How to launch a new brand that can compete with big existing market players

GB asks leading entrepreneurs how to win market share with a new brand

Last month saw the launch of the first British-made razor for more than 100 years. The entrepreneur behind it, Will King, is entering a market where Gillette has an 85% share. But he is not scared of taking on the Big Boys. In fact, he made a successful challenge to Gillette in the 1990s with the launch of his King Of Shaves shaving oils. Fifteen years on, he’s the second biggest player in the ‘shaving software’ market, owning 15% compared to Gillette’s 50%. His launch of shaving prep products blew former silver medallist Wilkinson Sword out of the water: it had a wide range of shaving gels, now it has none.

When James Dyson launched his namesake vacuum cleaner, the idea of ‘no-loss-of-suction’ technology resonated with many consumers sick of fighting with vacuum cleaner bags, and was completely different to the technology used by long-established rivals, such as Hoover and Electrolux. Although those who used it were converted, bringing it to market was a long and hard struggle. Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder and chairman of Cobra beer, faced a similar battle when trying to market his new brand.

Like King, both challenged their respective markets with a new concept. And, like King, both have triumphed. Dyson’s vacuum cleaner has achieved sales of more than £3bn worldwide, while Cobra has a £55m turnover.  

Here these three entrepreneurial legends share their secrets on bringing a new concept to market. Listen carefully…

Let your product do the talking


If your product works and answers a consumer need it will get talked about, stress all three business icons. And word-of-mouth testimonies will be the most powerful weapon in your marketing armour. King developed his shaving oil range because he was prone to shaving rash, which no products at the time could shift. Consulting an aromatherapist, he mixed up his own oil that actually worked. He has spent the last five years developing the design of his Azor razor that “shaves closer, lasts longer and costs less”. King’s cartridges will sell for £1.25 each, compared with Gillette Fusion’s £2.37. He reckons they cost about 10p to make, but that Gillette can overcharge because it has no major competition. Razor blades are one of the most commonly shoplifted items due to their hefty price, so his pitch is compelling.

While agreeing that your product must differentiate itself, Dyson prefers his technology to do the talking. “We just explain our machines: how they work, why they’re different, why they’re better,” he says. “When people use a Dyson vacuum cleaner, they see the dirt in the clear bin. And when people use a Dyson Airblade hand dryer, they feel that their hands are dry. It’s the experience that people talk about. I prefer to be creative by developing new technology rather than focusing on glossy marketing.”

Karan Bilimoria concurs that you need a point of difference if you want your product to stand out in a crowded market. “We did it with Cobra by brewing our beer to be less gassy,” he says, “something consumers really responded to because it improved their experience of drinking beer with food.”

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But make sure you perfect your product before launch. Customers become frustrated with a product that doesn’t work and move on. It took Dyson five years and 5,126 ‘prototypes’ (mistakes) to hone his design.

D on’t market extravagantly


Although King has far more money to spend on marketing these days, he’s not tempted to throw it at the launch of the Azor. “Cash is just a substitute for using your brain,” he says.

He has used several methods to promote the Azor cost-effectively, and insists Facebook social ads, which target specific users, present excellent value for your marketing buck, mainly because the technique remains undiscovered by mainstream advertisers.

“As a small business, you can’t hire a high-flying ad agency that charges a £10,000 retainer,” says King. “But you can go onto Facebook and set up your own ad campaigns. Use your credit card and set a daily limit. Mine is $1,000.” You can buy ads by the number of clicks or the number of impressions, which will appear in the news feeds of your chosen demographic. He’ll have served up 100 million ads by the time the Azor launches in Boots on July 21. King’s also trailering a skydive-shave video on YouTube.

The Azor has been almost entirely ‘pre-launched’ in this way, and King manages his suite of 72 ads himself. He has a product page on Facebook, but writes this himself so it doesn’t appear too much like an advertorial. He’s also bought an old tour bus for £15,000 (which would cost £750,000 new) and refurbished it so he can run a shaving election tour, vowing to “remove stealth shaving taxes”.

Understand the value of PR


Rather than splashing out on the services of an ad or marketing agency, King “got very into press, PR and the internet”. Luckily, the buzz his shaving oils created coincided with the launch of men’s magazines, such as FHM, in the mid 1990s, and the birth of the internet. “We bought very early, and have leveraged that massively so it traffics very highly,” he says. “The internet also allows you to serve up individual messages to a guy’s computer screen without his mates knowing he was worried about razor burn.”

Bilimoria is another PR evangelist. “Early on we hired a PR consultant who worked proactively on getting media interviews and building Cobra’s profile,” he explains. “If you have an interesting story or are doing something different, journalists will be interested and so will their readers.”

For Dyson, a chance appearance on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, where his cyclone technology beat conventional bagged machines in a ‘dust off’, worked wonders.

Challenge the norm


“Gillette – the best your dad could get,” says Will King. But his cheeky statement raises an interesting point. Just because something is the best you’ve had so far, doesn’t mean it’s the best possible solution. And just because something has always been a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t change it for the better. When Dyson introduced the DC01, vacuum-cleaner technology had remained unchanged for 100 years. “We were told clear bins were a bad idea,” he recalls. “Who wants to see their own dirt? It turns out a lot people did.”  

Protect your design


Dyson learned this the hard way. One of his early designs was the Ballbarrow, which replaced wheels with a ball and added other improvements to make the wheelbarrow easier to use. But, after foolishly putting the patent in the company’s name rather than his own, he subsequently lost all rights to his invention. More recently, he has had to endure a few high-profile court cases when others have copied his technology. “We’ll always fight to protect it,” he says, and works on new ideas behind closed doors.

King was prevented from progressing with his razor until 2004, when a key patent that Gillette held on ‘open cartridge architecture’ – which cuts hair safely, but doesn’t clog – ran out. Knowing this was coming off patent, he began developing his own cartridges, based on evolving this technology. He has now filed a dozen or so patents himself.

Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer


“The 15 years I spent working on my technology was nothing compared to the struggle to bring it to market,” says Dyson. Rejection can be hard to take when you are convinced your technology is the best, especially when you’ve invested all you’ve got and everything rests on it being a success.

For Bilimoria, securing the initial sales was one of his biggest challenges. The first shipment of beer arrived in the UK in June 1990, at the start of the worst recession since World War II. Here’s where belief in your idea is crucial if you want to bridge the credibility gap, he says. “We are forever indebted to the UK’s Indian restaurant owners as it was they who took a chance on Cobra in those early days,” he adds.

Ultimately, retail buyers will be happy if you explain that your new business is also likely to generate additional spend from the established players defending their position. “Typically you can sell a message to a retailer that’s actually not to do with the amount of profitability your business brings in, it’s a global profitability increase that you’ve kick-started,” says King.

However, he concedes that passion and persistence got him his crucial first listing at Harrods, and advocates the use of the latter when it comes to retail buyers. “My first job was in telesales,” he says. “I had to make 200 calls a day to get to 10 decision makers, to get five discussions, to close two deals. I quickly overcame rejection.”

The easiest thing from a buyer’s perspective is to say “no”, but you’ve got to find out why. Use open-ended questioning, says King. “How can I convince you to give me 20 minutes to show you an opportunity that will make you a lot of money?” “If no, why not?” Most people will drop out early, bu t persistence pays.




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