Category Archives: Positioning

Positioning and unique selling proposition: two different concepts.

Back in the 1950’s and ‘60’s there was an advertising cult built around Rosser Reeves, Chairman of the ad agency named Ted Bates & Co., and his book, The Reality of Advertising.

He had invented a term that was the touchstone for the type of advertising he and his agency produced. The term: unique selling proposition, USP for short.

The unique selling proposition was (and is) a single feature or benefit of a product hammered home through ads that focused powerfully and solely on the USP. You’d have to be at least 50 to remember the ads he conceived for Anacin. There was a cartoon arm wielding a hammer to the head of a headache sufferer. Then came a clock face with the hands moving very fast and the single word, FAST, flashed on the screen four times in succession. Then the head become a smiling face signifying the headache was gone – fast.

They were most annoying and very intrusive. But they sold product.

Now Mr. Reeve’s concept of USP has carried on to this day. The idea is still sound and effective in sales as well as advertising.

However, some people have attempted to use USP and positioning synonymously. Well, they are not the same. I hear some marketing people expressing a USP as their position in the marketplace. They treat the USP as if it were a genuine differentiator when in reality it is a benefit/feature plucked from the market research indicating why people have said they buy a product from the product category.

A USP is just what it says it is: a unique selling proposition. It is an advertising campaign theme. Or the canned sales pitch. It is predicated on making a claim before s competitor can establish that benefit as its own. In other words, Anacin was no faster than Bayer, its only competitor back in the 1950’s. But Anacin used speed of relief first and loudly, making it their own.

Promoting a product’s benefit does not differentiate the product in a significant way. If a particular campaign doesn’t work or gets stale, you ask the agency to come up with another USP. The USP is a device, not a strategy.

I once heard a sale trainer in a room of some 300 entrepreneurs claim that you differentiated your product with an USP such as a coupon offer or a two-for-one sale. These may be USP,s but they are not differentiators in the sense of defining a position a brand can occupy in the collective minds of a group of loyal customers.

Al Ries, one of the creators of the term positioning and co-author of the book, Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind, likes to say it’s the single word that comes to mind when the brand is mentioned. For Volvo it’s “safety”. For Whole Foods it’s “organic”. For Sierra Club it’s “environment”. These words come from the essence of the brand. It begins with the corporate mission and the vision for the product. It incorporates corporate values and culture. It’s the brand story, the brand platform, the brand presence. It’s the people associated with the brand at all levels of the supply chain. It’s the leadership of the company and of the brand champions within and outside the company. And it’s the word-of-mouth and status the brand enjoys.

The USP does not normally communicate a genuine product position. There needs to be more than a benefit at the root of the brand and its position.

Lets just sat that positioning is a strategic activity and developing a unique selling proposition is a sales or advertising tactic.

Martin Jelsema

Differentiating Your Brand By Design

Last week I wrote about corporate culture being a powerful branding differentiator. I mentioned IBM, one of my almamaters, in this context and also alluded to their alliance with Paul Rand in developing and policing the corporate brand.

That triggered my memory of an idea Tom Peters advocates in his book, Re-Imagine. He devotes a chapter and a lot of passion to DESIGN. He begins by speaking to product design but then expands his “rant” to cover design in all its aspects.

I agree with his passion and his all-encompassing approach to design. To me design is a definite differentiator of a brand, or at least it can be. Certainly the design of the Dyson vacuum cleaner is the thing that differentiates that brand and demands a premium price. And I’m not just addressing the exterior design and color, I’m writing about the inherent product design here.

When Jack Trout (with Steve Rivkin) wrote the book, Differentiate or Die, he (they) did not allude to design as a differentiator. They did identify “new” as a differentiator, but not design per se. Yet today design has become probably the single best and most appreciated differentiator fore consumers.

Look at two obvious examples: Target has embraced design as their major reason to be. People have come to associate Target with fine design at an affordable price. The furniture maker, Ikea, not only designs unique products, this Swedish company has also designed a unique shopping experience. I’ve not personally shopped an Ikea store, but I’ve heard that it is a unique activity that is memorable and stimulating.

Now in its broadest sense design can be interpreted much broader than product, logo, and store layout. As Mr. Peters declares, design is present in almost all functions of a company. It can be good or bad design, even unconscious design. It can be more than visual, too. Service companies design their offerings. A Wolfgang Puck’s recipe soup is designed. A DVD player’s manual is designed. The financing of a new plasma HD-TV is designed.

Tom Peters advocates that the chief designer within a company should have a seat at the director’s table, or at least participate at the chief executive level. The designer’s input is a strategic activity as much as a tactical one. She or he will help shape the design approach, establish standards, educate employees at all levels and functions, and police the environment to make sure the standards are met consistently.

I for one would like to hear about an insurance company putting a design advocate in a position to influence the various products as well as the way the company communicates, administers, sells and finances their brands.


Martin Jelsema

So what do I know that you want to know about branding?

