Dear CMO:

“Snapple was a freight train. Everybody was saying in those days colas are dead everybody’s dead and this is the new stuff. We came up with this brand Fruitopia. I remember a reporter asking at a press conference, saying this is a me-too brand. And I said, you bet this is a me-too brand – with a heck of a distribution system. I’m going to the market on the strength of my distribution system which is 50X that of Snapple.

The intent was to enter the category not to dominate it but to manage it. Same bottle, same closure, same flavors. But I can distribute it a hell of a lot better than they could. We were using our distribution system to get an unfair advantage.”

I spoke with Sergio a few weeks ago about a wide range of topics, from the Pepsi Challenge to Sprite to a host of others. His comments about Fruitopia struck a nerve, though, because launching flanker brands is so often done in a clumsy way. His point about Fruitopia serves as a lesson to anyone looking to position a flanker brand: you never enter a category with the intention of just being there – you do it to gain an advantage, to keep your opponent off balance and to create some sense of havoc in the enemy camp. The point, in other words, is to launch a flanking maneuver on your opponent – not to sit passively on your own flank awaiting the attack from the incumbent.

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Key Takeaways:

. Flank them, don’t let them flank you. As Confederate guerilla Nathan Bedford Forrest put it, “Hit ‘em on the end.” Flanker brands are best positioned as offensive weapons, not defensive fixtures.  Understand what you sign up for when you embark on this strategy. It means you’re on the attack, you’re aggressive and you’re always on the move. It doesn’t mean you announce you’re there and then starve the brand of funding and attention. You do more damage than good when your flanker brand is left to die on its own, not to mention that your opponent will be more emboldened to attack your core business with the newly found knowledge that you don’t have a clue how to fight them. You won’t impress your channel partners with a limp product offering, either.

. You’re never me-too when you’ve got an overwhelming advantage. Distribution? Technology? Relevant brand strength? What is it that you have in spades that they completely lack? What can you do on their ground that they can’t? How do you create an unfair fight? If you can’t answer this question, do you really belong in this fight?

. Killing an upstart competitor usually begins with hijacking their conversation. If you’ve got a bigger voice or can redirect the conversation onto ground more suited to your purposes, you can drag your competitor straight to hell like the last act of Don Giovanni. Il dissoluto punito.

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Does this sound obvious? It isn’t. How many me-too products have you seen, from your own company or from those you watch, that are simply there for the sake of being there? No specific advantage, no meaningful separation in the eyes of the consumer or the channel.

This isn’t a flanker brand, it’s a sacrificial offering. And it’s often a black hole into which companies pour people and money that could be better allocated elsewhere.