Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

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Position Narrow, Catch Wide

Monday, July 21st, 2014

I think I first heard the above expression from Alpa Pandya, a colleague of mine at Sterling, and I’m happy to give her full credit for it.

Although obvious to the best marketers, “position narrow, catch wide” seems counterintuitive to nearly everyone else. I means that if you want to appeal to a wide audience you must position yourself in a narrow, specific way. Its corollary is that if you try to be a lot of things to a lot of people, you will be nothing to nobody. A friend read the phrase and told me about an old radio commercial that began: “Men! And that includes you girls.”

Another, similar saying: “Positioning is the art of sacrifice.” In other words, done right, great positioning is subtractive in nature, not additive. The road is filled with tough sacrifices you must make if you are to achieve a narrow focus.

Think of real life. The people we admire most are those who stand for something specific. They have a point of view and it’s simply not negotiable. The people who get the attention of the media (for better and sometimes for worse) are also those with a strong, specific and narrow point of view.

In marketing as well as life, it takes nerve to position narrow, which is perhaps why entrepreneurs are so much more successful at it than professional brand managers. Positioning narrow entails finding your core audience, understanding it and building a sustainable relationship. Once you’ve done that, you can enlist that core to help the rest of the world “discover” you.

nike

Ideally, then, you want a core audience that is inspirational to others. Nike is a great example of this. It’s clear to everyone on the Nike campus and across the marketplace that Nike is a brand for the high-performance, highly competitive athlete. That said, Nike also knows that about 80 percent of its shoes are worn by people like me, often simply to go grocery shopping. Why do we buy high performance shoes if we live low-performance lives? Because we all think we have a bit of that high-performance athlete in us. And because we all feel we need to be ready and equipped to perform, even if we never do.

Nike’s message? Don’t confuse your core customer with your target market.

That said, within the organization, we first want everyone to know we are building our brand for our core customer. This is important because we want every employee to know the people for whom they are designing products, experiences and marketing. Ideally, we want everyone to have a single customer in mind. Why? Because life is so much simpler when you are designing for a solitary person instead of a faceless demographic. Ideally, we want every single employee working on the same product experience to have that same individual in mind. The long term goal, of course, is to have everyone outside the organization also understand the individual we are building for- and we want them to aspire to be more like that person.

Once all of this is in place, we then want to reach out to those who can best help us achieve our objectives. This might be limited to our core audience (remember the need for critical mass), but it might just as easily be directed toward those legions of undecided buyers.

In practice, this means our core audience is unequalled in importance. They are the people we are working for, the people for whom our brand is built. With luck, others aspire to be more like them. But that is a completely separate issue from identifying our target market when it comes to communication. In other words, target narrow, reach wide.

Cadillac New Logo

When Cadillac moved to restage its brand, which was (accurately) stigmatized as being only for old folks, the first thing the company did was design a product that would appeal to younger drivers. Cadillac hit pay dirt when rap stars began snapping up the Escalade, and the marketing team quickly saw the opportunity to position the model as the prestige SUV of the hip-hop set. This opened the door to the brand embarking on a massive shift toward high-performance luxury cars that continues to this day.

googleIn what may be the whopper of all narrow product positions, Google has specialized in and come to own a simple idea: Search. In the early days of Google, lots of “expert” commentators criticized this model as limited and overly specialized. But we’ve all now come to see that Search, by sucking away advertising dollars from every industry (all while appearing completely benign) was the killer application to end all killer applications. as we continue to expand our use of the Internet, search will be the one unifying “tool” that almost all activities pass through.

If Google teaches us anything, it is to not confuse how narrowly you position your offering with the ultimate size of your business. Indeed, it’s often an inverse relationship: the narrower the position, the broader the ultimate audience. Just look to Google- the narrowest and simplest of positions, and the widest of all catches.

Position narrow/ catch wide also applies to corporate communications. Way too much PR, advertising and point-of-sale copy is written with the belief that it is possible to convey complex information to its target audience. It almost never works. Not because the audience isn’t smart enough, but because it isn’t interested enough. Instead, you have to focus the message, whatever that message might be. As I used to tell clients when I worked in advertising- you can say whatever you want, but it’s only what they hear that counts.

Strategy, positioning and communication: in their best forms they are all acts of sacrifice.

