Sunday, January 27, 2008
THE 10-MOST CRITICAL POSITIONING ERRORS – PART IV
Now we arrive at the final installment of our 4-part series identifying what we judge to be “the 10-Most Critical Errors in Brand Positioning.” We have been counting down from number “10” to “1.” Each issue of DISPATCHES in this series has revealed three critical errors, their causal factors and the resultant impact on brand marketing. In this final issue of the series we reveal number “1.” In the previous issues we tackled critical errors number “10” through “2” which are as follows:
“10” - Lack of cohesion throughout the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement.
“9” - Use of Standard of Identity or Class (e.g., of drug) versus Perceptual Competitive Framework in the competitive framework of the strategy.
“8” - Use of product claims for the reason-why.
“7” - Not being meaningfully competitive.
“6” - Poor Target-Group definition.
“5” - Blindly accepting the Global BPS. Not localizing it.
“4” - Not making sound strategic choices to ensure a single-minded BPS.
“3” - Not making the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement “official”.
“2” - Not executing all marketing mix elements to be consistent with the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement.
If you did not receive previous articles in this series, or would like to revisit any or all of them, just click where appropriate below:
THE 10-MOST CRITICAL POSITIONING ERRORS – PART I
THE 10-MOST CRITICAL POSITIONING ERRORS – PART II
THE 10-MOST CRITICAL POSITIONING ERRORS – PART III
For those of you who have been following along with this series of articles here is the number “1,” numero uno if you prefer, most critical positioning error (drum roll please – ta –a –a –a –a – a – a – BOOM!):
“1” – Not having, or being aware of, a Brand Positioning Strategy Statement.
This is it folks, perhaps you’ve already guessed and guessed it correctly. This is the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. Being completely oblivious or ignoring what is essential to creating brand loyalty – orchestrating customer perceptions for a brand, not a product, that drive preference as directed by the brand positioning strategy statement.
In our work, promoting and teaching marketing excellence, we start each of our programs asking if participating managers have a brand positioning strategy statement. It’s disheartening, even appalling, to discover that no more than one-third of them, at best, lay claim to having one. It’s altogether possible that a brand positioning strategy statement exists for their brands but they are unaware of its existence. It’s possible but unlikely. Nonetheless, we recommend that when they return to their offices at the completion of the program that they request their bosses to share the brand positioning strategy statement that has been created and, if none exists, to create one.
The brand positioning strategy statement is the blueprint for the marketing and franchise building of the brand. When we use this word “brand” we are referring to more than the product. The product is nothing more than its physical characteristics or components. But the brand is much, much more. The brand is a constellation of values and customer perceptions that forge a special relationship with the target group. For example, Johnson’s Baby Powder brand is more than talc and fragrance. It is a mother’s unconditional love for her baby and a desire to care for her baby in the best way possible. Lipitor is much more than a pill to lower cholesterol. It is an assurance policy trusted by healthcare practitioners to protect the lives of their at-risk patient’s from a coronary heart disease catastrophic event (such as heart attack and stroke).
If no brand positioning strategy statement exists it doesn’t mean that there is not a brand positioning. “How’s that?” you may ask. Well, the brand positioning is the way we want customers to perceive, think and feel about our offering. They will think something about the offering regardless of whether one has a brand positioning strategy statement or not. You may not know what they think, and what they think may not be what you want them to think about the offering (regardless of whether it is a product or service.) Chances are prospective customers will think of your offering as a mere product consisting of physical attributes, terms, etc., not a brand. Chances are they will commoditize the offering in their collective minds to be like just about every other offering in the category! This does not serve to create brand loyalty in driving customer preference.
Among the key causal factors for not having a brand positioning strategy statement is confusing, or limiting, its use to defining what to communicate about the offering, say as in advertising. Therefore, the brand positioning strategy statement may be viewed as unnecessary in those cases where a communication strategy or creative brief exists for the offering. But the brand positioning strategy statement is about much more than what we say about the offering. It is everything we marketers, and our organizations, do to create and shape customers’ perceptions regarding the development and establishment of a brand. It’s not just about advertising. It’s about what we do with each and every element of the marketing mix to create and reinforce the brand strategy.
Another causal factor of note is not making the brand positioning strategy, where it exists, “official.” In other words, without making it official it is not understood or owned by the organization, like a patent is owned. Instead it is relegated to belonging to a small team of people, or merely one person – its creator. As a consequence many managers do not know of its existence. This is exacerbated when the creator of this unofficial brand positioning strategy statement moves on to another assignment or, worse yet, company. Then no one holds the key to the brand and its development.
Not committing it to paper, memorializing it, is a causal factor similar to the one noted above. Entrepreneurs typically have a very clear brand positioning strategy in mind when they create and commercialize their offering. They may not refer to it as a positioning strategy. To them it may be their vision or competitive advantage or mission in life. Whatever nomenclature they use it is clearly a brand positioning strategy. However, it is all in their heads. It is manifested by their organizations as long as these entrepreneurs remain involved in the business. They know what they want. They communicate it verbally. And, importantly, they inspect every initiative the organization creates to fit with the strategy before it is introduced into the marketplace. But once the founder moves on, and so-called “professional” management enters the scene, the strategy is lost not just to the organization but the world.
