because it makes us feel healthier, smarter, and believe it or not – even sexy:

Successful marketing strategy for bottled water should then be framed around these lines: natural, pure, balanced, youthful (see this for a longer explanation).