brand

Brand positioning tip #7: don’t abandon your strengths


One nice thing about this new gig blogging over at opensource.com is it gives me some room to go back to my brand and culture roots here at Dark Matter Matters. So today we return again to my favorite subject: brand positioning.

Specifically, I want to cover one of the scariest brand positioning mistakes a company can make– abandoning the position that got them where they are before they’ve established a credible new position.

You’ve seen it before. You walk into a meeting with a new advertising agency or an overzealous marketing executive, and, with great dramatic effect, they say something akin to this: “We are not in the toilet paper business! We are in the cleansing and renewal business!” Then they pause and look around, waiting for the cheers and high fives to start as people salute genius.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe strongly in establishing a higher purpose for your brand. And I think it is fantastic when brands are aspirational. The mistake is not in extending your brand position– in fact, we’ve covered some good tips on how to do it responsibly in this post and this one.

The mistake is abandoning the position you already own in the customer’s mind before clearly establishing the new position– in their mind, not in yours.

I’ve shown this chart inspired by Kevin Keller (one of my brand positioning mentors) before, but it is directly relevant here.

Good brand positioning is found near the center of this diagram, balancing where you’d like your brand to be with what your audience currently believes it to be.

If a brand is only positioned according to what customers currently believe, it will never grow. If it is only positioned according to what you hope it will become, your audience won’t find it credible.

You need to balance the two– keeping one foot in the future brand promise and the other in the current brand experience.

At Red Hat, we worked hard to extend the brand beyond our Linux roots. But we never denied the importance of those roots.

Example: If someone asked me if Red Hat was “that Linux company,” I’d always start my answer with “Yes”– acknowledging an important brand position that we had established. Only then would I attempt to broaden their understanding of the company beyond Linux.

One of the worst positioning mistakes you can make is to deny a position that you’ve spent years of hard work and countless dollars earning. Makes me sick to my stomach when I see it happen.

Extending a brand position doesn’t happen overnight. As Jeff Bezos’s great quote about brand building goes:

“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. People notice that over time. I don’t think there are any shortcuts.”

So always stay grounded in your current brand position as you reach to extend it. Don’t turn your back on the position that got you where you are. Embrace it. Love it. Respect it. With a smart, well-thought-out positioning plan, you’ll be able to extend where you want to go– without having to take any shortcuts along the way.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

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The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

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