Monday, July 19, 2010

Sharpie's Fading Strategy

When I was young, like lots of kids, I went to baseball games and tried to get autographs from my favorite ballplayers. Being in that line of work requires some tools of trade. I always carried a couple trinkets like baseball cards, balls or souvenir programs at all times. I also needed a team roster to identify the unexpected and unfamiliar signatures I received. Finally, for convenience and the sake of organization, I carried all my stuff in a backpack.

But the most essential tool was a Sharpie marker.

The Sharpie would work on every surface and was forever permanent. When I look at my collection today, it's obvious which signatures were signed with a Sharpie marker. They remain the boldest while the others continue to fade everyday.

That's exactly how Sharpie made its mark. It was the first marker to write like a pen yet still be bold and permanent. Eventually, they owned the permanent marker category (side note: don't underestimate the importance of scent marketing here).

As they have continued to expand, the lines of positioning are beginning to blur. This new advertisement even describes the product a pen and not a marketer. In addition, Sanford repositioned Accent highlighters under the Sharpie name five years ago.

While their previous tagline (Write Out Loud) still reflected the original strategy of being bold and permanent, the newest tagline reflects an unfocused, all encompassing strategy: Uncap what's inside.

Unfortunately, we used to know the answer before the question was ever asked.


Whitney said...

Hi Alexander! I couldn't help but comment on your post. I actually work for Sharpie...
The new commercial to which you are referring to is for our Sharpie Pens which are completely different from Sharpie Markers! That's right, Sharpie now makes pens too! No need to worry, your trusted Permanent Marker isn't going anywhere - in fact, if anything, it is getting better! You should take a look at for the full line of Sharpie products - I think you'll be impressed :) Hope this clears up any confusion you might have.

As for "Uncap What's Inside" - the message is open ended, you're right! We can't & don't want to tell people what to do or how to act... in short, Sharpie encourages self-expression, creativity and sharing your passion(s) with the world. You should be proud of who you are & not let the fear of standing out in a crowd hold you back - Uncap What's Inside!

Alexander said...

Thanks for reading Whitney. My point is that I think in the long term, this strategy will hurt you.

I don't believe that single brand can be all things to all people. No matter how hard it tries to be. Successful marketing requires focus.

While a brand ultimately exists in the mind of the consumer, letting the consumer decide on their own will produce far worse results than being focused.

Thanks, I disagree, but I understand your just being a champion of the Sharpie brand.

Alexander said...

...for what its worth, I do like the commercial and new website. But strategy must come before execution.

ndfSnow said...

Correct me if i am wrong but it sounds like Sharpie is focused. Their focus being on their new line of products. Market the new product, attract new customers and old customers alike, and get some spillover into older products as well from the increased attention in the new product. If you market the new and unknown to people, and they venture into it, and like it, they will still additionally buy the older well known products, as long as the function does not overlap and render it useless. thats just my 2 cents.

Alexander said...

The problem is that they are trying to own too many different ideas. In a overcommunicated society, to win in the long run it's best to own a single concept.

With diversifed messages to a consumer a brand eventually loses its voice.

Even in Whitney's message, she uses the key words "open ended" and "full line." It's too hard for a brand to work its way into our minds that way.

But this often happens with mature products and brands that used to be very focused, especially with pressure from investors to grow rapidly. It's difficult to grow rapidly once maturity is reached.