Why Your Brand Should Ride a Bigger Brand’s Coattails

When I ask new clients to tell me what their company does, this is the type of answer I typically hear:

“We are the premier service on the east coast that delivers groceries to clients on the same day they place their order. We are able to reach millions of homes, since we don’t restrict our deliveries to a single store—we work with many different grocery chains in different areas.”

That’s not a bad answer. It contains a lot of useful information, even if it lacks a bit of inspiration. But there’s a better way to create instant understanding—and capture some of the cachet of larger, more well-established brands. Imagine, for example, if the client in the example above had started his answer this way:

“We’re the iTunes of grocery delivery.”

The more complete answer might say:

“We’re the iTunes of grocery delivery. Just as iTunes instantly delivers music that you can select from many different music labels, we deliver groceries that our customers can select from many different grocery stores on the same day they place their orders. That gives our customers more choices than any other company, as all of our competitors here on the east coast only deliver from one grocery store.”

Advantages of Riding a Bigger Brand’s Coattails

The biggest, most immediate advantage of referencing a larger brand is that doing so can help your audience understand what you do instantly. The mention of iTunes creates immediate context for customers, allowing them to understand what you do and how you’re different.

There’s another big advantage. iTunes is popular, so by referencing it, you’ll immediately transfer some of its positive brand image and “hipness” onto your brand.

Cautions When Riding a Bigger Brand’s Coattails

First, I’d only use a well-established brand. That’s safer than referencing the latest tech darling which could go bankrupt six months from now.

Second, only use a brand from outside your industry. If you’re a tech company, you can provide “Nordstrom-level” service. If you’re a tools manufacturer, you can say “we’re as solid as a Ford truck.”

Finally, I’d stay away from using the reference to a third-party brand in print and in any marketing materials, since doing so could attract the other company’s notice or create legal issues. A passing analogy to a non-competitor during a media interview or speech shouldn’t be problematic though, says trademark attorney Erik Pelton.

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