release early release often

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The low-cost, high-value approach to brand positioning research


In my last positioning post, I discussed the four key questions you must answer if you want your positioning research to lead you to effective brand positioning. So how exactly do you discover the answers to the four key questions? Do you need to hire an expensive market research firm and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on surveys and focus groups?

Here is how I think ad-free brands should answer the question “how much should I spend on research?”

I always answer that question with an astoundingly simple approach that became the backbone of our entire brand strategy during my time at Red Hat. I call it the low-cost, high-value approach, and if you were to illustrate it, it’d look something like this.

The low-cost, high-value approach means that you always analyze potential strategies in terms of their cost and value. You then default to choosing strategies first that are inexpensive in terms of time and money yet bring you a lot of potential value, before selecting strategies that cost more, even if they bring you great value.

Pretty simple, huh?

For example, hiring a research company to set up a brand tracking study with 10,000 potential customers for your brand might provide you with a lot of useful information (high value). But the study can also cost you a lot of money and take up a lot of your team’s valuable time (high cost).

If you have the time and money, you might still decide to field the high-value brand tracking study, but only after you have exhausted all of the low-cost, high-value strategies that might help answer those questions more inexpensively.

So, the essence of the low-cost, high-value approach is to default to spending as little time and money as you can and consider high-cost strategies only when there are no other options that will get you the information you need.

You’d be surprised how many organizations are essentially blind to an entire category of low-cost, high-value research options because they prefer to stick to practices they used in the years before better options became available.

The reality is that the last 10 years have given us a variety of low-cost, high-value digital media tools and resources that are perfect for doing brand positioning research and for rolling out positioning effectively. We now have low-cost, high-value alternatives that can provide data that helps us effectively position brands, many of which were not available before the Internet.

Doing research for positioning a brand is less expensive than it has ever been in history. Some people just haven’t received the memo.

So how much should you spend on research?

When you keep the low-cost, high-value approach in mind, the answer to this question should be clear: balance the amount of time and money you put into the research with the value of the brand you are positioning.

If you are trying to position a small web-based business just getting off the ground, you might attempt to answer the four questions with data you already have at your disposal. Perhaps you’ve already done some customer surveys; you’ve just completed a formal business plan; or you and your team even have strong, well-informed ideas about the direction you want to take the brand. You can use all of this preexisting information to answer the four critical questions I listed in the previous post.

But if you are attempting to position or reposition a brand where the stakes are high, especially if the brand is already generating significant amounts of revenue, the information you have at your disposal might not be enough.

If the stakes are high, but your time or money is short, don’t despair. The ad-free brand positioning approach really shines in low-budget situations because you can always take advantage of the “release early, release often” principle that this open, transparent positioning process embraces.

Don’t have any money to invest in research? You can still create a starting brand position by answering the four questions with the best information you have at your disposal. Then immediately start testing the positioning with others in the organization and potentially even in communities outside the organization. Incorporate the feedback, revise the positioning, and try again.

So if you are positioning a small brand, please don’t feel like you need to break the bank doing research. If you consider the low-cost, high value approach while always keeping the investment you are making in line with the value of the brand you are trying to position, you’ll be nicely set up for long-term positioning success.

This is the fourth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.


Is your brand out of control?


I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend much of my time these days doing something I love—helping clients position and manage their brands. My experience helping build the Red Hat brand over ten years had a profound impact on the approach I take to brand positioning.

In the past year, as I’ve applied open source principles I learned at Red Hat to brand positioning projects in many different types of organizations, I’ve started thinking a mashup of classic brand positioning concepts and tenets of the open source way might help provide some clues for how brands might be better managed in the future.

I’ve put my time where my mouth is, and am currently in the process of writing a book entitled The Ad-free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World, which will be published this fall.

Rather than writing the book behind closed doors and only revealing the finished product, I thought I’d share some of my ideas with you along the way, taking a cue from the open source way and releasing early and often.

Today, I’d like to explore the traditional role of brand positioning, and share some ideas for how I believe it might change to remain relevant in a digital world.

Audience or Community?

Typical marketing experts would define positioning as the art of creating meaning for a brand that occupies a distinct, valued place in the minds of members of a target audience.

But is the idea of an audience for brand messages outdated? Certainly in the heyday of traditional advertising, brands had an audience. The brands spoke, consumers listened… or didn’t.

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Does transparency really have to start on day 1?


Open source folks often talk about transparency as a key part of the open source way. And if you ask most good open source folks when a project should start being open, they’ll say it should be open from the very beginning.

Linus_Torvalds.jpegBut what does that really mean?

Let’s look at the example of one of the most famous and successful open source projects (and one that is close to my heart), Linux.

Back in January, I wrote a post that broke down the first message Linus Torvalds ever sent out to the world about Linux into some of the key concepts that would become central to the open source way. Linus created a blueprint for the open source culture in the tone of his first email, long before the term “open source” was even coined.

Here again are the first few lines of his initial Linux post from August 25, 1991:

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Fedora fails… and that’s a good thing!


Great post by Red Hat’s Karsten Wade on the role of failure in Fedora (and in life). One of the key tenets of both the open source and design thinking movements is the logo_fedoralogoidea of “failing fast.” To innovate, we need to overcome the fear of failure, and learn how, as Karsten notes, failure is a sign that we have pushed things to their limits. Because that’s where you have to be if you want to innovate:)

One of the gurus of the failing fast mentality is David Kelley of IDEO— the guy who started the Stanford “d-school” and a leader of the design thinking movement. Here’s a Fast Company article from a couple of years ago where he talks some more about how to suceed by failing fast.

Matt Asay on the Red Hat Mission


Matt Asay just posted about Red Hat’s new mission, which he discovered on a visit to our Westford office in one of our “bathroom briefings” (important aside: we post some internal company news right front and center in the bathroom… if you want people to read something, post it in the bathroom– not everyone reads mailing lists, but everyone pees! Remember, internal communications is a strategic role at Red Hat!).

It’s not a secret, so I don’t mind that he saw the mission or posted about it. In fact, we are pretty happy with the transparent process we employed to get it done. Those of you who have read some previous posts know how strongly I feel about having the entire company aligned on mission and vision and values– the core stuff.

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The open source way


At heart, Red Hat is an open source company.

Now that will either mean something to you or it won’t. If you aren’t familiar with open source, there are plenty of good sites that will teach you better than I will.

osway1If you are familiar with open source, you are probably also familiar with some of the key concepts. I try not to be too precise about defining open source. To me, it is basically a DNA soup of related ideas which, when put together, make up the open source way. It is almost like a cultural map for a way of working and operating. Continue reading

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

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

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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