That’s the question for today. I’ve been blogging about branding pretty consistantly for the past year at TheBrandingBlog. I’ve been showing off. I’ve been bashing some folks. I’ve even thrown a few cudos.

But I’m not sure I’m serving  readers as effectively as I could be. I’d like to grow the readership of this blog> I guess everyone that blogs has the same goal, but with all the years I’ve been around, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of knowledgeSo I’d like some feedback.

Here are five branding subjects. They’re numbered 1 thru 5.

Please review the list and then find the tiny “comments” link below the blog. After signing in, just give me your feedback. Either rank the five numbers representing the topics or list the first one or two you’d like me to address.

  • 1 – naming tips
  • 2- branding strategies
  • 3 – brand management issues
  • 4 – positioning
  • 5 – graphic brand representations

Of course, if there’s another topic you’d like addressed that’s not covered above, just write it down in your comment.

Helping me with this will help you and future readers get the most out of coming back for more.

Martin Jelsema

If I offer a “Choice” have I differentiated my brand?

So I was watching the Broncos lose this afternoon. And here comes another commercial that dilutes, no absolutely destroys, the brands they’re advertising.

I watch commercials with half an eye. When they’re on I’m usually doing the Sunday suduku.

So I’m not really clear about what I saw today. I know it was a hotel/motel chain called “Choice”. I never did get what they’re USP was if they had one.

But the thing that really confused me and caused me to make a note to write this blog – they signed off with the names and logos of four or five different

chains. They said something like “be sure to stop at one of our facilities and then named “Clarian”, “Quality Inn” and others I couldn’t remember even though by now I was fully attentive to their ad.

I had to go to the Choice Hotel web site to identify the other players, and to find out they had another five chains in their stable that weren’t advertised. But even on the website each brand was not differentiated from the next. Each web page was almost exactly the same for each brand.

Here’s the point: advertising five different brand names in the same commercial is really confusing. Does each brand have an identity of its own? Is this a case of egos in an acquisition orgy where the old names had to be retained to enable sales to go through? Did Choice think by retaining five chain names and advertising all five together would somehow help people think of Choice?

Or were they thinking, “If Marriott can have a stable of chains, so can we, and we can retain the unique identities of each of our acquisitions by advertising five at a time.” But Marriott differentiates between their chains. And they use the unifying Marriott name with each. And I’m not sure the way Marriott is doing it is the correct approach to differentiating one from another.

There’s a whole body of work concerning brand architecture and internal brand organizations. Because I’ve mostly concerned myself with smaller businesses, I’m not an expert on brand families and the tensions occurring within companies with multiple brand managers. But it does seem to me that what Choice Hotels is doing is not aiding any of their brands, including the Choice brand.

In fact, I’d say there really isn’t a Choice brand, just as there isn’t a prominent Proctor and Gamble brand. But Choice doesn’t understand that if you have brands in your stable, each should have its own identity differentiated from its siblings. You don’t see Proctor and Gamble promoting Tide, Era, Gain, Dreft and Cheer in the same ad.

I have a hunch that Choice is in this predicament because it’s very costly to convert the diverse facilities to a single brand, and they haven’t the budgets to advertise them separately. I would hope that in the long run they’ll convert facilities to a single nameplate, that within four or five years there’ll be a single brand that’s meaningful to their market members. I hope consumers will still give them a chance when they’ve finally gotten their act together.

Martin Jelsema

Another lame tagline exposed

A few posts ago I blogged on taglines and the thought that they are at their best when differentiating a brand.

Well, I’ve run into another blue-chip advertiser whose adopted a tagline at least as useless as the example I gave last week: “American Airlines: We know why you fly”.

This time it’s MasterCard in the barrel.

I’m not sure how long they’ve been using “MasterCard – the card that won’t hold you back”.

But I can tell you it’s not a very strong competitive position, nor does it resonate with customers (at least with the six or seven I asked about the slogan). It’s not relevant as far as I can tell. Unless one of their competitors isn’t living up to promises they’ve made to customers. I own Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards and none of them have held me back, except that all of them rise interest rates, and I’m pretty sure that’s a function of the bank, not of the credit card provider.  In fact, I don’t know how any card provider could hold me back. It seems to me they’re addressing a phantom issue.

So, what’s the point? It’s a tagline that doesn’t…

Differentiate the advertiser…
Isn’t relevant…
Is not engaging…
Help make MasterCard more competitive…
Seem to increase MasterCard awareness or preference…
And finally, definitely falls into the platitude classification…

Isn’t your reaction to this slogan, “well, I should hope so”?

I’m at a loss. I speculated last week that desperation was the cause of American adopting its lame slogan. Is this the case here?

Or am I missing something.

I’d like to know what you think.

Am I so far out of sync with Mad Ave’s latest thinking that I’ve missed the point? Please let me know.

And if you’ve run in to taglines you’ve found dumb, please share them here. Also I’d like your candidates for great, differentiating taglines, too.
Just click “comments” below.

