Dominant brands shape perceptions of a category


Where one brand is clearly perceived as the leading example within its category, with a dominant market share, it may also shape perceptions and expectations for the whole category.

A signature hallmark of Levi’s 501 jeans is the use of metal rivets; made of copper or aluminium. Many people think all competing jeans come with rivets, but they don’t.


Dyson vacuum cleaners introduced new technologies in the sector. Consumers may believe that rival competitors have since copied many of these innovations and have began to catch up.


But Dyson own hundreds of patents that protect their investment in innovation and competitive performance.  Dyson try hard to protect their difference, while creating expectations in the category. Helping their brand to justify their performance advantage and the premium they charge.  Dyson Patents

Land Rover have dominated the four wheel drive vehicle category in many markets for decades.  As they replace their models, such as the Defender. They focus on maintaining the distinctive vehicle silhouette, as well as the legendary functional performance off road. Other four wheel drive competitors follow the conventions, but rarely achieve the same levels of off-road performance.  A car with genuine off road performance is expected to look like a Land Rover.


The Glenlivet became the most popular aged Scottish Single Malt in 2014; but the characteristics of Scottish Malt Whisky vary widely by region and ageing.  The Glenlivet is hugely popular, with a light and floral bouquet. It’s often described as a whisky for ‘every day’ consumption, meaning it’s less challenging to get to like, rather than possessing some of the stronger characteristics of some malts (e.g. heavy smoke and peat). The Glenlivet also doesn’t have the expensive price tag that often accompanies aged Scottish malt competitors.  Many milder tasting whisky brands are enjoying increased sales among new customers, who aren’t yet ready for a more complex, or expensive Malt.


Leading brands set the rules and create the expectations and conventions consumers expect from the category.  This doesn’t mean that all competitors copy the leader.  But it does mean that many consumers perceive the leading traits of a category are influenced by the heritage, authenticity and conventions established by the leading brand.


Jesper Norgaard, strategist & artist: Jesper’s Twitter Feed

I draw an analogy now, between leading brands and the Kingfisher bird.  There are over 90 species of Kingfisher, but many people think of the Common Kingfisher when they describe what this family of birds are like. Even though Kingfisher species differ markedly in their colour, diet, habitat and location around the word.

But unless you are particularly interested in birds, most people default to the conventions they expect. Not only from the Common Kingfisher, but from other birds in general, when asked to describe the Kingfisher.  Because most people don’t know much about Kingfishers or birds really. Just like most people don’t know that much about a brand or a category.

Just over half of the Kingfisher family live in forests. Most live away from water and eat insects, rater than fish.  And most dig tunnels to nest in and don’t build nests in trees. Most aren’t coloured blue and  yellow.

Our perceptions are driven by conventions, driven by what we experience more frequently. These expectations don’t have to reflect the facts.


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