IN MY OPINION

It's tough to be bullish if the overall market for your product is declining. Real sales market share growth can be nearly unattainable, or worse, unprofitable.Today's category dynamics dictate that every product have a true reason for being, and that it be effectively communicated. That's the key to growing a brand franchise under less-than-optimal conditions. You have to be the matador and have

It's tough to be bullish if the overall market for your product is declining. Real sales market share growth can be nearly unattainable, or worse, unprofitable.

Today's category dynamics dictate that every product have a true reason for being, and that it be effectively communicated. That's the key to growing a brand franchise under less-than-optimal conditions. You have to be the matador and have a killer strategy to win. Next time the bull takes off, you can grab on and ride.

Forget meaningless line extensions to grab more shelf space. Forget trying to be all things to all consumers to drive sales volume. Instead, identify the right product, recognize its exact fit and place in the market. Then grow it as a distinct, hot sub-category that separates what you can build from what you can't. And most important, lead the market where you want it to go.

Don't get distracted. In this electronic age, it is easy to get caught up in the new media while budgets bleed away.

Evaluate interactive options as you would any other media conduit to your customers. Most brands aren't ready to sell interactively to one customer at a time. Most consumers can't yet set the clocks on their VCRs.

Some companies identify a category segment with growth potential, and attempt to lay claim to it, regardless of whether it's a brand fit. That lacks veracity, and your customers know it. Some managers try to maintain the status quo by spending consumers into submission. Well, it's their money.

It is far better to marry your major brand benefit to the strongest consumer trend you can identify. Don't change your brand personality to fit a fad because it won't last. Worse, you may end up looking just like your competition, who is making the same mistake.

Let's look at our experience with Eight O'Clock Coffee.Two years ago, with mainstream coffee sales plunging, we were faced with two choices. The first: go after a share of the gourmet bean coffee market. Our product was ideal, but we would have sacrificed our mainstream position, risking current customers, then fight many competitors for a share of the gourmet pie.

The second choice was to marry ourselves to a national trend we identified -- the consumer's search for real coffee value and quality. We reaffirmed consumer preference for Eight O'Clock -- the only gourmet-quality, mainstream-priced bean coffee on the market. Then we appealed to mainstream coffee drinkers that they need not trade up to gourmet-prices for the same satisfaction.

While we underspent our competitors on media, we posted a highly-profitable 21% increase in market share in our advertised markets during the first year alone. And this at a time when allowances and deals were the stock-in-trade choice to grow volume in this category.

Be the matador, but don't kill a bullish market when it happens. You want to lead it. It's the control, the planning, the leadership and blood-thirsty desire to win against the odds that we're aiming for. Ole!

Ellen Deutsch is executive vice president of F&D Advertising Inc., Westbury, N.Y.