Going Brand-Less: To Be or Not to Be a Brand?

Apparently, if you own one of the diminishing number of retail shops that specializes in tobacco products, it doesn't really matter if you have a brand or a distinctive name, or not. Tell them what you sell, tell them you're open for business, and they will come, I guess. This image got me thinking about how often this marketing strategy — if it can be called a strategy — works, and the circumstances that might permit a business to succeed, despite being brand-less, on the wrong end of the Spectrum of Distinctiveness, and operating under nothing more than an unprotectable generic name. As you may recall, Dan wrote, some time ago, about Successful Marketing With a Generic Word. He suggested that dispensing with brands might work when a business has "cornered a market." I think that is a good way of looking at it, but it does seem to beg the question of when a market has been cornered and how long staying brand-less might work. Can it be successful long term? So, if you're the only restaurant in an area with a significant number of passersby, you might be able to get away with a sign that reads nothing more than RESTAURANT BREAKFAST ALL DAY. If you're the only smoke shop in an area with a large number of smokers, you can probably get away with a sign that reads nothing more than TOBACCO, as shown above. But, what about when there is an alternative? What about when competition exists? When there is no physically close competition, and convenience is paramount, what is being sold becomes more important, perhaps, than who is selling it, and what you might be more likely to see are generic RESTAURANT and TOBACCO retail store signs. On the other hand, when a business no longer has a captive audience due to location or the absence of competition, branding appears to be critical for success. Even if one business can differentiate itself from the other, based on product mix or service, without branding it becomes difficult and inefficient for consumers to spread the word about a business, whether it be good or bad news. As the world continues to shrink, I suspect the opportunities to succeed without branding become fewer and fewer. Unless, of course, your business operates primarily on-line and you happen to be the happy recipient of some highly favorable internet traffic, see Hotels.com, Tickets.com, Fireworks.com, Cars.com, and Tobacco.com, then the potential number of passersby is so large one might wonder whether going brand-less still might work, even with branded competition. What do you think, when can going brand-less work, and how long can it be sustained?

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