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This is my archive

The Godfathers Of Positioning

I try to make every fifth blog post about positioning. That means I write about positioning quite a bit. Not too long ago, a reader commented that I hadn’t innovated anything new. He pointed out that Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the book on positioning, with the apt title, Positioning, back in the sixties. I was horrified at the implication that I was somehow plagiarizing their work. Far from it. I only attempt to spread the gospel. Positioning, as a tenet of marketing, is so completely accepted, and its prophets so highly revered, that I always take it as a given that readers know who they are and that they are true giants of marketing. After all, you don’t have to credit Marx and Engels every time you mention Communism. You don’t have to explain who Abbot and Costello are every time you reference the Who’s-On-First routine. Be that as it may, I’d like to take this opportunity to pen a brief appreciation of Messrs Ries & Trout – and celebrate their achievement, educating us on one of the most important marketing insights ever. Read More


Find Your Rapid-Growth Purpose Category – Key To Successful Brand Positioning

NOTE: This blog post is reprinted from December, 2016. Reading recommendations below and in sidebar are new.In his incredibly valuable book, Grow, ex-Procter & Gamble Global CMO, Jim Stengel, identified the 50 fastest-growing companies worldwide – now, known as the Stengel 50 – and sleuthed out the one characteristic they all held in common, the one thing that explained their phenomenal growth. After a decade-long study, he found these businesses crossed all sectors and industries, originated from many continents and countries, subscribed to all manner of management philosophies, sourcing, hiring, manufacturing and distribution practices. In the end, he determined they shared only one trait – they all rooted their company values in what Stengel calls the “Five Fields of Fundamental Human Values.” That is, all 50 of these businesses declare, as their originating purpose, a dedication to one of five categories of values. Stengel purists may object, but we’ve found it helpful to simplify the assertion. Let’s just say every business has a purpose and there are five categories of purpose that can be associated with rapid growth. So the question then becomes, can your brand be positioned in a way that aligns with one of these five rapid-growth purpose categories? Read More


How Social Purpose Affects Brand Positioning

Marketing 2020 – Organizing for Growth is a comprehensive global marketing leadership initiative led by Kantar (formerly Kantar Millward Brown) in partnership with some other leading organizations. Already, their research has turned up some interesting, if not surprising, insights. I should say the findings are actually unsurprising to those of us who have been studying positioning and brand purpose for a while. Those who have only a passing interest may indeed find the research results to be eye-opening. It comes down to social purpose which is a cause a business may adopt in order to help make the world a better place. This differs from brand purpose, which is the purpose a market assigns to the brand, as in “I engage with the XYZ Brand to fulfill this purpose in my life.” Brand purpose has been around forever although marketers only started thinking about it in modern times. Social purpose is a relatively new phenomenon and, as such, hasn’t been studied all that much. But the folks at Marketing 2020 have taken a comprehensive look and guess what? Turns out that brands that adopt a social purpose actually do outperform those that do not. Read More


Auto Brands Facing Disruption

It’s clear to everyone by now that the auto industry is in the painful throes of explosive, disruptive change. Even the near future of the sector is difficult to predict. There are so many new forces impacting the industry, no one can yet say what a future car business will look like, or whether there will be one at all. The climate crisis is the primary “driver” of the change. It’s clear that auto emissions, worldwide, must be brought down. That leads to efforts to build fleets of electric vehicles even though it’s uncertain if the market for so many EVs now exists. It also inspires experimentation with hydrogen propulsion and other clean energy options. But that’s just the beginning. Safety concerns lead to experiments with much better-performing self-driving vehicles. When all this is perfected, one won’t need to own a personal vehicle. It will be cheaper, easier – and cleaner – to simply engage with a public transportation infrastructure, greatly reducing the number of vehicles sold each year. Where will that leave the car companies? And is this what the market wants? Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, blockchain, internet of things, 5G networks – all these exciting new technologies are pushing and accelerating the transformation. The breadth and depth of this kind of market-transforming upheaval is sure to have profound effects on the auto brands – the shared relationships between the car companies and their markets. The big media companies are grappling with this kind of large-scale disruption too. What about where you work? Think your industry is immune? Of course not. You’re probably also already seeing the writing on the wall. Read More


