Category Archives: Positioning

Brand vs Bland

Branding can be game-changing for a corporation.

Several years ago I bashed UPS for their “What Can Brown Do for You?” campaign. I thought it was vacuous and certainly did not position UPS in the field of FedEx and DHL. What’s more, just like the color, the slogan and the idea behind it were bland. Except for voicing the color there was no differentiation, no relevancy, no idea expressed.
UPS logo

But how things have changed at UPS. Their current campaign, “It’s Logistics” is 100-percent better and on target. They have found a differentiator, a word upon which they are positioning themselves as more than a fast, reliable delivery service. I’d go so far as to say this was the absolute best branding strategy exhibited this past year.

The idea that UPS now owns the word “logistics”, and that it is a function admired and wished to be attained by the corporate world, makes their messaging most compelling to their markets. I’ll bet they’ve found the board room doors open to UPS reps since the campaign began.

UPS is growing strong

But like all great branding victories, I’ll bet this one began by UPS looking at their business – their corporate aspirations, their strengths, their assets and their culture – and developing a strategic plan to make logistics an overriding feature of their services. If need be, they changed the way they were delivering their services (both literally and figuratively). Only then would UPS enjoy the benefit of messaging about their differentiator.

Substance, not sizzle. Relevancy not ruffles.

That’s branding based on corporate strategy and corporate willingness to be customer oriented. It’s what makes brands strong and long lived.

Positioning research – a two-part process

It’s unrealistic to plan your positioning strategy in a vacuum. Remember, you’re positioning against competitors who also have positioned their offerings – with the help of their customers and prospects.

The idea is to find an unfilled position that is relevant and compelling to your target market. Those people actually position you – but you can only help them through consistent messaging and performance.

So to find the positioning of competitors “owning” the attribute customers find important should be the first step in a positioning program, and that really involves two steps: 1) identifying attributes customers crave, and 2) determining how your competitors (and you) are positioned against those attributes.

Identifying attributes customers crave

My handy desktop dictionary defines attribute as, “an inherent characteristic”. And since we’re talking about a brand, not just the product/service itself, we want to explore all characteristics associated with a brand. This includes impressions and feelings, heritage and reputation, associations and experiences as well as the things marketers control: package design, pricing, distribution channels, customer service, environmental impact and social responsibility. All those and others can be thought of as attributes of the brand, and can be influential in the purchase decision and brand loyalty level.

So first, identify those attributes your marketplace perceives to be most important. Focus groups can help in this effort. But I like to do Internet surveys. I get quick response to structured, sequential questionnaires. There are several providers: Survey Monkey, Zoomerang and KwikSurveys come to mind.

I structure the questionnaire by defining the product category and then ask an open-ended question: What factors are most important or desirable when selecting a _________?
Then I provide them with screens of certain attributes, one attribute at a time but rotated so each is presented first, second, etc. For each attribute I ask them to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how desirable, how important and how beneficial the displayed attribute is for them.

After displaying no more than five attributes in this way, I provide a screen of all those attributes and ask that the respondent rank them in order of importance, desirability and benefit. I also allow them to enter a couple of “fill-in” attributes I hadn’t provided. If there are more than five attributes to measure, I rotate them through so that each attribute is presented an equal and significant number of times.

After analysis of the results – usually three-hundred respondents for each attribute – I am ready for phase two.

Determining competitive positions

This is a second questionnaire and research project, but I’ll use the same list as for attribute identification and ranking. Here I’ll first ask who provides the product/service in the category I’ve defined to get a top-of-mind measure of brand awareness. Then I’ll present the top five most important attributes from round one, one at a time. I’ll ask who provides that attribute. And for each competitor (and our brand, too, if I already have a presence in the category) they list, I’ll ask them to rate them against each attribute on a one-to-five scale. Finally, I’ll list their competitive choices along with other major category participants and ask respondents to rank them for each attribute.

From analysis of this data, I’m usually able to rank and position the players as shown in the star chart below.

attributes to determine brand position
Six attributes measured to determine a favorable position to occupy

This particular study was performed in a small market concerning sit-down restaurants, but any market, brand category or territory can be analyzed in this way.

Who “owns” what attribute?

As Reis and Trout expound in the pioneering book, Positioning: the Battlefield for Your Mind, a brand that “owns” a particular attribute – particularly if that attribute can be stated as a single word or phrase – will almost always be the market leader. This research can determine if such leadership exists in a particular market/category. If a brand already occupies a particular position in the minds of consumers, i.e. Volvo equals safety or Wal-Mart equals lowest cost, then you are advised to base your brand upon another attribute, even if that attribute is not as powerful as the leader’s ownership.

This is more than theory. We’ve seen how successful Target has been since they stopped competing on price with Wal-Mart and made “design” their position.

And it can happen in the smallest of markets. In my restaurant example, a gap was discovered that led my entrepreneurial client to open a family-style all-you-can-eat establishment instead of the linen-tableclothed, high cuisine  restaurant he had first envisioned.

