To create great brand positioning, you must do your homework. In a brand positioning project, this homework mostly consists of doing some research about the brand ahead of time. But how do you organize your research?
In this post, I’ll teach you a simple tip I learned from Dr. Kevin Keller that will help you frame your positioning research in a way that will ensure you find the answers you need.
When doing research to inform a brand positioning project, I am not satisfied until I can answer the following four questions:
1. What does the brand community currently believe about or value in the brand?
2. What might the brand community believe or value about the brand in the future?
3. What does the organization currently claim about the brand?
4. What would the organization like the brand to become down the road?
Why are the answers to these four questions so important?
Great brand positioning has one foot in the present and one foot in the future. The research we’re doing to answer these questions helps us understand exactly where each foot should be planted.
The Foot in the Present
By studying what your brand community members currently believe the brand stands for and what they value about it today, you’ll begin to understand their current experience of the brand. Yet your community’s experience of the brand can be very different than how you see or talk about the brand inside the organization. So the brand research should study the brand from both an internal and external perspective.
Often organizations will notice gaps or inconsistencies between the brand they claim to be and the brand their community sees or experiences—the brand promise-brand experience gap.
Once you deeply understand what your community currently believes or values about the brand and compare this to what you currently claim about the brand, you’ll have a complete picture of where your “foot in the present” is planted. You’ll see clearly how big the gap is between your brand promise and brand experience. Only then can you begin the work of building brand positioning that closely aligns the brand promise claimed with the brand experience delivered.
The Foot in the Future
But a brand that is only concerned with the present state of affairs is a brand in stagnation. You’ll want your brand to grow, prosper, and remain relevant down the road. So you should also try to understand what the brand community might believe or value about the brand in the future.
What directions might people give you permission to take the brand? Where do they not want you to take it? What would they value in the brand that you don’t provide today? What does the organization do today that people would rather not see you continue to do down the road?
Equally important is that you strongly consider where you want to take the brand. Remember the apocryphal Henry Ford quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Sure, to remain relevant you should deeply understand what the community members want the brand to become, but do not become a slave to their vision. You might have entirely different and amazing places you’d like to take the brand that your customers or other community members can’t yet see.
So, in order to understand where your foot in the future is planted, you should seek to understand both what your community would believe or value in the brand and what you want the brand to become down the road.
Where Great Positioning Lives
Great positioning lives where all four answers intersect. It is a bridge between your current brand experience and the brand you’d like to become in the future. It deeply reflects the brand you currently see while lighting the path to what it could become.
Great positioning lives in all four of these quadrants at once. It can be like the North Star, guiding the organization toward the future, while paying homage to the past and making clear connections between things that resonate about the brand with both your organization and your brand community.
So where should you look for data that will help you answer these four questions and start on the road to great brand positioning?
I’ll share some of the mostly likely sources of data in a followup post.
This is the third in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.
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.
Why does great positioning matter? In my view, there are four key reasons brands should care about 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.
This is the second in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.
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!
Over the last few months, the battle to define the meaning of the word “open” has intensified into one of the more interesting brand positioning exercises I’ve seen in the technology industry (if you aren’t familiar with brand positioning and would like to learn more, consider starting here).
I thought I’d do a quick report from the front lines, diving in specifically to examine the battle for smartphone leadership, and looking at things from a brand positioning strategy perspective.
Google Goes on Offense
Think back to 2009 and the state of the smartphone industry. The iPhone had completely redefined the entire market, while Google was just beginning to see traction with Android and looking at a long struggle to catch up with Apple.
While most other smartphone makers were attempting to catch up playing by Apple’s rules in the market Apple defined (usually a losing strategy in the long term when the leader has a solid head start), Google took a different approach—they tried what now looks to me looks like a classic repositioning strategy.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
A big part of my day job is to help organizations with their brand positioning and strategy.
So when I read the article in the New York Times this past Sunday about TEDx, the relatively new (and incredibly popular) offshoot of the legendary TED conference, I thought it might be a good opportunity to take a closer look. The issue?
Clearly TEDx has been a smart community-building strategy, but will it ultimately prove to be a smart brand strategy as well?
