Posts Tagged ‘positioning’

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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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Love Me or Hate Me- Just Don’t Like Me

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Positions polarize.

What you don’t do and what you’re willing to give up is often more important that what you do and keep. Don’t be afraid. The better you are at creating a strong, clear brand position, the more likely you are to find a group of people who really don’t like you. As Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

and1

The And1 website used to feature an extreme example of this point. Addressing the meaning behind its name, the basketball apparel company announced: “If you don’t know what it means, we don’t want you wearing our shoes.”

It’s like life: the only way to have everyone like you is to avoid taking a controversial stance on anything. If you are willing to be anything to anybody- to surrender your identity and your individuality- no one will have strong feelings about you either way. You won’t stand out to anyone and you won’t offend anyone. You simply won’t matter. Is that the fate you want?

In business, a dull existence means a weak brand. If you want some people to love you, you’ve got to accept that others may hate you. With your company clamoring for new customers and more business, it takes a certain amount of nerve to deliberately ignore people that many within your organization might consider prospects.

After an American took second place in the Olympics, Nike CEO Phil Knight was quoted as saying,”He didn’t win the silver, he lost the gold.” Polarizing? You bet. Clear positioning? Hell yes! Nike is unabashedly a culture built around winning, and if you can’t take the heat you have no business in that kitchen. Maybe it wasn’t the most sensitive thing to say. Perhaps Mr. Knight would like a do-over on that quote. But more likely not.

Can you find fault with this kind of corporate culture? Definitely. Is this a culture for everyone? Definitely not. Do you know exactly where this company and brand stand? Most emphatically yes.

ems

Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) is an example of a retailer that completely lost its way. EMS started out as a genuinely hardcore outdoor retailer for genuinely hardcore outdoor types. But in an attempt to drive revenue, the thirty-seven-year-old company repositioned itself as a mainstream outdoors retailer, stocking its shelves with lots of soft, fleecy and approachable stuff. Well, no surprise: the new me-too retailing didn’t drive revenue. Enter, in 2003, new CEO Jim Manzer, who described EMS at the time as a “Gap with climbing ropes.”

Manzer understood positioning and he definitely understood the need to be different. In the years since taking over, Manzer has taken the company back to its original position, beginning with restoring the hard-core outdoor culture within the company and creating a much more authentic retail experience. Polarizing? You’d better believe it.

EMS makes me think of a new business pitch we once made to Eddie Bauer when I ran Cole & Weber. The meeting spun out of control when I began arguing with the then-head of marketing. The rest of my pitch team was appalled. We had just made a very strong case for the unique and therefore truly differentiating characteristics of the Eddie Bauer brand. I was informed politely that I didn’t really get retail, and that success could only be found in becoming more like Gap (and other similar retailers). I responded that America already had a Gap and didn’t need another one. In my mind I definitely won the argument, but we most definitely lost the pitch. (Did you know arguing with a potential client is not an approved new-business approach?)

And though I lost the battle, Eddie Bauer ultimately lost the war. Arguing may not work in new-business pitches, but “me-too” doesn’t work in marketing.

Polarization is good. Traveling the middle road, tempting as it may be, is always and unequivocally bad. Like people, brands a defined by the company they keep. But they’re also defined by the company they don’t keep.

Stay tuned for more tips to help hold or pivot your position from Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy

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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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Don’t Be a Prisoner

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

prison

It’s easy to become a prisoner of your point of view.

Two very smart people from two very different worlds made this crucial point in different ways. Not surprisingly, one was Steve Jobs. In a 2005 interview with Fortune magazine about companies that were (or weren’t) on top of the move to digital music, he noted: “Some companies are prisoners of their point of view.” (Typically Jobs: small statement, big point of view. That’s just one reason he’s already missed so much.) Ted Levitt made more or less the same point in “Marketing Myopia” a renowned Harvard Business Review article published in 1960. In it, Levitt argued that corporations (and sometimes entire industries) are held prisoner by how they define their market.

Early train and bus companies, for example, defined their business in terms of trains and buses rather than transportation and thus missed out on flight. Similarly, old film studios defined their business as movies instead of entertainment and missed out on television. More recently, Barnes & Noble and Borders defined their business as mere bookstores for far too long and were “Amazoned.”

No doubt Jobs had an ulterior motive for his statement (didn’t he always?), in that he needed consumer electronics manufacturers and others to jump on the let’s-make-great-entertainment-products-that-run-off-the-iPod-brain bandwagon. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t right.

Kids today find the idea of buying and carrying around plastic containers filled with CDs remarkably quaint. They also increasingly find the physically buying and renting of movies to be curious behavior. Music and movies will stay digital, and a very large industry is growing up around their storage, discovery, delivery and consumption. Companies that embrace this transformation will prosper, while those in denial will fail.

