Sunday, January 13, 2008
THE 10-MOST CRITICAL POSITIONING ERRORS – PART III
This is the third installment of a 4-part series identifying what we judge to be “the 10-Most Critical Errors in Brand Positioning.” We’re 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 the fourth or next issue of the series we will reveal number “1.” In the previous issues we tackled critical errors number “10” through “5” 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.
If you did not receive the first and/or second article in this series, or would like to revisit either or both, just click where appropriate below:
In this issue, Part III, we will share critical errors number “4,” “3” and “2.” Let’s get on with the countdown.
“4” - Not making sound strategic choices to ensure a single-minded BPS.
The Brand Positioning Strategy must be single-minded. This is not to say that there need be only one benefit. That might be simple-minded particularly where one needs more than one benefit to be meaningfully competitive and capitalize on the brand’s unique capabilities. But if there is more than one benefit it needs to be consistent with the target group’s expectations and the brand’s capabilities to meet those expectations. Moreover, the benefits must be in alignment. Specifically, they need to provide linkage from the product benefit to the customer benefit all the way up the benefit ladder to the emotional benefit. In this way the benefit is really single-minded. Or, the benefits need to link to form a cohesive whole in creating a single-minded perception of the brand.
But being single-minded in the brand positioning strategy is not limited to the benefit. It also includes the target-group. As stated in critical error number “6,” our brand cannot be all things to all people and still be able to create a meaning for the brand that will drive customer preference and loyalty. So don’t even try it! Even if you could, which you can’t, the brand offering would be vulnerable to those competitors who effectively segment the market to focus their strategy in better serving the targeted market segment.
Finally, let’s step back for a moment and look at the meaning of the strategy itself. Is there one meaning? One intent? Or are there multiple meanings in the strategy? If when you or others review the strategy there are alternate interpretations of the brand’s meaning (i.e., what the brand stands for in the minds of its readers) then we have a significant problem. There can be only one meaning. There can be only one interpretation. That’s being single-minded! One travels one strategic road not many at the same time.
Among the key causal factors for not making sound strategic choices to ensure a single-minded brand positioning strategy is the inability, or not taking the time, to identify discrete choices regarding potential strategic directions. We need first to top-line potential strategic directions. This is the nature of creative intelligence – to be able to identify alternatives. We should never converge without first diverging to identify and weigh possible directions. We recognize this is easier said than done given organizational pressures, desire to please the boss, group think, lack of imagination and category infatuation (i.e., doing what every other product does in the same way because that is the way we think the business works). But if options are not entertained the likelihood of achieving a single-minded, appropriate brand positioning strategy will essentially be low.
Time constraints also limit our ability to make sound strategic choices or even entertain them. This is particularly perplexing since brand positioning strategy development is one of the most important responsibilities of marketers. We have to choose to undertake this critically important responsibility over the press of urgent but non-essential tasks such as responding to 40, 60 or more emails per day. There is absolutely no reason why anyone should be caught without the time to devote to thoughtful positioning strategy development unless, of course, you want to admit to poor management.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider organizational management style as a causal factor for not making sound strategic choices. The culprit may be labeled “consensus management.” Oh you’ve heard of it. Chances are that if your brand positioning strategy is conflicted (i.e., not single-minded) then your organization probably relies on consensus management. In this case, everyone’s view is appreciated, valued equally and reflected in the strategy regardless of its true merit or its impact in the marketplace. As a result the proverbial camel emerges where the desire was to produce a horse.
The resultant impact of not making sound strategic choices to ensure a single-minded brand positioning strategy is mass confusion – inside and out. What we mean is that team members responsible for executing the positioning strategy inside the organization, as well as resource people outside the organization, will be confused. There is not clear single-minded direction. People choose what direction they will execute and there is no litmus test (in the form of a single-minded strategy) to ensure faithful execution to a given strategic direction. Outside the organization customers will also be confused. They will receive multiple, non-aligned messages (through packaging, clinical studies, product developments, merchandising, advertising, promotion, etc.) such that no clear meaning will emerge to stick in the marketplace. Customers will not take the time nor do the work to figure it out. Why should they if the marketer, for whom it all means so much more, hasn’t done so?
At the very least, there is a dilution of resources. And, few marketers have all the resources they feel they need to successfully create brand loyalty. So they need to focus, focus, focus resources. Even if the marketer had all the resources, which we bet you do not, why squander them?
“3” - Not making the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement “official”.