Finding “Open Space” For Your Brand’s Positioning

Open space. White space. Unclaimed territory. You often hear these metaphors when discussions of brand positioning are on the table. Obviously, no one is talking about actual geographic positions here. We’re talking about positions in the market’s collective mind, otherwise known as mindshare. But, mindshare alone, as valuable as it may be, is not enough. It only means that the market knows who you are. That’s it. If Oprah Winfrey only had mindshare, it would just mean we know she’s a celebrity. But there’s so much more to know about her. She’s a media mogul, she’s a self-made billionaire, she’s universally beloved, etc. A business wants to be known, true. But a modicum of fame is not enough to build a powerful brand. You have to be known for something. Like Oprah is known for something. Like Malala Yousafzai is known for something. Like Elizabeth Taylor is known for something. We experience all three of these famous women in unique and memorable ways. We wouldn’t want any one of them to be more like another. That’s how a business needs to be perceived. That leads to a powerful brand. Read More


5 “Easy” Steps To A Great Brand

I was recently invited to submit an outline for a publication entitled “5 things you need to do to create a believable, trusted and beloved brand”. The invitation quoted Seth Godin as defining a brand as “an implicit promise”. I think Mr. Godin has it about right – mmm, almost. And that's the problem with these kinds of queries. Everyone will be basing their submissions on a different definition of brand. There is no definition of "brand" that is universally accepted. But the whole exercise sounds like fun so I’m going to submit anyway. My five steps are at the end of this article. But we’ll have to start with my definition of what a brand is because that’s what informs my five points. I tell all my clients to memorize these six words: “A brand is a promise kept.” I tell them that’s the most profitable way that they could define the term when thinking about their brands. You have to know what your brand promise is. You have to communicate that promise to your market. And you have to keep your promise. To see how it works, let’s first parse the sentence. Read More


Formalize Your Brand’s Positioning Statement

Every business (or product, service, campaign, event, project, nonprofit, whatever) that needs to be marketed, has to do what it can to minimize competition and maximize income. This requires the organization in question to position itself properly within the vast landscape of brands that are out there. The world is full of other brands, competing, commanding attention, cluttering up the minds of buyers. In such a world, no brand can succeed for long if it is not positioned in a way that makes it most attractive to its best prospective customers while also putting its competition at a disadvantage. Proper positioning takes some effort. No one person can be in command of all the competing narratives in the world, so you can’t just trust your instincts alone. Every marketable asset needs a formal brand positioning statement. Read More


Where Is The Open Territory For My Brand?

The question comes up all the time. A widget manufacturer faces stiff competition. It struggles to find a way to differentiate its offerings. How can it find its market when all the customers seem to prefer the other guys? The answer lies in the old, baseball adage, “Hit it where they ain’t.” The competition can’t be all things to all people. They can’t be everywhere at once. Somewhere there’s an opening that this widget builder can exploit. It could be that, somewhere, there’s a portion of the market that is underserved by the big guys. That sector would welcome a new player that specializes in their concerns. Or it could be the challenger business builds its widgets with a distinguishing feature, or by using a new process or because of a unique history – or something. The differentiator is there. It always is. The trick is to sleuth it out. Read More


Can You Teach An Old Brand New Tricks?

I recently met with the owner of a consumer goods business – let’s call it OldCorp – that is 90 years old. It’s a family business. He’s the second generation at the helm. His parents bought the firm, in a distressed sale, during the Great Depression. Back then, very little attention was paid to branding. You just slapped a label on your product and went door to door, trying to get retailers to stock it. The family did well for themselves that way, growing the business into a regional player. Today, they’re a good, solid business, but still a regional player. That would be fine except, in the intervening decades, two competitors have grown to national prominence. One other has become a much better-known regional force. While OldCorp can still count on its regular customers to keep it going. It can’t grow because most consumers can name the top three brands in the market but can’t ever think of the fourth – OldCorp. It finds itself in the awkward position of being a 90-year-old challenger brand. Is it too late for it to make a run at the market leaders? Read More


Your Brand – Cheap Or Boutique?

OK. This bit is for all the startups and small businesses out there. And maybe for one or two middle-market businesses too. But most middle-market firms, and certainly all the big businesses, have already learned this lesson: Don’t EVER be the cheapest solution! That is the kiss of death for any brand. Consumers and business purchasers always put downward pressure on prices. Everyone’s a bargain hunter. But that doesn’t mean they want the cheapest price. That means they want the best value. When your competitors lower their prices, don’t take the bait! Do your best to hold your ground and justify your higher price by pointing out the extra value you give for it. Let’s say your margin is $2 per unit and your competitor is willing to live with a $1 margin. That means someone else is willing to live with 99¢, And someone else with 98¢. You can see where it leads. Just ask Papa John’s Pizza. Read More