On the Brand Fuel Express conference one speaker was arguing the old line about "Forget the product, they're all the same. Its all about emotion". You won't be surprised to hear that I think this is plain wrong.
In most categories today there is intense competition, from other brands and retail own label. This means that the so called "product parity" is something you have to fight for. Put another way, you do have to "run just to keep up". However, many companies seduced by the purveyors of sizzle-based branding make the fatal mistake of cutting corners on the product, and so running the risk of no longer even being a parity product.
Even better of course is to invest in having a superior product. And the ad I saw this week from Gillette for their Fusion razor system reminded me just how good they are at this. They invest billions of dollars in R&D to ensure they stay "The best a man can get" when it comes to shaving. The press ad sells "8 years of shaving innovation" that make the Fusion to be even better then the previous razor, the Mach 3. It talks of the many features such as 5 blade shaving, enhanced lubrastrip, comfort guard and Power-Glids blades. This is a smart way of encouraging existing Gillette users (like me) to "trade up" to the better but more expensive Fusion.
Thinking about it, the shaver market is a bit like the Formula One racing circuit. Ferrari, BMW and McClaren are all investing millions of dollars to shave a fraction of a second off the time it takes to go round the track. But they all have to keep up this innovation pressure to have a chance of winning. And over time, the changes add up to a big improvement. Its the same with Gillette's battle with Wilkinson Sword. You just have to keep on innovating. Relying on emotional sizzle alone aint going to be enough.
More on how Gillette have used product innovation to drive up their UK business from £128 million in 2002 to £180 million in 2006 in an earlier post here.