The last causal factor that we will merely touch upon here is one that we have brought up in discussing other critical errors. It’s the recurring issue of time. It seems as though many claim that they simply do not have the time to create, test and adapt a brand positioning strategy. What a truly sad state this is. It’s people taking action without thinking. It’s building without a blueprint. It’s a mess in the making. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
The resultant impacts of not having, or being aware of, a brand positioning strategy statement have been identified in previous critical errors. (Go back and pick them out. The very act of doing so will help nurture a higher degree of understanding.) But the most significant negative is essentially creating a product versus brand offering and all the consequences inherent in this direction.
This is not to say that a product offering will not have strong sales, or even favorable sales growth, particularly where the offering is the first of its kind, has a demonstrable product advantage that the customer can realize and/or organizational muscle to drive it. But its inherent health, the quality and longevity of its lifecycle will be diminished on a real or opportunity loss basis. This negative impact may be largely hidden, perhaps, for many years, just as the impact of termites is not realized until one’s foot falls through the floor. But eventually it will be realized. New offerings that deliver a product advantage, new business or operational model, etc., will expose and exploit that lack of sound health. The disease state may be diagnosed by increases in the percentage of promotional sales to total sales, or level of discounting. However, the sick health may not be recognized (who would want to admit to it) and, even it is, it probably will not be traced back to its root cause - the absence of a brand positioning strategy.
The brand positioning strategy statement serves to direct the development of a competitive, ownable and sustainable advantage. Without it marketers find themselves adrift in a sea of similarity. Also, their organizations send confusing signals to prospective customers in the form of multiple, non-aligned messages (through packaging, clinical studies, product developments, merchandising, advertising, promotion, etc.) such that no clear meaning can emerge, no less stick, in the marketplace.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
We promised to send you “Boats & Helicopters” at the conclusion of this series. So, here they are:
Develop a single-minded, strategically appropriate brand positioning strategy statement directed at a well defined target group and utilize it as the blueprint for the development of a brand, not a mere product, in creating brand loyalty. This is a priority. Do not pass “go” as they say in the game of Monopoly until this task has been successfully completed. The development of the brand positioning strategy statement should be undertaken in collaboration with a multi-discipline team reflecting multi-functional expertise. Ensure that this collaborative strategy creates special meaning for, or gives meaning to, the target group. Product benefits just don’t cut it. Think about the experience your brand can deliver.
Think well into the future to identify meaningful differentiation through the development of a perceptual competitive framework. The perceptual competitive framework should lift you above and out of this “age of sameness.” It needs to provide you with a new way to map the marketplace such that customers will make your brand their clear choice. It will help ensure that your offering is perceived as being meaningfully distinctive – not a commodity. Moreover, it will guide the utilization of resources towards creating meaningful differentiation well into the future.
Become a servant of the people. Think to serve your target group. Yes, we are in business to make a profit. But the best way to profit in the long run is to better serve your target customers than competition. Before you can better serve them you need to better know them than your competitors too. Dig to discover customer insights that will unlock the way into your current and prospective customers’ hearts, and lives.
Check-out the strategy via a dialogue in the marketplace with prospective customers and adapt accordingly to iterate your way to success.
Make it “official.” The only way to make it official is for the most senior manager in the organization (such as the CEO, CMO, GM or Country Manager) to affix her/his signature to it. Once it has become official have it laminated. Share the strategy with all functional groups within the organization such as sales, product research and development, promotions, etc. When we suggest you share it we don’t mean email it out to everyone. We really mean you should evangelize the strategy by presenting it to each functional discipline group. Go broad and deep. And so that you or they do not forget about it, dust it off and return periodically to reiterate the strategy and identify what it means to everyone.
Localize the brand positioning strategy statement based on customer needs, the competitive landscape and company capabilities for a given market. More than likely this will not so much be a different positioning strategy as it will be a different place on the same line than the country that developed the “global” brand positioning strategy. The mere act of undertaking this will ensure a greater understanding of the brand positioning. Importantly, it will promote ownership, leading to more successful execution. By the way, those companies that insist on creating a brand positioning strategy that will fit every market the same way typically have something so broad as to have no meaning. The act of localizing the strategy will drive specificity and with it meaning for the organization and prospective customers.
Use the brand positioning strategy statement to guide every marketing mix strategy and initiative undertaken on behalf of establishing the brand and creating brand loyalty (i.e., product development, clinical studies, selection of key influencers – absolutely everything!). Do not review proposed initiatives in a vacuum. The brand positioning strategy is your blueprint for the marketing and franchise building of the brand. Check to ensure that each activity is consistent with the blueprint. If it is not you must either modify the initiative or abandon it. Otherwise the house you ultimately build end up a Rube Goldberg concoction. Moreover, the intended brand positioning will not take root in the marketplace.
Review and evolve the brand positioning strategy as needed. Let’s face it; things change. There will be product improvements, new entries into the marketplace, further evolution of customer needs, etc. We need to anticipate and keep ahead of potential new developments by leading. Evolving the brand positioning strategy is essential to stay ahead of the competition regardless of whether it comes from within or outside of the category.
We hope you found this 4-part series informative and enjoyable to read. If you are interested in learning more about how to develop a winning brand positioning strategy to create brand loyalty then consider attending our Open Brand Positioning & Marketing Communications College program. It will be conducted on May 13 – 15 (Tuesday through Thursday) at the Orrington Hotel in Evanston, Illinois. This is the only Open BP&MC College program we will conduct in 2008. Space in the program is limited. For more information, or to register, please click below or call Lori Vandervoort at 800 255-9831 (or 620-431-0780) to guarantee your place in this program.
Click Here To Register
Thanks for your interest and consideration.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.