Let me take a few steps back. If you are not familiar with TED (seriously? have you been camping in Siberia?) you can learn more here.
The main TED conference is a place where smart people (with big $$ and a personal invite) go once a year to hear other smart people give short talks showcasing how smart they are. The rest of us poor, unconnected folks wait patiently for the nice TED people to release the TED talks one by one, teasing us like a painfully-slowly dripping faucet teases a man dying of thirst.
And that’s the way it worked. Until last year when, in June, TED announced a new program called TEDx that would allow anyone to organize their own TED conference anywhere in the world.
The New York Times article tells the story of what has happened with the TEDx program in a little over a year:
…there were 278 events last year in places as near as New Jersey and Florida, and as far as Estonia and China. There was TEDxKibera, held in one of Africa’s largest shantytowns in Nairobi, Kenya. And there was TEDxNASA, which had space-themed lectures.
Already this year there have been 531 TEDx events. Another nearly 750 are to take place this year and beyond.
Wow. Now that is community-driven innovation on a grand scale. From one event per year with a small number of people attending at a very high cost to almost two TED events per day, held around the world, and almost every event is free. All that in a little over a year.
I’d call that a smashing strategic success. A soon-to-be-classic community engagement story.
But if we look at the decision to create TEDx from a traditional brand or intellectual property point of view, would it also be viewed as a good strategy?
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
When I hear people talk about how awesome their organizational culture is, I often find myself wondering what sort of “great” culture it is.
For me, great cultures fall into two categories: entitlement and mission-driven. Those “best places to work” lists don’t usually make a distinction, but I do. Here is the difference:
The surest sign of an entitlement culture? When someone tells you why they like their work, they give you an example of a benefit not related to the work itself. Some examples:
I get on-site daycare.
I get free snacks and drinks.
We have great health benefits.
We have a flexible work-from-home policy.
From what I’ve observed, entitlement-driven cultures resonate most with people who have a deeply held desire for safety, security, and quality of life.
It’s no secret that I believe organizations with a strong shared purpose, mission, or vision beyond the bottom line have a huge advantage over those that don’t. I was able to witness the power of a mission-driven culture first hand at Red Hat, and I see these cultures all of the time in the both the open source and design worlds.
Ask someone why they like working in a mission-driven organization, and they are likely to say things like these:
I believe in what we are doing.
I love coming to work every day.
I leave work each day with a sense of accomplishment.
I am changing the world.
My personal experience has been that mission-driven cultures resonate most with people who have a deeply held desire to find meaning in their work above all else.
Can companies have both cultures at once, and be both entitlement-driven and mission-driven? Absolutely!
And a culture where people believe in what they do and enjoy safety, security, and quality of life is the best kind, right? Let me be controversial:
I don’t think that is true.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
When it comes to positioning terminology, I sometimes get questions like “what is the difference between a brand mantra and a brand essence?” or “is a point of difference the same thing as a key differentiator?”
My answer? Don’t get hung up on the words… it’s the concepts that matter.
I have standard terminology I use for brand positioning projects, which you can read more about in my Brand Positioning Tips. I picked up most of these terms from Dr. Kevin Keller, one of the world’s foremost brand positioning experts, and the brand positioning guru we used for a lot of our Red Hat positioning work.
Kevin uses terms like point of parity, point of difference, competitive frame of reference, and brand mantra to describe his positioning process. I like these terms and they have become comfortable for me to use in my positioning work.
But often, I’ll be working with a client who approaches positioning from a slightly different point of view. Perhaps they’ll talk about what I call a brand audit as a brand diagnostic or they’ll refer to the brand mantra as the brand essence.
When working with clients on positioning projects, I operate using the when in Rome principle. I use their words instead of mine. Why? Because they are just words, after all.
What really matters is whether we agree on what the heart and soul of the brand is and what makes it different from other similar brands.
Using Kevin Keller’s terminology to describe your brand positioning won’t automatically make it good brand positioning, and some of the best-positioned brands I have ever seen were probably developed by people who had never heard of a point of parity.
