The Sex Panther Formula For Finding Your Brand's Secret Sauce

Anchorman's Brian Fantana may have been off the mark with his Sex Panther cologne, but his head was in the right place. Every brand could use a simple lesson in setting itself apart. (Just not with panthers.)

Brian Fantana, Ron Burgundy’s friend and Channel 4’s field reporter, brings home the importance of having a "secret sauce" to make your product stand out in the movie Anchorman. Talking about Sex Panther, the best cologne in his arsenal when he’s on the prowl, Brian tells Ron that the cologne’s secret is that “It’s made with bits of real panther.” He then hits Ron with some research-based evidence, “They’ve done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time it works, every time.”

While Brian eventually ends up striking out (the target of his desire, co-worker Veronica Corningstone, likens the cologne’s aroma to that of “a used diaper”) the iconic scene does make the point: Every offering needs to have a secret sauce. And it has to have that something inside that leads to a differentiating benefit.

For example, Gatorade helps athletes recover faster in the heat by having ingredients that replenish their fluids and electrolytes quickly. Under Armour sportswear keeps athletes comfortable and dry because its high-tech fabric wicks away moisture from their bodies. Moving to a different arena, Walmart helps value-conscious shoppers live better by giving them the lowest prices every day.

One way to test if your brand has a secret sauce is to apply the tried-and-true “brand promise” format:

  • For (target customer)
  • Who needs (what they need)
  • The (offering name)
  • Is a (category)
  • That provides (primary differentiation benefit)
  • because (secret sauce/reason to believe)

For example, Sex Panther’s brand promise would be:

  • For young men
  • who want to attract women
  • Sex Panther
  • is the cologne
  • that works sixty percent of the time, every time
  • because it’s made out of bits of real panther.

When I speak with marketers it’s that last part, the secret sauce, the reason-to-believe, that their brands struggle with. Sometime it’s not clear, what, if anything, makes them special. Oh sure, there’s vague references to “quality” or “better performance” but too often there’s no understanding of what’s unique about the brand.

So what to do?

1. Find out what's different about your brand.
The first step is to really do some talking to customers about the value your brand brings to the table or how they perceive your brand. Do the same internally with the developers of your offering--the engineers, designers, chemists, whomever. Find out what they put into the product and what problem they’re trying to solve.

For example, when I worked on the ThinkPad brand, I learned that the engineers had studied owl’s wings to design a quieter laptop fan (owls are great at sneaking up on their prey). And it doesn’t always have to be something functional. Corona beer doesn’t claim to have the best taste or more hops. Instead, it takes advantage of its association with Mexico to offer a beach vacation in a bottle.

2. Scope out the competition.
Seeing how competitors stack up against your brand can offer an opportunity for differentiation. Through its taste tests Pepsi marketers learned their product’s formula gave it a taste better than Coke. They then used the same taste test approach to prove that point to consumers.

Also, one doesn’t necessarily have to find a competitor’s weakness. Sometimes a competitor’s strength can be turned into a weakness. For example, Mercedes has a long history of being a luxury car. Typically we’d think of that as strength, but Audi found a way to turn it into a disadvantage in consumers’ minds with “Escape Old Luxury” commercials. Their secret sauce was something intangible--a new positioning.

3. Find a gap in the market.
Gaps in the market can usually be found at either the high or low end of the price range. Southwest Airlines targeted the latter as a low-cost airline but added brand value by having the secret sauce of a unique and quirky personality. At the higher end can be super-premium offerings such as AMEX Centurion, whose differentiation comes from all the exclusive perks the card provides.

There may also be gaps within the price/performance or model range. For example, Chrysler’s minivan created a new category by better meeting the needs of families (and thus ending the reign of the station wagon). Their secret sauce was a totally new platform approach. More recently, a similar take was made by Apple in when it created the tablet category with its iPad.

One final point: while it’s important that your brand have a secret sauce, that’s not enough. The secret sauce has to deliver a real benefit. You don’t want to leave your customer like Brian Fantana, hung out to dry.

[Image: Flickr user Dave Tada]

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