Tag 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.

Branding with a USP is Short-Sighted

From the late 1950’s, the term Unique Selling Proposition, more informally known as USP, has been part of the advertising and marketing jargon. I believe it was coined by Rosser Reeves, head of Ted Bates Advertising, and best exemplified by the commercials for Anacin. Bate took the major advantage of this headache preparation, speedy relief, and presented over and over and over. It demonstrated the headache by a hammer to the side of the head with an animated diagram while the word “FAST” was flashed un-screen time after time.

Anacin USP was fast relief, but where are they now?

Thus, Anacin claimed and defended this USP for a number of years. But along came Tylenol, followed by Advil, and then Aleve and a host of others. Anacin couldn’t keep up. And look where that brand is today. I don’t know the numbers, but one indication of its popularity: no longer does it advertise on TV.

The USP is a tactic

The unique selling proposition should not be confused with a positioning statement. The USP is just what it says – a sales proposition that no one else is promoting at the time. It’s a short-range competitive tactic. It may take competitors quite some time to discover that a particular USP is helping a marketer boost market share, and another little while to counteract that USP with an offering that’s even more attractive. Devising and broadcasting a new theme (USP) is done very well by most advertising agencies. I’m of the opinion that that’s the only value provided by today’s agency. (That’s the subject for another post rater.)

The positioning statement, though not necessarily a consumer message, is a statement of what you’d want your brand to be. If Anacin had adopted a positioning statement that read: We will do all in our power, through research, development, production and packaging, to always have the fastest pain reliever on the market, then Anacin would have won that position in the minds of consumers by consistently demonstrating their dedication to fast pain relief through their actions. With that kind of mind set, let the agency develop a USP that reinforces the positioning statement.

The positioning statement is strategic

The commitment of any organization to provide a consistent level of performance, and to dedicate major resources to accomplish that performance, builds the brand, not a USP.

But today, we still hear those connected with branding use these terms interchangeably. They miss a major difference between a brand strategy and a sales tactic. They also confuse those that aren’t paying attention, namely the executive staff who’s wondering anyway why marketing can’t seem to be held accountable.

I might have stepped on a toe or two with that last paragraph of rant, but it rankles. And don’t get me started on the ad specialty salesperson who wants to sell you a couple gross of imprinted pen because it’s “effective branding”.

Anyway, there’s a place for the USP. It can enhance the brand if it adheres to the positioning statement and the branding platform. And if one isn’t increasing sales, just ask your new agency to create another.

Patrons define the brand, and they’re integral to it

Last week I blogged about targeting your brand to not only attract your most favorable market segments, but also discourage any unfavorable segments. Those are the folks your targeted customers and prospects would be uncomfortable being around.

Bar magnet demonstrates how a brand can attract and repel at the same time

Your patrons are part of your brand

That is, not only is the brand defined by stakeholders, the stakeholders are part of the brand just as much as your name, logo, trade dress and tagline.

In the context of “rubbing elbows”, our primary stakeholders are the customers. But there are also the employees, the retail reps, the associated companies and products, the suppliers and in some cases, investors. (After all, If ol’ Warren is invested in the company it must be doing something right.) So to some extent, all these associated groups are integral to the brand.

Customers reflect and resonate with the brand

Customers and prospects are the single most important group, other than your employees, that shape the brand itself.

As far as market segments are concerned, be very specific right from the beginning. Then determine who that target market would like to see excluded from the “family”. As I said previously, this is especially relevant to retail and services marketers.

Then in developing your brand platform and then your brand elements, attempt to encourage the attractive prospects and discourage folks your prospects wouldn’t want to associate with. This is a tight rope where balance and tact are required, but the messages, however subtle, need to be clear.

And even if an “undesirable” wanders in, your good customers will know it’s just by accident and the incident won’t destroy their loyalty.

I know this is an elitist point of view, but I don’t apologize for raising the issue and offering advice. It is the basis for what some branding consultants call “cult branding”.

Remember, your customers are part of your brand. When others see who patronizes your establishment, it says plenty about who you are. That’s branding.

I’d welcome any comments, pro or con, concerning this aspect of branding.

Corporate Branding is not a middle-management activity

Branding the Corporation needs top management involvement big time!

Corporate brand is executive responsibility
Corporate brand is executive responsibility

When it comes to branding the company, direct access to the CEO and other senior staff members is essential. After all, they are the folks who set the direction, determine the values, vision and mission for the company, and reflect the corporate personality and culture.

So if the corporate brand – aka corporate identity – is to be true to corporate conduct and goals, top management must set the tone and approve both the process and the outcome.

Should outside consultants be brought on board? What kind of structure within the company will be in place to develop and monitor brand activities? How will the brand “age” when future planning is considered? How will new products be branded under the corporate brand? All these issues and more need to be considered by senior staff.

Unless top management is involved and passionate about branding and positioning, there will probably be a fragmented branding effort. You may find the need to modify or even attempt to acquire a new brand identity in a very short time without management involvement in the initial branding process.

Brand Management – where should it reside?

Brand management is usually a marketing function in traditional organizations.

Strategic Brand Management session

Well, it had to start somewhere. The idea of branding products in a multi-product business led to brand managers responsible for advertising, merchandising, supply chain relations, and most importantly, profitability.

Thus, brand management became linked to short-term goals, measured by the fiscal quarter. This has led to many a brand being presented in one way one year and then presented a different way the next – unless the current tactics were working. Ad agencies were (are) being hired and fired based upon this premise.

Branding: strategy or tactic?

I believe in today’s environment that branding should be a strategic process. For either a product or a company, the idea of branding for the short term means tactics that do not usually serve the brand well. Looked at from a strategic point of view, the brand itself should not be “tinkered with” once the strategy is approved at the top levels of the business.

The strategies I’m referring to have to do with the things inherent in the product or company that differentiate it from competition, that provide unique benefits to customers, and that reflect the corporate commitments to stakeholders. It includes developing and sticking with a brand’s personality, story and tone over the years. Commercials and promotions may change over time, but they need to emphasize these brand attributes, not attempt to change them in mid-stream.

Who”s Responsible for Brand Management?

So, who should be responsible for developing those strategies? I submit the product development team at the very inception of the new product idea – with guidance from a strategic branding unit, either residing within the organization and reporting to the CEO, or an impartial outside branding consultant with direct access to the CEO.

In this way, corporate values, mission and vision are served. Trends are recognized and factored into the planning. Competition is evaluated with more impartiality. Risk is spread and individual careers are not measured by immediate profits.

Thus, the brand can mature and develop relationships based upon a consistent brand promise.

Addressing Additional Brand Management Issues

In my next blog I’ll speak to managing the corporate brand, and then do a post concerning brand management in sells-driven companies.