Martin Jelsema

Get vacuous slogans by the dozen

I commented about the new American Airlines tagline a couple of days ago. I thought it was weak to the point of being inane. Their “We know why you fly” slogan is bad branding that neither positioned the airline nor communicates a benefit. The slogan is a “given” if you’re an airline. It is clearly a platitude.

Then yesterday, a blogger from Selengor, Malaysia, linked up to my site. I followed the link to “A Hermit’s Muse” where I found a nice, iconoclastic “recreational” site. I was curious why she, the hermit, would want to link to my site. I found while scanning the page a link in the right hand column to a site known as “Sloganizer”.

Was this why she’d linked up? Don’t know, but I followed the link and came upon a “randomizer” site which suggested it was the answer to all me tagline worries. All I had to do was type in a “keyword” (name, descriptor, concept, etc.), push “submit” and the site would supply a slogan. “Wow”, I though, “What a great idea.”

So I tried it out.

I typed in “branding” as the keyword and got the following:

 “Branding makes dreams come true”

That didn’t really work for me  – there was no differentiation, just a vacuous, impossible promise. So I tried another time and got:

 “You can’t stop branding”

No good. So again I tried. This time it regurgitated:

 “Branding moments”

What? One more time got me this gem:

“Branding nonstop”

I quit after another half-dozen tries.

So here’s my point: this demonstration of “a thousand monkeys” approach to slogan writing was flawed from the beginning. There was no way the compiler of this database could know (and probably didn’t care) how to differentiate a generic product/service/event, or even impart a distinct benefit. He or she just thought up or borrowed cute phrases that copywriting hacks have foisted upon their clients for years. The creator of this clever – and dangerous if taken seriously – site has actually developed a “platitude generator”.

Like many real-life copywriters, this exercise relys on “clever” as a substitute for “relevant”, “meaningful” and “engaging”. 

You might want to go to the Sloganizer site and try it out on your product, concept, feature, etc. You might get lucky. But I think the lesson learned will be twofold: first know what differentiates your offering from competitors, and two, create a tagline that communicates that difference with power and credibility.

Martin Jelsema

Tagline Panic Setting in at American Airlines?

So it’s Sunday night and I was just watching the Colorado Rockies win their third consecutive game against Arizona. It’s an incredible run.

But that’s not the reason I’m blogging.

I want to comment on an American Airlines commercial that got through my ad filter during the game. Know I didn’t actually see the spot, I just picked up on their tagline, “We know why you fly.”

I immediately reacted: “Well, I should hope so.”

In fact, at least a majority of the taglines I hear today get that same response from me.

I first heard that response presented by Rich Harshaw and Ed Earle of Y2Marketing in a two-disk, no-nonsense mini-course called Monopolize Your Marketplace.

Their point is that most taglines (aka slogans and positioning statements) are platitudes that mean nothing, that don’t engage the audience and certainly don’t differentiate the advertiser. Their test for platitudes is the line, “Well I should hope so”.

Clever phrases that don’t differentiate, or at least imply a benefit, are a waste of money.

Just what had American Airlines in mind with that wimpy statement?

Had research shown that the flying public thinks other airlines don’t know that people fly to get to a destination? That they fly for business? That they fly on vacations? That they fly to visit friends and relatives?

No, there’s something else going on here. American Airlines, at the urging of their ad agency no doubt, believe by making a statement that another airline has not already made, that they can preempt a position.

But it’s not a differentiated position, nor is it one that is specifically benefit oriented. Knowing why you fly just means you’ve done market research. Taking action is what counts. I think they just got desperate. That deadlines were approaching. That they had seen so many tag candidates that they finally accepted one that was least objectionable. I don’t know how else such a lame tagline bereft of concept could have been adopted.

Anyway, I vote for taglines that aren’t platitudes.

And I’ll cheer on those amazin’ Rockies.

Martin Jelsema

Branding a Law Firm to Fill a Niche

Recently on late hour television here in Denver there’s been a flight of commercials directed at motor cycle riders by a local law firm.

Not only have they found a niche, they’ve branded their firm as the law firm for motorcycle-related legal matters.

Their name says it all: Lawyers That Ride.

Not only do the attorneys in this firm know the law and niche their practice, they are involved in the biker community. According to the commercial, they all ride. They wear leathers. They hang out with bikers at biker events. They are bonafide members of the community they serve.

They share a passion with their market, and have looked upon their market as a network of like-minded people.

We all know the lessons of the Harley-Davidson “cult”. We also know that bikers come from all occupations, cultures and backgrounds. But when they get together, they identify with one another. They have a bond and they express it and associate it with the Harley-Davidson BRAND. That’s what makes them a network first a market second.

This law firm, probably started over a beer or two at a biker’s hangout one Saturday, capitalizes on being part of the network in which they are passionate, and which values the unique services associated with legal problems of bikers.

Truly a great case of “Having your cake and eating it, too.”

And though the commercial is pretty amateurish in production values, the message comes across with impact: If you’re a biker needing a lawyer, call Lawyers That Ride. You’ll be with attorneys that know and relate to your problem.

Niche marketing means you must belong to the niche to be truly successful.

Martin Jelsema