Stay tuned- next time Austin shares how to Own your new position

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Invent, Don’t Construct

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Analysis is great, but creating true differentiation is essentially a leap of faith.

Differentiation is seldom achieved purely through analytical rigor. Analysis and incrementalism still have their place in business, just not in the actual creation of differentiation.

The answer is to know everything. Strive to be more analytically rigorous than your competitors but also assume they’re looking at the same data and probably arriving at very similar conclusions. As heard in the movie The Incredibles: “When everyone is super, no one is.”

So go ahead and build that mountain of information. After that, climb to the summit and look around. Then leap off. Use science to get  you to the top, art to guide your leap.

That which is static and repetitive is boring. That which is dynamic and random is confusing. In between lies art.

John Locke

Two well-known books by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink) and Michael LeGault (Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye) illustrate this point: you need to think before you blink. You are suicidal if you don’t use every ounce of analytical rigor you have to solve your strategic problem, but you’re delusional if you think that analytical exploration is sufficient for business success. Conversely, anyone who tries to build a business on a “golden gut,” without taking the time to explore actual market data, is a fool.

Information is critical but it’s also ubiquitous. Analysis is a given. True brand differentiation and sustainable advantage can only be found and created in one place: your imagination.

Another weakness of using analysis alone is that it tends to lead you toward so-called red oceans (red because of all the competitive blood being spilled). In other words, when you are led by things you can measure, you tend toward spaces that can be measured- and those spaces are inevitably already overbuilt. Such spaces are almost always red oceans. Blue oceans, on the other hand, are not well measured, and no amount of pure analysis will lead you to them. (Read Blue Ocean Strategy by W.Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne)

This all sounds good, maybe even a bit inspiring. But most marketers operate within large organizations and those organizations aren’t known for following the intuitive leaps of their marketers. Once you’ve made that leap you need to put your analytical hat back on and construct a bridge from the top of that information mountain to wherever you landed. Sorry, but that’s the way it works: to justify your recommended strategy, you will be asked to compare your intended path to paths taken by others- even though the only really successful path with be the one that takes a completely different route (and thus can’t be measured).

To reiterate: analyze the hell out of the situation, make your intuitive leap, and then find the analytical path that connects your landing spot back to wherever you jumped from.

Finally, if you can’t handle paradoxes you may want to stay out of marketing.

Check back in next week for more straight talk on positioning from Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy

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Eccentricity Rules

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Differentiation or eccentricity- you can’t just paste it onto your business with the glue of marketing communication. It needs to be solidly baked into the business. It needs to be real.

Now we move on to my call for a more extreme approach to differentiation. In today’s volatile, global economy it is no longer enough to be different. You now need to be eccentric.

Many of our favorite brands are eccentric. Not surprisingly, their eccentricity often grows out of the fact that many were built by determined and equally eccentric entrepreneurs. Richard Branson of Virgin. Herb Kelleher of Southwest. Howard Schultz of Starbucks. Phil Knight of Nike. Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Charles Schwab. Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google. Steve Jobs of Apple and Pixar. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Sam Walton of Wal-Mart. Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards. Ben and Jerry.

We need to go to school on these people.

These people were (and in many cases still are) eccentric, but they’re also leaders in the best sense of the word. Perhaps they weren’t always the best managers, but let’s not confuse management with leadership. And let’s not confuse planning with vision.

Each of their businesses have more than a clear position; they also have a strong and heartfelt point of view. A point of view considered downright eccentric by some. In addition, the people who work for these leaders have a real passion for what they are creating. They have a sense of mission for which they are willing to make enormous sacrifices.

As customers, we picked up on the missions. We joined the movements and we felt a sense of ownership- and we happily urged our friends to join us.

These leaders had an elemental need to build something different. They started something different, hired like-minded people to help them, and then stuck around to ensure that what they built remained different. We also know from their biographies that each one of these leaders were told in no uncertain terms by people supposedly more expert than they that the thing they wanted to build could not be built. They listened and then they did it anyway.

“Doing it anyway” is eccentric.

Most who follow this path actually fail, but the few who succeed become famous- and very rich. Let’s face it: most of us lack the nerve and sheer willpower to be one of these people. But we can learn from them- particularly when it comes to marketing.

