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How your company’s weakness could be part of its marketing strategy

Senior strategist at Colenso BBDO Amy Pollok explores how businesses can see their weaknesses as something to be proud of – and even a way to market themselves.

As marketers, we spend a lot of time thinking about what brands are good at. What their strengths are.

Maybe the product has unbeatable features, maybe the company has years of expertise, or maybe the brand has made itself famous for something brilliant.

We love a good SWOT analysis, the S quadrant stacked with as many benefits as we can squeeze in the little box.

And when it comes to writing the brief, this is where we tend to draw from most. “Communicate A, B, C benefits of brand X, dramatizing in a way that connects with consumers.”

But an untapped opportunity often lies outside of this ‘Strengths’ square.

The bits we gloss over in a brief. Don’t spend too much time on. Avoid. Evade.

Our brand weaknesses.

The things we don’t do so well. The faults and the failings. We all have them, but we’d prefer them glossed over.

However, in a world of increased transparency, of product reviews and peer recommendations, addressing these weaknesses is becoming more important.

And more than just acknowledging them, there’s a resurgence of brands taking their weakness, and framing them as unique brand strengths. Points of differentiation. Something to be proud of.

A handful of classic examples come to mind immediately:

A Picnic bar’s weird, lumpy appearance? “Deliciously ugly.”

Canadian Club’s old-fashioned, old-man perceptions? “Damn right your dad drank it.”

And Stella Artois’ eye-watering price premium? “Reassuringly expensive.”

Brand tensions writ large. Simple outtakes for customers, reframing the thing you were worried about (appearance, perception or price), as something to be celebrated.

It’s a strategy that’s worked well for some of Colenso’s brands.

Skinny, for example – a low cost telco who needed better brand awareness. We looked at some of the big players overseas for inspiration.

Many of them use famous faces to promote their products and services, riding on their fame as a way to get their own.

It’s simple enough; hitching your brand to a big-name celebrity is one of the fastest routes to popularity, attention and love.

But big names meant big budgets, and we couldn’t afford a star-studded campaign.

So instead, we turned the celebrity formula on its head, borrowing brand equity from some of the most awkward people you’ve ever seen on camera. Unlike other companies, Skinny is a telco committed to not wasting your money.

Similarly, Mainland is a premium cheese brand. Unlike other options, Mainland ages their cheese for a little longer than you might expect, for a better quality product. But it means they’re a little more expensive too.

Justifying this premium position is tricky, but Mainland has approached their extra-long production process as an asset, rather than a weakness.

Their brand line “Good things take time” is a Kiwi truism that has lasted for years and is still providing a rich platform to execute from.

It’s an interesting way to reframe a problem. The next time you catch yourself whinging about a brand foible, take a deep breath, look on the bright side, and see if it could just be your secret weapon.

Amy Pollok, senior strategist at Colenso BBDO

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