Research really is cheap when it can help you position your brand advantageously.

Positioning and perception mapping

Perception mapping is a tool that can aid in visualizing how people perceive a product or service as measured by product attributes. They are usually arrayed on an X-Y axis that compare two different attributes such as quality and price. Here’s a typical example using local restaurants.

a typical, 2-attribute perception map
A typical, 2-attribute perception map

This graph circles depicts American cuisine establishments with O’s and foreign food restaurants with X’s. This example also shows a spot where a new restaurant is considering placing itself. As far as it goes, this depiction can be of use, but more often than not, more than two attributes need to be considered.

So I like to array the attributes in a star diagram. Below is one charting six different attributes based upon a telephone research study. It charts the group’s perceptions of eight different local restaurants.

positioning using a star perceptual map
Positioning using a star perceptual map

Then, specific comparisons can also be made as demonstrated below. I then can isolate various competitive types – foreign or American foods, high-priced or low priced, etc., and consider how they perform by other attributes as demonstrated below.Positioning map for 3 restaurants

I just find this a more complete approach to evaluating, and ultimately positioning, category participants.

Differentiating your brand is strategic, developing an USP is tactical

I believe you should think of differentiation as a company’s strategic position that drives everything: what products are marketed, what markets are targeted and which brands to compete against.
It’s not a specific appeal or offer. It’s not a copywriting technique. It’s not an ad campaign.

Yet I recently watched a video of a “marketing guru” claiming differentiation and positioning had to do with making a unique offer  in a unique way. Those are tactics. They may arise from a strategic differentiation, but they do not drive the business. They are not a brand’s foundation.

Undoubtedly this speaker was steeped in the idea of a unique selling proposition (USP) being the key to successful marketing. But the USP is a tactic, usually a claim. Hopefully it will reflect the difference you have determined to call your own: a position you can own and defend. But that differentiation is more than a certain product quality and subsequent benefit.

The USP is a concept originally made famous within advertising circles by Rosser Reeves, then CEO of Ted Bates Advertising, in the late 1950’s. The agency was famous for driving home a USP with frequency, consistency and an in-your-face presentation. Most famous campaign was probably for Anacin. It featured a hammer banging on a cartoon head to dramatize the problem, then as the diagramed “head” took Anacin, the screen flashed “FAST, FAST, FAST” to demonstrate its USP.

But to really differentiate a company and their offerings from their competitors, a company must make that differentiation a core commitment of the company and the company’s employees. The company and/or its branded products come to stand for that particular differentiator in the minds of consumers. It must identify and adopt this unique, meaningful and desirable position, and keep it in mind with every strategic and tactical decision the company makes.
It is the measure for all activity: how will this activity we’re considering affect our market position, our differentiator?

Some who’ve set good examples include:

FedEx with overnight deliveries guaranteed…
Netflix with no-penalty movie rentals by mail…
Southwest Airlines with a fun, no-frills flight…
Target with good design combined with low prices.

All of these examples have their differentiation as a driving force for their respective organizations. Employees and consumers know what makes the companies unique.
One could define the differentiator as the “corporate culture” expressed through words, image and deed. It begins as the corporate vision and is then translated and transformed into the BRAND and the brand promise by keeping true to the position.
Martin Jelsema

Wall Street Journal brand is losing focus

I picked up the following announcement off the B2B news alert this morning:

“Wall Street Journal’ glossy magazine renamed ‘WSJ.’
“Story posted: February 20, 2008 – 12:10 pm EDT

“New York—The name of The Wall Street Journal’s glossy magazine, slated to debut Sept. 6, has been changed from Pursuits to WSJ. WSJ., which will focus on luxury markets, will be delivered to 800,000 subscribers of the Journal as an insert in the newspaper’s “Weekend Edition.” A spokesman for Dow Jones & Co., which publishes the Journal, said the name WSJ. resonated with both readers and advertisers.”

Now producing and distributing an insert focusing on “luxury markets” may be a smart move on the part of Dow-Jones. But calling it WSJ. ? (Note the “distinguishing “.” That’s part of the name. Does that save the three initials without the “.” for the newspaper? I don’t think so.)

Their rationale: WSJ. “resonated with both readers and advertisers”. 

Of course it does! Anyone having performed any name preference studies knows people tend to prefer the familiar. That’s why most coined-word names perform poorly in research. So they’re going to dilute the Wall Street Journal brand with a “luxury market” insert with a name that means Wall Street Journal to most readers.  It may be aimed at the right market, but not the right mind-set.

This follows an announcement last month stating that the Journal was going to introduce a sports section to the paper. More unfocus. More grabbing ad revenues at the expense of the brand’s solid reputation as a business barometer and financial advisor.

If this is the direction the Journal is taking because of the Rupert Murdoch influence, then I’ll bet there are editors and reporters anguishing over the fate of the Wall Street Journal as I write this. And though I’ve never been a staff member, I can relate.