Blockbuster defined its business as “physically rented movies.” Despite the sheer size of the franchise at its peak, that definition still put Blockbuster on a very short runway to oblivion. On the flip side, if MGM (the casino and entertainment MGM, not the film studio) had limited itself to gambling instead of branching out into other areas of adult entertainment, it would be a much smaller and more vulnerable business than it currently is.

So be careful. The seemingly simple act of defining the business you’re in can have a profound impact on your strategy- from the business model all the way through to brand and marketing strategy. Defining your business serves to define your competitive set. Most people have a tendency to define their business, and therefore their competitive set, too tightly. They then pay the price when their business is “disrupted” by someone they didn’t even consider competition.

Spend time on this most basic question and spend that time early. Don’t wait for a crisis and never leave it to others to determine when you get around to addressing it. Bring in outsiders for the express purpose of torturing the logic of your market definition.

Finally, if you created an apparently successful strategy and you’re still around because it’s been working, task a couple of young Turks to show you why it’s all wrong. I speak from experience- it’s a case of losing objectivity through strategic ownership. Like it or not: if you’re the author of a strategy, you can also become a prisoner of it.

Define your business, and define it carefully. But consider that definition malleable and invite others to challenge it. Listen. Then create an organizational environment where people are rewarded for challenging the status quo. If someone successfully challenges your status quo before an unseen competitor does, he or she may well save the company.

Tune in for the next installment on shaping your brand strategy from Austin McGhie, head of Sterling Strategy

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The Importance of the Missionary Position

Monday, June 16th, 2014

[Although this chapter is primarily for single of master-branded companies, and less for portfolio companies such as packaged goods firms, I like to think that it has something for everyone]

True differentiation runs deep.

In some companies, the product is seen as the visible reflection of the culture- and, as customers, we sense it.

What we think of as the brand often seems more like a simple lens through which we can experience the tightly focused culture behind it. As customers, we don’t think this cultural connection through very deeply; we just kind of feel it and sense it to be true. Thus, when we sense a culture that we identify with, we also sense a brand we can identify with (and the other way around).

We sense a product or service we want to participate in, not simply buy.

Most important, when we actually do come into contact with this type of culture, the uniqueness and strength of the brand is tangible. You can breathe it; you can almost touch it.

To achieve this, you must build your brand on the inside before connecting with a culture on the outside. Great brands have a sense of mission. They live their mission; they don’t just mouth the words. When you buy the product or service, you are buying into this sense of mission. You are participating with the provider, not just buying from it. These brands have true cultural uniqueness. They have developed ways to “operationalize” this cultural uniqueness and harness it as a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Consider this manifesto from the Burton Snowboards website:

_________

-We stand sideways.

-We sleep on floors in cramped resort hotel rooms.

-We get up early and go to sleep late.

-We’ve been mocked.

-We’ve been turned away from resorts that won’t have us.

-We are relentless.

-We dream it, we make it, we break it, we fix it.

-We create.

-We destroy.

-We wreck ourselves day in and day out and yet we stomp that one trick or find that one line that keeps us coming back.

-We progress.

_________

Think they know what they’re all about? Burton is an original. As a business and as a culture, Burton is a pure celebration of difference.

It’s easy to look at companies like Burton and think that they’re totally unlike your company- that they are an edgy, passionate business that operates in an edgy, passionate category. As a result, it’s easy to think that your category is just not that exciting. But that is cheating. It’s your job to find the drama. Find the passion and bring it! Find a way to apply it to your category and into the very heart of your company’s culture. It is your job to create and maintain a sense of mission. Granted, your job will be harder than that of your counterpart at Burton, who enjoys a supportive and focused corporate culture, but you can’t give up on it.

As an example, take a look at a software firm called SAS, which is consistently rated one of the best companies to work for in America. CEO Jim Goodnight honestly views the SAS workforce as a family. Extensive employee services, including daycare, education and recreation, are all available at SAS’s North Carolina campus. People who work at SAS appreciate the unique culture they belong to, and many talented people who don’t work there would like to. SAS’s culture and moral compass are what really drive its revenue. Low turnover and high morale also drive the company’s top line- and contribute to the bottom line as well.

The same is true of Costco. Costco treats its people well: It pays them better than others in the industry and provides them with a better benefits package. Happy employees, extremely low turnover and a dynamic growing business with a very loyal customer base- coincidence? Not on your life. A brand built from the inside out? Absolutely.

Put simply, there are no terminally dull categories or products. It’s just a question of determination and imagination- and this is the vitally important point that all marketers need to get into their heads. Sometimes the “idea” or “drama” is right in front of your eyes, and sometimes it may seem impossible to find. But you should always assume it is there. Create your brand’s mission. Build your brand and company culture around it. “Operationalize” it.

If it’s real and if it runs deep, a culture-based competitive advantage will stand the test of time. By comparison, a product- or service-based advantage, while also critical to success, will prove more transitory.

I know, I know. That’s easy to say and hard to do. But at least give it a shot.