So use whatever words you like as long as you understand the concepts.
For 60+ days, I’ve avoided writing a post about BP. I’ve been devastated, as I’m sure many of you have, by what has been happening in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve all been inundated with news and stories, most of them depressing, about real lives—people, animal, plant—altered forever by the Deepwater Horizon accident.
Why think about brand damage when there is so much catastrophic real damage still happening as I write this post? But after having several people ask me about it over the last few weeks, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts as well as some of the articles I’ve been reading about BP’s brand positioning debacle. It may prove to be one of the most important, albeit sad, brand positioning lessons ever.
My view? Not since the Holy Roman Empire has there been a greater misalignment between brand promise and brand experience than we see today with BP.
Dig deep into your European history memory. Not the Roman Empire with all the togas, nice buildings, gods, and gladiators. I’m talking about the really crappy one that emerged in the Middle Ages and which Voltaire famously described as “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”
If the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, BP has certainly proven itself to not be Beyond Petroleum.
So how did this happen?
In 2000, British Petroleum hired one of the top advertising & PR agencies in the world, Ogilvy & Mather, to help them attempt a global brand transformation following the acquisition of Amoco and a few other small organizations. Their goal was to reposition BP “as transcending the oil sector, delivering top-line growth while remaining innovative, progressive, environmentally responsible and performance-driven.”
Why did I put this goal in quotes?
Because I took it directly from the BP “success story” which is still up on Ogilvy & Mather’s website (someone might want to get that down…update: 9-27-10: it looks like now they have!). The story goes on to say that the launch of the new brand position “far exceeded expectations” and resulted in high brand credibility and favorability scores and two (!) PR Week Campaign of the Year awards.
A job well done.
Except BP’s new brand promise wasn’t even in the same ballpark as its brand experience. Rather than dive into a full analysis here, I’ll point you to some great posts I found already highlighting the brand promise/brand experience gaps:
In the classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Jack Trout and Al Ries, there is an ongoing thematic—the overwhelming value of being #1 in a market. The reasoning? It is extremely hard to dislodge the company that captures a position in the minds of target customers first.
Think about how long Coca-Cola has been the #1 cola (since the 19th century) or Hertz has been the #1 car rental company (since 1918) and you’ll get a sense for how difficult it is to displace the top brand in a market.
As we’ve learned in previous brand positioning tips, a key part of the brand positioning process involves deciding on the competitive frame of reference or references in which you’d like to position your company or brand. I emphasize references because one thing to consider is whether, in addition to positioning your brand in an existing market (where you may not be #1), you should be creating a new market in which you can be #1, because there is no one else in it yet.
Some leading business strategy thinkers refer to this as a “blue ocean strategy” where you choose to create or grow a new market rather than fighting in a competitive one that already exists (a “red ocean”).
From a brand positioning perspective, I often return to a similar principle I call the 1-2 punch.
The 1-2 punch is simple:
Punch 1: Grow the market
Punch 2: Lead the market you grow
Punch 1: You may compete in a frame of reference where you are not #1, but throwing punch 1 means putting your energy into creating or growing a different competitive frame of reference that didn’t exist in the minds of your audience before.
Punch 2: This is where you must really capitalize on the benefits of being an early mover in a market. If you throw punch one (grow the market), but do not effectively land punch 2 (lead the market you grow), you may find yourself in a world of hurt. Let’s look at a few examples:
Ah, late December. The time when bloggers get lazy and start reposting their old crap rather than writing new material. We here at Dark Matter Matters are no exception. For the Dark Matter Matters top 10 posts of 2009, I’ve split the list into two categories. First we have 5 posts that were popular with readers, followed by 5 posts that were popular with, well, me.
Five posts popular with readers:
Five posts that hardly anyone read. Give them a chance, people:
So as we close out 2009, I just want to say thanks for everything.
I’m approaching one one year of writing this blog, and it sure has been a lot of fun. I still can’t believe I’ve written over 100 posts. What has made it the most fun for me is getting to meet lots of new people, while also becoming closer to people I already know.
I’m looking forward to 2010. I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about.