Posts Tagged ‘difference’


Definitions: Business Strategy and Marketing Strategy

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

We throw around a lot of jargon in the business world, but do we truly know what we mean when we talk about ‘Vision’, ‘Business Model’, ‘Position’?
We’re going to talk a lot about Positioning on The 3rd Button in the coming months, but we’ll spend the first few weeks with a clear definition of terms.
Today, let’s get our strategies straight…

We throw around a lot of jargon in the business world, but do we truly know what we mean when we talk about ‘Vision’, ‘Business Model’, ‘Position?’

We’re going to talk a lot about Positioning on The 3rd Button in the coming months, but we’ll spend the first few weeks with a clear definition of terms.

Today, let’s get our strategies straight…



-Driven by the vision and business model, the business strategy is the blueprint that outlines how you will go to market.

-Exactly how will you deploy the business model in a way that creates sustainable competitive advantage? How will you create and deploy products and services? How will you support that deployment?


-Driven by the vision, business model and strategy, the best way to compete in the marketplace is through the intelligent use of marketing. If, by analogy, your business model and strategy are your Order of Battle (i.e. your army, its resources and how you will deploy your troops) your marketing strategy is closer to the territory over which you will fight, whom you will fight and how you will take that fight to them in order to win.

-Keep in mind that building a brand is not mandatory. Building a brand is a strategy, not an objective.


-ESPN wrote the book on this one. Combine a niche you can own with an attitude that shows you own it. Stay true to your strategy and keep it fresh-year after year. While this is easy to say, it’s remarkably hard to do.

-Starbucks built itself as a ‘third place’ rather than a coffee retailer. It also understood the importance of a happy barista. The rest is history.

-Target knew it couldn’t assail Wal-Mart on price, so it introduced a line of name designers dedicated to creating ‘cheap-chic.’

-When Fox News decided to focus on an audience that perceived itself as underserved when it came to media, it became an opinion leader for the right. You may not love the network’s politics, but you have to admire its marketing savvy.

-Pepsi just couldn’t beat Coke- until someone realized Pepsi was sweeter and could beat Coke in a blind taste test. The ‘Pepsi Taste Test’ made history, partly because it was smart marketing strategy and partly because the other guy blinked.

Stay tuned for our next term as defined by Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy


How to Beat the Start-Up Fatigue

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Start-ups are everywhere, “entrepreneur” is the new cool-guy job, and Ashton Kutcher is doing his Steve Jobs impersonation on movie screens all over America. Even though it’s an exciting time for business and a really exciting time to be a consumer, it’s hard not to have some kind of start-up fatigue.

Branding and brand strategy are essential tools that can help fledgling companies cut through the clutter. We all know that big, established companies have a lot to learn from start-ups in terms of staying nimble, driving innovation, and thinking about things differently. But start-ups can learn a lot from big companies, too.


What kind of brand do you want to be? If you are a tech start-up, the brand values that might come to mind are intuitive, optimistic, straightforward, and maybe a bit cheeky. But you are not alone in identifying with those values – these have become category conventions. They are assumptions, not equities. To live in the hearts & minds of consumers, your brand must stand for something unique. Tuckernuck, an online boutique, feels like a real-world brand because it has identified its college-prepster voice and speaks it unapologetically. Figure out what is unique and true about your company upfront, and all your creative decisions will become a lot easier.



Even if you are working in technology, your brand no doubt stands for functional and emotional benefits that live in 360 degrees (not just on someone’s iPhone). So decide what those values look like in the real world. It helps to think visually. Color, for example, is an essential brand tool. If your company was a store, what would it look like? What makes it look different than the stores around it? What can you own? Warby Parker didn’t just create a smarter way to buy eyeglasses, they created a modern library. Don’t forget to build in these essential visual brand cues.


I imagine that one of the best things about entrepreneurship is being able to invest your energy in products or services that really matter to you. If you wouldn’t personally use the output of your efforts, you probably wouldn’t be there. That’s why it is worth reminding all entrepreneurs that you – and people with similar attitudes, behaviors, and means – are not necessarily your target audience. Your target may include you, but it doesn’t have to be limited to you. So you can’t rely only on your personal intuition when developing and branding your product, you must work to define your target, work to get their feedback, and work to listen to them on as many decisions as possible.