In many ways, things are so much harder for entrepreneurs. Using their own money and their own sweat- their passion is on the line. They are all in.

In other ways, professional marketers have the more difficult job. They don’t have the luxury of starting with a group that is committed to their vision. They must convince an entire organization to do something that no on else is doing. They have a harder case to make because truly differentiated positions, while built on logic and analysis, almost always require an intuitive leap of some kind. Once the case is made, that case has to be successful.

True differentiation is a lonely road. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it.

Stay tuned for more on the advantages of difference from Austin McGhie

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A Brand is a Response, Not a Stimulus.

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Yes, I’ve made this point before, but as we marketers are great believers in repetition, I intend to keep at it.

A brand is a collective marketplace response, hopefully to the stimulus of a well orchestrated, focused and attention-getting marketing program. When you develop a compelling position and an associated strategy, you have gone a long way toward establishing the response that you’d like to elicit from your audience. But you still have to craft the stimulus.

And the stimulus doesn’t work in a vacuum, either. Rather, the stimulus operates in the medium of the customer’s mind, and that medium is in turn impacted by everything from the customer’s long and deeply held beliefs to what he or she had for breakfast an hour ago… So you’d better know them both intimately before you start constructing that stimulus. More on this later, but for now, to know your customers’ beliefs intimately means to know them personally. There’s nothing wrong with that big, quantitative U&A study or with customer segmentation research, but there’s no substitute for personally mixing it up with a few real live customers and prospects.

Once again: You don’t build a brand- your audience does. You don’t give a brand to the marketplace- you get a brand from the marketplace. Until the marketplace says you have a brand, you simply have a product. And there’s nothing wrong with having a great product or service. Just don’t mistake it for a great brand.

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Stay tuned next week as Austin delves deeper into the art of Positioning

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Want a Great Brand? Build a Great Product.

Monday, March 17th, 2014

You can only sell sizzle for so long. Sooner or later a person’s got to sit down and eat.

Over the course of a year, strategists from Sterling Brands conduct face-to-face interviews with some ten thousand people about brands. In one study in 2005, Sterling talked to teens across the country about which brands they felt were the “coolest.” Actually, the team introduced them as brands, but the teens consistently responded by calling them products. Keep in mind, these teens are some of the smartest consumers to ever walk the planet. They totally understood the concept of brand, but they invariably started with the quality of the product or service.

For example, the Sterling team talked to these teens about Microsoft. Now, if you’re an adult, that particular brand carries baggage. Back in the 90s, Microsoft was perceived as a bully. It cast FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) over the competition, then showed up late with a product in need of improvement. But to teens, Microsoft was about success, ubiquity and utility. For them, Microsoft worked, and it worked well; after all, it made their lives easier. To them- at least early in the new millennium- Microsoft was almost as cool a brand as Apple, but for wildly different reasons.

Then along came the iPod and the iPhone. We’ve literally stopped asking young people questions about which brands are most cool or “get you the most.” The answer is almost always the same: Apple. It gets boring after a while.

Sterling strategists also talked to teens about buying games. In one instance, they asked a boy what might influence him to buy a specific game once he was in the store. The response was, essentially: “You’d have to be an idiot, or an adult, to make your mind up in the store.” Pressed for more detail, the teen explained: “You go online and read reviews, look at a demo, email or IM your friends and then borrow the game if you can. If you can’t, you rent it. Then (and only then) do you put $50 in your pocket and go to the store.”

This chapter could also be called “U is for Utility.” Today’s customer, particularly the younger one, is all about utility. What can it do for me and at what price? Value has always been an implied and personal equation of utility over price. The difference is that today’s information technology makes the equation so much more transparent. Indeed, mobile apps are rapidly transforming information into a new form of entertainment.

With information ubiquitous and accessible from a variety of personal devices, your utility coefficient had better be higher than than of your competitors. Either that or you’d better have the infrastructure essential to support a lower price. You need to pick one road or the other, because information acts to take the middle road away.

To place this in perspective, one study found that just 4 percent of people said they would “stick with a brand if its competitors offered better value at the same price.” Maybe this percentage has always been really low (though I’ll bet it has dropped dramatically in recent years). But the scary fact is that now, whether using their computer at home or their cell phone while standing in the store aisle, customers know the exact price (and utility) difference.

