Isolating product benefits and connecting them to customers is marketing 101. For some reason, it’s always been easier in theory than in practice. From hospitality to pharmaceuticals, there’s no clear path for making it work.
Compare the following pharma products, for example. There is a consumer drug that is advertised like crazy. It is used to treat plaque psoriasis. Made by AbbVie, the drug has been on the market since the early 2000s. The patent for the drug expired in 2016, and since then, the brand has been airing on TV more than apology ads from Facebook.
There is another pharma brand that advertises just about as much. This one treats Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The drug promises control of symptoms. Ads for this brand have been running since about the same time.
If you’re an American, you won’t be surprised to hear there is a third drug heavily marketed to consumers on TV. This one is sold to people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and promises remission. It has also been in the on-air rotation since that same time in 2016.
This isn’t about competitive messaging and media. All of these examples are the same drug: Adalimumab, branded commercially as Humira in the U.S. Each illness has its own campaign. Its own creative. Its own tagline. Yet it’s all the same drug. Same ingredients. Works in the same way.
A brand can speak specifically to the very people they have been created to serve with the potential of alienating others, or a brand can speak to everyone and truly reach no one.
Luckily, the biologic has the effect of relieving all the above illnesses and more. The control of each of these is a unique benefit to a different customer. Amazing and rare. Lots of consumer products don’t have an honest single benefit (think: soda). This one has a half dozen. Instead of shoehorning them all into a single 60-second ad, they had the good sense to break the top benefits into their own full campaigns.
Brands need to find the different angles that serve as entry points for new customers. Each benefit is served to consumers like the reflection of a funhouse mirror. Some are confusing, some are scary, some are upside down. But the ones that reach us make us feel better about our appearance. This is how we perceive product benefits. How does the product make me look? You know this question as the expressive benefit. It’s a critical part of why we choose the products we choose.
Now imagine an entire house of mirrors in a fun house. Upon walking in, people are overwhelmed by images reflected back at themselves. In some, we look taller. In others squatter. It’s difficult to focus on a single image, with every move there are dozens of counter moves. There is no way for a person to register a reflection.
This is the effect of the house of brands model. Maybe “Badda book. Badda boom” is a memorable tagline, but I have no idea what brands it’s connected to (or what it means). I have to Google it to find out that it is for the Choice Hotel lineup of brands. Unlike Humira, it can’t articulate a meaningful proposition to a specific customer, so it’s lined up all its logos and paid them off with a non-descript alliteration.
The message leaves viewers confused about who the hotels are meant to serve. As a consumer, we expect a company to tell us why the benefits matter to me. What is the advantage of having the four hotels in one ad? What does the viewer get out of it? How will it make me look? How will it make me feel? Who knows, I’m surrounded by reflections and totally confused.
The urgency of the company to list its sub-brands and parity benefits clouds any clarity around why a customer should choose them. Meanwhile, AbbVie has chosen a single reflection for each specific customer. It’s clearly done its homework on the emotions and drive of that customer.