Big CPG companies require qualitative and quantitative consumer verification on almost every product decision, from basic product concepts that will never see the light of day to marketing executions. We can’t expect consumers to validate all of our decisions, and we are braver and better companies if we manage to take consumer feedback with a grain of salt. But expecting branding to be entirely intuitive is short-sighted at best. Do people actually want what you are selling, or are you talking to yourself?


Many startups invest in a lifestyle brand approach, which means they build in non-essential components like shareable editorial content and feel-good charitable partnerships. Buy a sock, send a sock! It’s important to understand the role of these investments in driving your brand – if they are startup clichés, they are category antes, not differentiators. Activities you have to do to even get in the game are not activities that are going to set you apart. You may need some new tricks if you want to attract the attention of publicists, and consumers too.

Sarah Birnbaum, Sterling Design Intelligence


Brand Positioning- Time to Turn Up the Volume

Friday, February 11th, 2011


Almost all agencies worth their salt include it as one of their core competencies. Almost every client of any sophistication acknowledges its importance. And yet, it seems to me, as an avid brand follower, that the topic of brand positioning and the accompanying benefit to the end user of meaningful difference, is totally absent from the everyday debate and chatter about brands.

Big question:  If brand positioning is that important and if it is so widely practiced, why the silence?

In my view, there are a number of reasons:

1.    The business of positioning is a fundamentally strategic exercise and over the past 10 years at least, the marketing community has become more and more interested and focused on the executional aspects of branding. Strategy, while appreciated, just doesn’t have the same sex appeal.

2. This point has been further exacerbated by what I call the “manliness factor” that still pervades many agencies today. A typical response would be along the following lines– “of course we can do positioning…I mean it’s strategic. That’s what we are, that’s what we do, isn’t it?”

3. More recently, we’ve all become (understandably) obsessed by digital and social media and these two together have turned up the volume so loud that almost every other topic in the marketing arena has suffered.

4. The topic of positioning has been further diluted by the absence of a champion. Many of us still remember the Ries & Trout book on positioning that was published in 1981, yes 1981. That’s 30 years ago. And the book is still in print and still being read. For a few years in the ‘90’s, Tom Peters took up the cause but since then, nobody has become famous talking about positioning.

What makes this situation even stranger is that consumers really value the importance of difference in a brand and in a 2010 research study that we undertook at Sterling Brands among 4000 US consumers, many were able to articulate the nuances between brands. They saw Pixar, Wii, Apple, Lego and Google as being very different. At the other extreme, they saw Citi, Bank of America, Capitol One and Chase as being almost totally interchangeable. The point here is that difference (aka positioning) continues to be important to every audience, whether it be agency, brand owner or end-user.

With no common standards and no agreed definition of what it means, everyone has set up their own version of positioning. And the result is exactly what one would expect…chaos! It is common in our work with clients to be handed historical or current positioning documents and this is where the problem can be seen more clearly. For example:

- on many occasions, positioning work authored by advertising agencies is not so much brand positioning but more communications positioning and yet it is referred to as ‘brand’ positioning

- when we see the work of digital agencies, positioning is often focused on just the digital opportunity, not the broader brand opportunity

- when we see the work from some other agencies, we sometimes see tag lines presented as positioning

- and sometimes clients conduct their own positioning and guess what, it’s often done by committee and the 300 words that go to make up the final prose often end up in inactionable jargon

Now please do not take this ranting as criticism of any of our competitors or any of our clients. That’s not the point. The real issue here is that positioning is a critical step in building successful brands and yet there is no single agreed approach that is contemporary and relevant to the times in which we live. With so much lack of consistency, we feel it’s time to bring some rigor and some discipline and some innovative thinking to positioning development. This would be good for everyone involved because it would level the playing field and the real leaders in positioning would emerge naturally from the marketplace and the faux ‘positioners’ would also naturally disappear.

