Are you a platypus like aIrasia

Positioning strategy determines what a brand identifies with.  If you thought that AirAsia was in the airline business, you’d be wrong. They believe they are also in the fintech business. In July 2021, AirAsia bought the Thai operations of Gojek, a ride-hailing and digital payments firm, with plans to use this to strengthen its upcoming “superapp”. It has also applied for a banking license in Malaysia.

What’s common between a super app and a platypus?

A superapp typically has a payment feature, a communication element, and focuses on high volume+frequent transactions like grocery, travel and ticketing. Gojek boasts that it has 18+ products from foodtech to fintech to hyper local delivery and massage services. It is the big gorilla of the digital ecosystem of Indonesia.

Uber declared its intent to be a superapp back in September 2019, though it has been sort of stagnating with transport and food delivery in most countries. Wechat has been very successful in China as with a superapp positioning strategy with 1000s of offerings embedded into its ecosystem. In India, Reliance Jio, Facebook, Tata Group, Paytm are all contenders. Since there are established players in each of the superapp pillars, the wannabes will have to build or acquire them eg BigBasket, CureFit, 1mg, Saavn etc.

It’s like a platypus because it has a bunch of unrelated parts that make it function. Done well, like a platypus, it is unique and can do a number of interesting things.  The positioning strategy for a superapp would be similar to that of an old-fashioned conglomerate.

Also read: A bad positioning strategy can result in a “Putting Lipstick on A Pig” brand scenario.

Can only digital firms be adopt a platypus brand position?

Unless you’re digital you can’t be a super app. But certainly many conglomerates could be considered a platypus too. The Tata Group has always been one. Patanjali wants to be one. Amul is rapidly expanding its product portfolio to include any and everything that includes a smidgen of dairy, and has already expanded to non-dairy products with juices. The model allows firms to derisk — if the world moves to veganism, Amul would still have a fall-back, for example. Where the sub-brands are more powerful than the parent brand — like say Unilever — the platypus model is not a fit.

You — as an individual — can also be a platypus. Not exactly with a tail and duckbill, but you know what I mean. You could be a one-stop shop for say, HR expertise. Or investment advice. Whereas others could choose to specialize in say, startup HR or retirement planning. You would have to decide whether you are an SEO expert or digital marketing expert or a marketing strategist.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. I prefer to be a marketing strategist specializing in B2B. A slightly niche platypus if you will.

What’s the brand position of the platypus?

From a positioning perspective any product or service has to have a clear answer to the questions of “who am I”, “why buy me” and “why not buy someone else”. The superapps aim to simplify the digital universe for their customers. Sort of like a “one app to rule them all”. They have to deliver a good-enough service across all their mini apps. And their positioning wrapper has to be a generic one that works across all categories like reliability, speed or convenience.

Ditto for individuals — if you are a platypus you have to deliver acceptable results across all areas of your domain. And your brand will be built around reliability, customer experience and assurance.

For a newly morphed platypus like AirAsia the challenge will be to reposition themselves around these attributes as they are strongly associated with one segment. Tata or Reliance already has a strong corporate brand which can be leveraged to fuel their superapp.

Same challenge applies for personal brands — if you have worked almost entirely in, say, banking, expanding to cover all aspects of financial services will require some work.

Poor positioning kills brands — read what is positioning strategy to make sure your brand is protected.

What to do when a super app platypus enters your pond?

Over time, if the superapp delivers on its core promise, say grocery delivery or transport, it will be able to use that to sell its peripheral services. It is, however, hard to break habits. So a customer would only replace an existing service provider with a superapp if there was either no downside or a significant upside.

It’s early days to predict what a superapp will do in the competitive landscape. But in general, in the digital world, there is usually one huge player, a couple of smaller players, followed by a long tail of niche providers. The superapp tends to occupy the middle ground and play the volume game.

This leaves some options for the other players —

(a) align with the superapp and become a service provider or
(b) specialize and offer a service that can’t easily be made mass

© target a target audience outside the “middle” whatever that may be — either below or above the average

At the individual level this often means that specialists work under the umbrella of a platypus, a trend that is already apparent in the gig economy. In either scenario, the more powerful your brand, the more leverage you will retain.

Should I be a platypus/superapp?

If you have the capital and a pillar service of broad appeal to a wide swathe of people, sure, you can adopt a broad market positioning strategy. It isn’t just a tech or data play, though. It requires great execution. Because you have to deliver a stellar service in some areas and an acceptable level in all. Think of it is being a digital mall, except that you are also responsible for the customer experience of all the stores in the mall, not just the building itself.

As an individual, if you have a brand position disproportionately big compared to your core competency, and your core competency has a wide appeal, then you are a potential platypus. You will have to think through what is the benefit you deliver as a platypus. Is it assured returns? One point of contact? Fastest delivery?


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