I mourn the death of another brand built to mean something significant to its stakeholders, but diluted and rendered impotent by attempting to become everything to everyone with the mistaken idea that growth by any and all means is vital. Greed reigns.

Martin Jelsema

Get your Hyundai luxury car before they’re all gone.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article today about Hyundai’s entry into the luxury car market. The piece is comprehensive and addresses the major points any brand-conscious marketer might ask.

You can see the entire article by clicking “Hyundai Bets New Sedan
Is a Luxury It Can Afford”
. But before you do, here are my comments.

First, I’d ask Hyundai if they think introducing a luxury car under their own name (instead of founding new divisions such as Toyota [Lexis], Nisson [Infiniti] and Honda [Acura] have done) won’t “taint” the new model, called Genesis? 

Hyundai is claiming comparison to BMW and Mercedes, but at a much lower price.

Is that an oxymoron? Is a luxury brand sold on value? And can anyone ever think of Hyundai as a luxury vehicle?

 Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury carThe perception that Hyundai had been what my mechanic called a “throw-away” car when it first arrived in the U.S. still persists according to the WSJ article. People don’t know its quality rivals Toyota and Honda. I know because I drive a Hyundai Elantra and love it.

So how can Hyundai introduce a value-priced luxury competitor and have any credibility? Where’s the panache? Where’s the heritage? Where’s the prestige?

It takes a long time for perceptions of a brand to change. In this case there are two problems: the existing perception of Hyundai and the idea that a luxury car comes with a value price tag.

There’s another factor: their timing. Hyundai follows the Japanese “big three” by at least a decade. And the market is trending toward fuel efficiency and “thinking green”. For a company like Hyundai, that would be a better direction to take in today’s environment. There’s where they could make a difference sooner and with more impact and credibility.

Good luck, Hyundai. I love you, but I think you’ve taken a wrong turn.

Martin Jelsema

I don’t need no stickin’ taglines

If you’ve been reading this blog with any frequency, you know I’ve made quite a point about bad taglines, aka slogans.

I’ve ranted about specific examples of meaningless and confusing taglines. My stance was that they should help differentiate a company or product from its competitors. In other words, it should strengthen the brand.

Now I see someone else has the same thoughts. Only he isn’t as negative as I’ve been.

John Moore, he blogs at, made a point recently that establishing a brand without using taglines at all will produce a stronger brand! In other words, let the other branding elements – name, logo, colors, ambiance, story, etc. – carry the message and set the tempo for your brand. Here’s a quote from his blog:

“A marketing world without taglines is about designing interesting customer experiences where people interact with the brand in order to better understand and appreciate the reasons why the brand deserves the right to exist. It’s about realizing a brand’s unique style is its best form of advertising.”

And here’s John’s author box: John Moore was formerly in marketing at Starbucks Coffee and Whole Foods Market; he now runs the Brand Autopsy Marketing Practice. Moore is also the author of the marketing book, Tribal Knowledge. His blog is

Note, too that BrandAutopsy is featured on my blogroll. He’s a pro and provides good insights and information.

Martin Jelsema

Find your niche for long-term growth

I preach the principal of focusing your marketing efforts.

I believe it’s particularly vital for a small businesses to find a niche that they can own and focus their resources and attention on that niche exclusively.

Mostly people nod agreement, then ignore this advice.

There are two reasons, I think.

First, they aren’t patient enough. Understandably, they are cash poor in the beginning. We know the biggest concern of start-up businesses is cash flow. If you can help a business generate cash flow, you are considered an angel. Never mind where the customers come from or how they are acquired or how loyal they may be or how fragmented their needs may be, if they represent immediate cash they’re welcome.

So business owners try a coupon mailing. If the first one “doesn’t work” in generating immediate customer activity, they abandon it and begin listening to the radio salesperson, or the list broker with a sure-fire traffic generator. Flitting from one medium to the next, from one message to a second, from one offer to another, whatever income is produced by unfocused promotions is funneled to another medium promising better results.

Thus, prospects may never hear more than one or two messages. And according to Jay Levinson of the Guerrilla Marketing empire, it will take an average of 17 exposures to your message before prospects will consider purchasing from you.
The second reason entrepreneurs won’t focus is because they might miss some business. Their attitude is that if they do not address “the masses”,  they will leave money on the table. It’s not greed so much as fear that they may be missing a great and on-going opportunity if they narrow their focus.

If you focus upon a specific market segment, fashion your product/service, your brand and your message to meet needs in that segment, you can build a brand and a business that will thrive long-term because it “means something” to your customers and to those they will refer to you.

Selecting the market segment(s) you will serve may be tricky. There are three criteria I believe a segment must meet to be viable
1.       Is it large enough to accommodate your business?
2.       Are the members of the segment willing and able to buy what you’re selling?
3.       Can you readily identify those populating the segment?

It’s worth exploring niche marketing as a major strategy. Just be patient and never fear.

Martin Jelsema