This is critically important, as I still hear people wanting to talk about brand equity or brand essence as if it’s this free-floating construct. Any conversation that isolates the brand, separating it from product or service utility, ignores the realities of the marketplace- and thus risks a tragic outcome.

Stay tuned for more from Austin McGhie next week…

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Great Brands Are Built from the Inside

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

If you can’t get it right on the inside, you’ll never get it right on the outside.

The strongest brands are built from the inside out. The brand simply reflects the culture of the organization in a focused way.

Once, when I presented a positioning strategy to a senior manager of a client company, he clearly felt let down. “Where’s the magic?” he asked. “This simply describes the way we are on our best day.” That’s when I told him that I thought his words were the best description of brand positioning and strategy I’d heard in a long time. Suddenly, we both had a better understanding of brand strategy.

So let me state the point more formally:

Your brand position distills, focuses and bottles the essence of who and what you can be on your very best day.

Some brands begin with a clear view of their positioning from within their organization and build their brand strategy on that foundation – but what do you do when it comes time to introduce a new brand strategy into an existing organization? It’s not so easy, especially if you want to do it right. How do you avoid the skeptical (and typical) organizational response that the strategy you’ve spent so much time developing is merely the latest in a long line of marketing initiatives?

Obviously, the best starting point is to have the right strategy. One that seems real. Not only must the strategy be more than right analytically, it also must feel right to people who know. It must be emotionally compelling. And it must seem to have arisen from the culture itself- even as it focuses and drives that culture.

The right brand strategy screams competitive advantage. There may be many places where a company’s internal culture meets the needs of the external customer, but there are few that actually yield competitive advantage. Unfortunately, the customer can’t tell you which ones they are. It’s your job to find the best of those few.

Let’s assume you’ve found the right strategy, that optimal brand position. What’s next?

1.)

First, you need to recruit your senior management team. This team must become serious brand advocates or failure is all but assured. Most of all, your CEO must become the brand champion. If he or she cannot channel the brand in a natural way, someone has a lot of work to do.

Don’t worry: most serious marketing organizations do this part of the process pretty well.

2.)

The second step is to “operationalize” your strategy. That is, you need to bring the strategy to life in activities that your employees actually do every day. Ask yourself the following questions:

-How does the strategy drive product development and design?

-What about engineering?

-How does the strategy impact the office environment?

-How is the strategy “sold” by the sales force?

-How can HR use the strategy to help hire the right people?

Unlike the first step, not as many organizations handle this second course of action well.

3.)

Third, you need to “launch” your strategy to your organization, typically through some combination of a company-wide meeting, departmental presentations, and internal marketing vehicles such as the company’s Intranet, brand books, screen savers, etc. But thinking beyond the launch event, consider an ongoing media plan that targets internally, just as your external media targets your customers.

It’s a psychologically healthy cult, minus the isolation and chanting, but plus the consistency and repetition. Watch out for inconsistencies and stick to your mission.

Finally…

Take your time. Sell the strategy internally. Build organizational understanding and support. Make the strategy and the brand position a cultural focus inside the organization before using them in the outside world.

Put simply: make it real inside if you want any shot at making it real outside.

Check back next week for Austin’s latest installment on how to build great brands.

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What the Hell is a Brand Anyway?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

“A brand is something that won’t come off in the wash.” - Cowboy’s adage

Now that we’ve driven the B word into a box, let’s look inside that box.

Charles Revson, who founded and built Revlon, is often quoted as saying: “In the factory we make cosmetics, but in the drugstore we sell hope.” In other words, companies and products build intellectual relationships while brands build emotional relationships. Consumers buy products but become emotionally invested in brands. Put yet another way, once consumers are emotionally vested, you have a brand.

Let’s remind ourselves once again: A brand is a marketplace response, not a marketer’s stimulus. You can’t brand something. You can only position it:

-If you manage to create a position that is compelling, different and competitively advantageous, you’re off to a good start

-If your organization has the ability to consistently execute that position, you have a shot at becoming a successful brand

-If that position can stand the test of time, you have a shot at becoming a strong brand

-If that execution stays on strategy, is simple yet powerful, and is somehow kept fresh and surprising over time, you have a shot at becoming a great brand

-If you can do all of this better than your competition, your brand will win

Those are a lot of “ifs,” but no one said this marketing thing is easy- and at the very start of that chain of “ifs”  is the notion of the right positioning. So how do you know if you’ve found the right position?

