I believe almost all great brands are built on a foundation of great positioning.
I feel so strongly about positioning that one of the core elements of this blog is a series of brand positioning tips I learned over the years as an eager student of classic brand positioning.
Sometimes great positioning is led by a branding genius such as Scott Bedbury (who helped grow the Nike and Starbucks brands); sometimes a great leader and communicator with a very clear vision (like Steve Jobs at Apple) drives it into the organization; sometimes people stumble on great positioning by pure luck; and more and more often, organizations are developing positioning by collaborating with the communities of people in and around the organization who care most passionately about the brand.
This last way is the ad-free brand way of developing brand positioning.
1. Great positioning helps people understand the brand
The best brand positioning is always simple and clear. The greatest product or organization in the world won’t be successful if people can’t or don’t bother to comprehend why they should care about it. Your story must be able to break through the clutter.
2. Great positioning helps people value the brand
Getting people to understand the brand is the first step, but no less important is ensuring they value the brand. The best brands stand for things people care about or desire.
3. Great positioning helps people identify with the brand
Once people understand and value the brand, they must also understand how they fit in and how they can engage with the brand. They need to see some of themselves in it.
4. Great brand positioning helps people take ownership over the brand
It may sound like a brand’s worst nightmare to lose control and have the brand community take over. But the most self-actualized brands of the twenty-first century allow the communities of people surrounding them to take some ownership of and responsibility for the brand. Essentially, the brand owners become in command and out of control of the brand.
In 1981, when Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (the book that really defined the discipline of brand positioning) traditional advertising was still a dominant force. In fact, as you glance through their book, you’ll notice that most of the examples they use to illustrate positioning concepts are classic advertisements or advertising campaigns like the Avis “We’re #2, so we try harder” or the 7-Up “Uncola” campaign.
In the book, Trout and Ries define positioning as follows:
“…positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”
The Trout and Ries definition is a perfect way to achieve the first three of the four benefits above; it helps people understand, value, and identify with the brand.
Where the Trout and Ries model of positioning is all about what you do to the mind of the prospect, ad-free brands are less interested in creating meaning for a brand in people’s minds and more interested in creating meaning for a brand with the help of people’s minds.
By giving the communities of people who care about a brand some ownership over its future direction, we begin to build relationships based on trust, respect, and a mutual exchange of value.
Where 21st century brands will really shine is by mimicking the open, collaborative, meritocratic model of the open source software movement (and the Internet itself) in their positioning work. In my view, without beginning to engage the communities of people who care about a brand as co-owners, classic brand positioning by itself will continue to be less and less effective as traditional advertising and PR continue to be less and less effective.
The secret? Marrying those classic brand positioning principles to a 21st century way of collaborating with the communities of people who care about a brand. By doing both together, we’ll be able to build stronger, more resilient brands than ever before.
For my first post of 2011, I thought I’d share some interesting news: I’m writing a book.
The title is The Ad-free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World. It is intended to be a hands-on guide to help organizations of any size in any industry effectively position their brands in a what I’d call a post-advertising world.
I’m writing it not just for marketing/communications types, but for anyone who is interested in learning more about how to effectively position their brand using 21st century tools and strategies, whether the brand is a product, a website, a small business, a non-profit, a person, or a Fortune 500 company.
As those who’ve read my brand positioning tips know, I’m a bit of a positioning junkie. But my frustration has been that I haven’t found a really good resource that helps people manage and grow brands that can’t afford (or choose not to do) big fancy advertising campaigns. If you read through the classic texts like Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries, they are filled with examples of executing positioning through advertisements, taglines, and marketing campaigns.
But as good as the positioning concepts themselves are, I’m not sure the advertising-driven execution of these concepts is as relevant in 2011 as it was in the 20th century. My goal with The Ad-free Brand is to teach people the timeless principles of good brand positioning, then show them how to apply them a new kind of way using the lessons I’ve learned from the open source world and elsewhere.
As some of you know, I spent the first part of my career in book publishing, first as a literary agent then as an editor. Writing a book is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m kind of excited, but also pretty nervous. Yikes!
The Ad-free Brand will be published by Pearson/Que sometime in Fall, 2011. I’ll keep you up to date on my progress along the way. Finally, I just want to say thanks for coming by and reading some of my posts this past year. If you notice me writing a few less original posts during the next few months, now you know why:)
Happy new year!