There’s an old fish tale about an American cannery that was producing tuna with a very pale meat. At the time, consumers considered tuna with a pinkish hue to be the superior product. With pricing for pink and white meat about the same, the cannery found itself unable to move its goods. Management had to think of a marketing move, and fast. They decided to label every tuna can with, “The only tuna guaranteed not to turn pink in the can”. Business boomed and they made more profit than they could ever have imagined. It’s just a folk tale, of course. But it illustrates the concept of positioning. Positioning is what separates you from the all the others in the minds of your customers. When you position your product, service or company, you’re declaring that you are unique in some way. Usually, you’ll appear to be more useful to one sub-segment of the market. You may drive away lots of customers who do not fit that sub-segment, who don’t need the feature that makes you unique. But those who do fit the sub-segment will beat a path to your door … theoretically.
It doesn’t just happen without effort. To ensure you get that happy result, you have to write a formal positioning statement. But please do your homework before sitting down to write one. Developing a brand strategy is basically making a business case that your brand asset should be positioned in a particular way versus the competition. Knowing your market, your purpose, your mission, your values and your competition are prerequisites to preparing a positioning statement. We’ve written about these givens before so won’t get too far into the weeds about them here. To recap:
MARKET – Include every segment whose perception of your brand is important to its future.
PURPOSE – From your market’s point of view: Why are you needed?
MISSION – How do you (will you) fulfill your purpose?
VALUES – Are your values fully in alignment with your market?
COMPETITION – How are they positioning/marketing themselves?
Once you have clarity on the above five insights, you’re ready to position your brand. The positioning statement might be the most important marketing document you will ever write. It describes how you want the entire market to perceive you. More than that, it describes how you want the market to feel about you, viscerally.
Contained within your positioning statement should be your brand promise – that one, unique, differentiating benefit you can deliver the market that no one else can match. The entire function of the positioning statement is to formalize how people should feel about what makes you different. And the brand promise is that differentiation. You want people to feel that you have a fantastic brand promise.
The final positioning statement should be simple. Feelings are primeval, after all. But writing the positioning statement can be a complicated endeavor. Don’t be surprised if it takes many drafts and a few sleepless nights to get it right. But, once you have it, you will know it. It will just feel right on you, like your favorite sweater. To finish, let’s look at a couple examples of successful positioning statements.
STAPLES Center – We’re bringing nightlife back to downtown Los Angeles.*
International Trade Education Programs – We reveal all the doors that are open to students and show them how to walk through.
These statements describe how the owners of the two brands’ wanted their different markets to feel about them. These statements also describe how the different markets actually did end up feeling about them. Because, when these two brands do their marketing, they use the positioning statement to guide their messaging, so that every ad, posting and touchpoint is created to support that desired feeling.
Next week, we’ll focus more on the brand promise itself and examine the qualities that go into making a successful one.
*STAPLES Center has outgrown its positioning statement, I know. But for their first 16 years or so, this positioning statement was spot-on. Then it began to lose its meaning, a victim of its own success. To stay relevant, they’ll soon need to reposition for their next 20 years.
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