Thursday, October 18, 2012

Marketing Funda : Why "iPhone Killer " is a bad marketing idea

The marketing world is now full of wannabe iPhone Killers - the new products that aims to kill the market leader or iconic brands. Although Frontal Attack is a celebrated strategy in marketing text books, the risks are pretty high and the possibility of a bloodbath is even  higher. Market Challengers will do better if they don't attack iconic brands directly.
The recent Apple Vs Samsung war of smartphones and the ultimate fall out of painful lawsuits warrants a recheck on the strategy of a frontal attack on market leaders.  Apple rule of the smartphone market with iPhone has prompted many mobile marketers to try and comeout with " iPhone Killers" but with no success. Market leaders like iPhones are seen in many markets. In India we have market leaders like Colgate, Alto, Maggi, Axe, Parachute, Johnson & Johnson, Horlicks etc who command a very large share of mind and also the market. There were many attempts from market challengers to dethrone these leaders by directly confronting them. In many cases, these challenger brands stay in a distant second position while the market leaders are not pretty much hurt. 

The famous wars between Pepsodent Vs Colgate, Maggi Vs Top Ramen J&J vs Sparsh , Complan Vs Horlicks were high profile frontal attack by market challengers but could not dethrone the leaders from their positions. My hypothesis is that rather than frontally attacking the leaders especially iconic brands, competing brands will do well if they could build a position that avoids direct comparison with the market leaders . Its not a blue ocean strategy where you would go in search of a new market but positioning away from the market leader so that consumers would not directly compare the brand with the market leader attributes.
The problem with a direct frontal attack is that consumers will directly compare the attributes with the market leader and if the competing brands do not have strong parity and even stronger differentiation, the strategy will have a negative fall out. In the case of iPhone, the competing brands which tout themselves as iPhone killers were not able to create strong parity with this iconic product especially in the brand image front.

Market challengers could do well if they can position their product away from the iconic brand and create a market and grow by expanding it on their unique strengths . 
Its my hypothesis, what do you say ??


  1. very clever. i agree with you.

  2. I say you are sleepwalking. Samsung is a mass brand while the Iphone is trying to hold on as niche. The world has changed much in the past couple of years and even the fanboys, though they went on a pre order buying frenzy, have been disappointed the Iphone. In this world of ever changing markets no brand can stand as market leader for too long. Going by the way you imagine the world, and it is an imaginary world, each consumer product, catering to a specifulic audience, should be built by only one brand

  3. Dear Sir,

    From my assumption, direct frontal attack with market leader have advantages for the competitor.
    1. They are positioning the brand to the level of market leader, there by people can compare competitor also/only with market leader. This creates space in peoples' mind about there product.
    2. If competitor is satisfying the customers' need 75%-85% (in mobile category) at lesser price compare to leader then customers will go for the competitor product. Instead of going towards some unknown chinese brand better go for the competitor(Known brand). This is purely on my observation from my surrounding.

  4. Anonymous4:12 PM

    This strategy will also protect the second brand from direct attack by leader brand in terms of promotion etc . If the 2nd brand is not appealing or disturbing the customer base of the leader brand and continue strengthening its position as 2nd position than it can grow without much opposition from the leader

  5. Nice Post..thanks for sharing it.

  6. That depends, if you have seen the S3 vs iPhone4 comparisons floating around on Facebook(and the acerbic counter by Apple fans), it does strike a chord with consumers who prefer performance over just having a brand.

  7. Great analysis Sir!

  8. Anonymous9:02 PM

    Thanks for the information! I'm personally not a big fan of apple. I feel like I'm paying a lot more money for a sub-part product. They do a really good job marketing though.

  9. iphone is the boss.
    you cant kill it

  10. Dear Harish,

    I was happy to read this article, particularly the hypothesis of positioning away.

    however, i have a different take on this.

    if i was an I-phone competitor, i would try and find what is the weakness in the strength of the product. and play an anti-leader strategy.

    its a typical market head-on strategy.(marketing warfare)

    for eg:- bajaj realised that they have to take on Hero-honda.. the most fuel efficient bikes are made by them.
    so they decided they will be anti-mileage.. more macho.. and more powerful.. they didnt position away, they infact positioned themselves opposite hero-honda.

    pulsar came into existence and discover is the most selling bike in india currently.


  11. I would say frontal attack makes a lot of sense if the contesting product is a new entrant. It gives a lot of publicity and also help the customers to relate to the features. The apple vs Samsung story is the same. Samsung though lesser profitable is currently the largest seller of smartphones. Further, the Pepsodent's attack on Colgate helped it to gain market share rapidly. So my argument is that frontal attack is very useful to instigate trial usage.
    The same strategy was failure (or had minimal impact) during Horlicks-Complan or Hindu-TOI war, as both the players were already existing and the customer perceptions for these brands were already formed.

  12. Sir,
    Its not just about iphone killers, but also about benchmarking.
    For example,Micromax A75 was positioned as an 'affordable iphone' with the tagline "i can afford this phone 4Sure". Brands are trying to enable comparisons with the i phone inside the minds of the customer even though their product is nowhere near the iPhone.

    i dont know if it is a good marketing move or will it evoke the feeling inside the customer the "cheap buyer" mentality.

  13. At one point of time, Maruti occupied 80% of market share. Today it is less than 40%. Brands took on Maruti head on and started eating away its market share from different points.

    That is what Benz is trying to do with Tata motors in commercial segment.

    the idea is not everytime you can take the competitor head on and not everytime you can shy away from competition. You need to create a strong value proposition so that consumers can relate to your offerings.

    1. Anonymous3:49 PM

      The competitor actually didn't take maruti head on in it's segment...they took over in other segments. Plus the technological advancements also played a major role

  14. Harish
    I know that comparison with second best brand doesnt work for leader brands in case of an attempt to capture the market share by the second best brand. But if u say that it doesnt work the other way also, then in what situation will direct frontal attack as a comparison work?
    Student IIMK

  15. I am really impressed with this, I am not a big fan of marketing crm. I don't know much about this but I think this something I should get more information on and learn to do deal with this important stuff.

  16. i've shown it to two of my colleagues who have taken it up as their paperless planner. Take a look. And if you go to the developer's site you can get a trial version. iPhone site

  17. Its not a blue ocean strategy where you would go in search of a new market but positioning away from the market leader so that consumers would not directly compare the brand with the market leader attributes.iPhone 5S


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