Brand Position: Small and Proud of It

When is positioning a brand as a small fish in a big pond a desirable strategy? It is desirable when the association of being a small brand suggests authenticity and responsiveness. This strategy describes what Boston Beer is doing with its Samuel Adams brand. Sam Adams made its mark in the hypercompetitive U.S. beer market by positioning itself as a craft beer, a change of pace from mainstream brands such as Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. Now, a new commercial dubbed “Growing Up Small” makes the point that Samuel Adams has a minute 0.9% share of the domestic beer market.

Being perceived as a small brand can be advantageous. In the case of the U.S. beer market, the top brands are mainstream, corporate behemoths. A small beer brand has the potential to differentiate itself from the giant brands and be perceived as unique. The story of Samuel Adams is legendary in branding circles; company founder Jim Koch would take the product in his car to bars to share his brew with bartenders and patrons. Samuel Adams is built on a foundation of trust and being a genuine alternative to mass market beer. The challenge for a brand like Samuel Adams is to remain true to its “smallness” as it grows. Many companies have found it a struggle to operate like a small company as they expand.

Companies want to grow, expanding their market footprint while amassing profits. A strategy to focus on being small seems counter to the mission of many businesses. Acting like a small brand can pay off, though, because it forces marketers to maintain close access to customers and other stakeholders. If you cannot be the biggest brand in your industry, maybe there is a way to make being small pay off… just ask Samuel Adams.

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