Centrality and Distinctiveness

May 24, 2015

The latest HBR (June edition) contains an article by Niraj Dawar and Charan Bagga about how to map markets on dimensions that Finance folk will find attractive because the axes correlate to unit volumes and price premium.  Centrality (their X axis) defines how representative of the category a particular brand is (put another way, how well it meets the generic category needs of consumers).  Distinctiveness (their Y axis) defines how much a brand stands out (put another way, how differentiated it is).

It is a good article save for the overblown claim about this approach being “the first tool that allows companies to directly connect a brand’s position on a perceptual map with business outcomes such as sales and price.”  To their credit, the authors prefix this bold statement with a “to our knowledge” disclaimer.  Given that the authors are both marketing academics, it is somewhat surprising that they are unaware about how market research has been using the dimensions of Relevance and Differentiation for decades to estimate the sales potential of brands.  For example, Young and Rubicam’s BrandAsset Valuator measures brand equity on the four primary dimensions of Differentiation, Relevance, Esteem and Knowledge.  WPP’s BrandZ (otherwise known as Millward Brown’s BrandDynamics methodology) has Relevance as the 2nd level of its five-level pyramid and refers to the upper three levels of the pyramid collectively as the basis for the brand’s distinctiveness.

Given the importance that academia places on precedent literature, it is surprising that the authors do not acknowledge that their approach is “standing on the shoulders of giants” (Isaac Newton).  I have a hard time seeing how their concept of Centrality differs from Relevance, and what separates Distinctiveness from Differentiation.

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