_____________

Check back for more positioning POV from Austin McGhie, head of Sterling Strategy

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Differentiated Advantage

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Without a doubt, positioning your brand starts with difference- but there are many ways to be different. In fact, any idiot can be different. The trick is to be different in a way that is highly relevant to your audience. Different in a way that creates competitive advantage. Advantage that is, over time, as sustainable as possible.

All of which to say- it’s not easy.

You’re playing the game to win. To win, you need to be better than everyone else who is also playing to win. Generally, we marketers get this fact. We’re very prepared to play to win, but we’re not so prepared to be truly different. Why?

Let’s blame the system. Most of us grew up with similar names, dressed in similar clothes, went to similar schools. We ‘manage’ our differences lest our peers find us strange. We make fun of the odd ones. We fit in. This is why most of our highly differentiated brands were created by oddball entrepreneurs. They grew up different. They thought different. There were different. And therefore they created highly differentiated products and services.

But I digress.This is about advantage as much as it is about difference.

Difference + Advantage = Differentiated Advantage.

If you look at Batman, he’s different because he actually went out and built his own powers. He’s a self-made superhero. But does anyone care? Turns out that kids do, in fact, care. As a result, the Batman brand can position itself through differentiated advantage.

Apple is different because of its elegant design fusion of software and hardware. Bill Gates didn’t think people would care enough about this to overcome a superior business model. He saw it as a profound disadvantage, in fact, and he was almost completely correct- but Steve Jobs took that ‘almost’ and ran with it. More, recently, some have questioned whether, in a cloud-based content world, anyone would care about elegantly designed devices. But play with an iPad, then with a Kindle Fire- you’ll care. Apple is different. Apple is better. Apple has differentiated advantage.

It’s great that Dyson carpet cleaners (and now heaters) are different, but they are designed in a way that is both different and better. It’s nice that Virgin Airlines wanted to create a unique flying experience, but it succeeded because that experience was markedly better than that offered by traditional airlines. Hybrids were clearly a different kind of car, but until Prius designed a better kind of car, that difference was without meaning.

In the eyes of your customers, better but not different can still win the race, but it’ll be hard-fought every inch of the way. Different in a way that your customers don’t perceive as better won’t take you very far.

Difference + Advantage = Differentiated Advantage = Great Positioning

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling’s Strategy team and author of Brand is a Four Letter Word. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for more humble advice on the art of positioning.

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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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Differentiation: It’s that simple. It’s that difficult.

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Strong products and services are highly differentiated from all other products and services.

Never has a sentence about marketing received more head nods and less true understanding than the sentence above. It’s a statement that has always been an accepted part of marketing lore, and one that became fact when Young & Rubicam actually spent the money, build their “Brand Asset Valuator” and proved it.

Relevant differentiation was found to be a leading indictor. (Any idiot can be different. The tricky part is to be different in a way that is relevant to your audience.) Traditional measures such as knowledge and esteem were found to be lagging indicators. These lagging indicators (the ones we seem to spend so much time and money tracking) degrade slowly and can  be artificially maintained through marketing expenditure or price discounting. Thus, by the time they start to fall off, you might already be in a ton of trouble.

I’ve always found it fascinating that the consumer packaged goods industry is so full of B-word job titles: Brand Directors, Brand Managers, Brand Assistants, etc. At the end of each year a lot of very smart brand people get their report cards. Revenues, cases, market share, profitability, distribution- the list is long and comprehensive. But the most important measures are usually nowhere to be found: Is your product or service differentiated in a way that is meaningful to your audience? And did that difference increase or decrease?

In most companies, astonishingly, differentiation isn’t even tracked. Keep in mind, the people behind all this are brilliant people; some are the superstars of the marketing and management world. Certainly they are smart enough to know that important things get measured- and that those things that are measured tend to show up in their evaluations and determine their bonuses. So if difference isn’t measured and case volume is, guess which one gets priority whenever they come into conflict (such as the end of the accounting year)? “You’ll weaken your brand position” almost always loses out to “If I don’t provide a deep discount and launch that line extension I won’t make my volume forecast.”

Brands are built by intelligent and creative marketing. Marketing is all about positioning. Positioning is all about differentiation. Track that differentiation and you’re able to track the creation and evolution of your brand. But don’t stop there. You should also track specific outcomes. For example, track the premium that people are willing to pay for your product over a generic product, and use the resulting data as a proxy for brand strength and use it- along with all the other business measures. An accurate and trended measure of differentiation can be a great tool (see Y&R about their Brand Asset Valuator), but simple measurement and accountability count most in the end.

When I was at Kellogg’s (pre-Brand Asset Valuator, and so long ago it hurts), we simply measured the value of our brands by comparing them to house brand equivalents. The difference in perceived value was measured once a year and then tracked. We were less interested in the absolute difference than we were in the trend. An upward trend meant good brand stewardship, while a downward trend meant poor brand stewardship and the need for intervention.

It really is that simple.

Tune in next week for more on creating real 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.

——-

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

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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.