It will take some sort of revolution to make this happen and it may not happen anytime soon but we’re ready, willing and able to be at the forefront of this positioning revolution. Anybody else like to join us?

Simon Williams


Off-the-beaten-path, On-brand-Initiative: Well Done, Volkswagen.

Friday, July 9th, 2010


As consumer pressure for corporate responsibility rises, many companies are scrambling to find their cause.  (more…)


Elevating the Thinking on Difference

Thursday, June 10th, 2010


I am not usually asked to review books and I wasn’t this time either!! But I spotted Professor Youngme Moon’s new book entitled “Different – Escaping the Competitive Herd” at an airport bookstand and the minute I saw it and held it in my hand, I knew it was going to be a good reading experience. (more…)


10 Brands that are Beating the Recession… Big Time.

Friday, October 9th, 2009

When we launched this blog, one of the objectives was to keep things focused on the positive. So, with the help of other sterling-ites, this week I put some concentrated thought into creating a list of major brands that, in our view, have beaten the recession…at least so far!! (more…)


Gogo Inflight Internet – Proving that Difference Does Build Traffic

Friday, September 25th, 2009


I am one of those sad band of people who do a lot of flying – almost all of it from coast to coast and specifically from New York to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. In every case, I use American Airlines, the preferred carrier for our company. (more…)


Why Positioning? Why Now?

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I am going to start with a prediction, namely – if your brand is positioned in the same way that it was this time last year, you might need to change. Just think about where we’ve come from over the past 12 months or so…

+ despite ‘greenshoot’ talk, the economy is still a complete and utter mess

+ companies are reporting reduced profits…with all of the implications involved

+ consumers are threatening to permanently buy less stuff, including yours

+ competitors are in varying degrees of hurt – some have already given up

+ your own business is likely feeling the pinch – in case you hadn’t noticed!!

Put all of these factors together and what we have is an entirely new and different marketplace. A marketplace where many brands are misaligned and where only the strongest brands will survive…and strength in this context means well positioned with clarity and focus.

It is one thing to try and explain the reasons why many brands have become de-positioned, it is another to understand why so many companies appear to have been so reluctant to act. The strange thing is that the signals are often there for us to see…let me explain using inspiration from Jeff Foxworthy:

- if your category has been seriously disrupted (think insurance, financial services, luxury hotels, smartphones), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if one of your leading competitors goes belly-up (think Circuit City, Linens ‘n Things) or emerges successfully from bankruptcy (think GM, Bally Fitness), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if your category experiences a major merger or acquisition (think search Yahoo!/Microsoft, think system computing Oracle+Sun or media Thompson Reuters), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if your competitors are offering better value in these recessionary times (think Wal Mart, Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if your competitors have recently launched groundbreaking new products (think iPhone Apps, Kindle 2, Zyrtec, Greenworks), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if your customer base is moving on (think Starbucks, Harley Davidson, Newsweek), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if the attitudes and behavior of your consumers is changing (think boomers, think sustainability, think frugal), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if you are a business that has taken a bullish approach to growth (think General Mills, Hasbro, Hyundai), then you might need to reposition your brand

- if your core consumer can no longer afford you (think Mercedes, Nordstrom, Vera Wang), you might need to reposition your brand

There is nothing in this list that is particularly surprising and I, for one, am hoping that the destruction of $13 trillion of consumer wealth, coupled with what looks to be a profound and permanent change in consumer behavior, will be the catalyst over the coming months for a resurgence in positioning. Why? Because it’s arguably the most important strategic work that any marketer does and it would be invigorating to witness more time and money being devoted to this task rather than being poured into the executional pit that many of us seem addicted to.

At the end of the day, there are a large number of brands that are not achieving their true potential – either because they are insufficiently different or because they are just not optimally positioned. We’d like to change this. We sit today at a major inflection point where almost everything in our marketplace over the past 12-18 months has moved on – what a wonderful opportunity to reassess our priorities and to make positioning the number one task for brand success.

Now that would get the “reset economy” restarted.

Simon Williams