You know you’ve found the right position when your position is built around a single idea that:

-Is highly differentiated

-Creates competitive advantage

-Guides and inspires your organization and your audience

-Is sustainable over time

-Is provocative, even disruptive to the marketplace status quo

-Can be consistently executed over time, but in ways that evolve and stay fresh

That’s a daunting list and few companies pull it off, which is why we all tend to use the same limited set of case studies (e.g. Apple, Nike, ESPN, Google, Starbucks). Marketing is positioning. Great marketing is positioning that fits all these criteria (and probably a few others I haven’t articulated). Great marketing is the exception rather than the rule.

And you will need to work your but off to become that exception.

Stay tuned next week when Austin explains how Great Brands are Built from the Inside, out.

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Sterling Buzz…

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

kingOur own, Deirdre Davi has been featured on the Pixlee blog!

For the latest insights and thought leadership on the personalized visual marketing space, social media, and the new age of brand marketing– look no further than Pixlee. And check out Deirdre’s article on Content Strategy today — right here.


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Definitions: Communication

Tuesday, February 18th, 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 talk Communication…

communication

COMMUNICATION:

-Presenting your position to your audience in a way that assures its attention is more difficult than many marketers seem to realize. It’s easy to communicate an idea to someone who is paying attention. It’s remarkably tough to accurately communicate an idea in a way that captures the attention of someone who doesn’t care. And by and large, you have to assume that your customers do not care.

-As we’ll discuss, position drives communication. Communication is a stimulus designed to operate in a cultural medium in order to elicit a desired response. The desired response is the position. A simple closed loop- except for one critical factor. People process that stimulus in wildly different ways. What you say is seldom what they actually hear.

IMPACTFUL COMMUNICATION

-Corona’s ongoing campaign to find new and interesting ways to take us to the beach has done a remarkable job of selling the brand. The “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign  has done the same for Dos Equis.

-As the Old Spice Guy, ex-NFL player and actor Isaiah Mustafa has actually made Old Spice cool for the first time in its life.

-But for ongoing communication excellence, it’s hard to get past Nike and its ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy. Time after time, they have managed to hit the creative ball out of the park, all the while maintaining that consistent thread you need to hold a brand together.

-And let’s not forget Apple’s “1984.” One great ad, placed just once, and still being talked about to this day.

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

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Definitions: Position

Monday, February 10th, 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 we help you understand the importance of your Position…

applestoapples

POSITION:

-This is the one idea, or perspective, that you must champion through everything that you do, both internally and externally. It is the idea that will represent you in the marketplace. And whereas you don’t have to have a brand to succeed, you must have a position to do so.

-Needless to say, there’s a lot of pressure on how you position yourself. A position must represent the vision of the company and it must leverage the business model. It must be a distilled representation of the marketing strategy. It must stay true to the customer experience. And most of all, it must be an idea that can guide and inspire the organization, as well as guide and inspire your audience.

-The more your position is driven by a credible sense of mission the better. People may buy brands that don’t have a sense of mission, but they will participate in brands that do.

INTELLIGENT POSITIONING

-Dove and Axe, both owned by Unilever, are great examples of style over substance- and I mean this as a compliment to their marketers. Dove saw that women were sick and tired of the lookalike (read: beautiful and waif-like) models used to promote beauty brands, and presented us with “Real Beauty.” I’m very proud that Sterling Brands helped the brand get there but I would be the first to admit that “there” wouldn’t be nearly as significant if Ogilvy hasn’t absolutely nailed the communications side of things. Similarly, Axe grokked young men and built a highly successful brand out of thin air by simply bringing the teen male to life in every dimension of its brand communication mix.

-In the 1970s, 7-Up successfully positioned itself as “The Uncola,” only to switch agencies and completely lose the script. It confused position with execution, and instead of keeping the position and freshening the execution, dumped the baby out with the bathwater.

-On the other hand, Levi’s continues to want to deny who it is. Its mantra seems to be: “Young people don’t find us cool and they wouldn’t be caught dead in most of the retailers that carry us- but let’s make them our marketing focus anyway.” And while Levi’s fights this uphill battle, Lee and Wrangler walk away with Middle America.

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