This is about developing, fixing and institutionalizing the most appropriate strategic choice. It starts by doing one’s homework in the form of marketing research to develop the most strategically appropriate choice. Marketers and their organizations spend preciously limited funds to conduct marketing research that, often times, goes unused. The marketing research that exists in the brand’s library should be approached as one would in creating a mosaic. From the pieces that exist one should develop hypotheses and assess them with input from customers through additional marketing research. This will ensure the strategic choice is grounded in reality. It will also reveal if and where additional research may be needed.
But it is not “official” until the senior most manager responsible for the health of the business approves it, with a signature. If a brand is not healthy the business will bleed, whither and die. At the heart of the brand’s health is the faithful execution of the brand positioning strategy. It is amazing to us that senior managers such as Division Presidents or Country General Managers are required to sign-off on a mere $5,000- change part for the manufacturing line but are neither required nor compelled to do so for the brand positioning strategy statement. Think about it. The major equity markets throughout the world value companies based in large part upon the health, and therefore the potential, of “brands” to provide a predictable future growth stream of income – not on the number or quality of change parts. When a company pays a significant premium to acquire another it is based upon the health and potential of the acquired company’s brands. So if senior managers desire to add value to the corporation, which they should, they need to be very much involved in brand positioning. Without their acknowledgement, commitment and leadership (i.e., making the strategy official) it is unlikely that the positioning strategy will drive brand development in the organization.
The causal factors for not having an official brand positioning strategy statement include the lack of appreciation for it. Lip service is given to brand positioning. But lip service is cheap. When it comes time to getting behind it operational issues and demands take precedence over it. This is probably a function of the top managers not really respecting the role of marketing and brand positioning due to the organization’s inability to measure ROI (return on investment) for marketing. More than likely these senior managers came up through the ranks via a discipline other than marketing. Or, marketers have failed to establish a clear link between marketing initiatives and ROI.
Managers will also tell us that they do not have funds to conduct marketing research. So many choose to fly blind. But they do not have to do so. At the very least we can check the MRD (Marketing Research Department) library to review past research. Or we can check with colleagues in other countries for marketing research they have conducted. We can scour industry databases online for valuable info. We can purchase syndicated studies. We can scrape-up some money to do qualitative research. Any marketing manager with a curious and inventive mind can choose to do something to nurture the development of hypotheses regardless of availability, or levels, of funding.
The time issue (i.e., lack thereof) raises its ugly head once again. This is the cop-out of all cop-outs. We have little patience for it at this point (in this series of articles and in our lives) and so should you! The stakes are far too great not to invest the time and attention needed to be competitive in creating brand loyalty.
The resultant impact of not developing an official brand positioning strategy is the absence of a long-term marketing campaign. Need we say more? The positioning strategy is not fixed. When a new product manager comes along the positioning gets changed. In fact, the positioning strategy may get changed more frequently, like annually! When we use the term “fixed” we do not mean that it doesn’t evolve. There has to be room for adaptive growth. Instead what we mean is having a basic foundation from which to build all aspects of the brand. Every initiative for every marketing mix element is assessed not only on the ability to grow the business but also its ability to establish the brand positioning in the marketplace.
Organizational discipline falls apart. There is no official, validated blueprint for the development of the brand. The brand becomes “the house that ‘whoever’ at the time happened to live in it built.” Initiatives are chosen irrespective of what they communicate about the brand. A multitude of disparate messages vanish in the marketplace failing to create a clear meaning with the intended target group. When it is all said and done there’s very little curb appeal and the value of the brand is thereby diminished.
Additionally, the absence of an official brand positioning strategy statement sends the wrong message throughout the organization. Its absence communicates that it is not really valuable and, as such, worth the effort to create.
“2” - Not executing all marketing mix elements to be consistent with the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement.
This is what we have termed “Power Positioning.” Despite what others may have you believe brand positioning is about a lot more than what you say in your advertising. Brand positioning is about everything you do in creating meaning for the customer target group. We build our brand positioning one plank at a time – trademark, promotion, product development, clinical evidence, merchandising, packaging, authority opinions, advocacy groups, alliances, product intangibles, etc. We don’t just use it to guide advertising. In fact, there are a number of healthy brands that have established meaning and achieved enviable customer loyalty without the benefit of advertising.
Power Positioning is the execution responsibility of marketers. Once thoughtful planning has been completed it is absolutely essential that the strategy be faithfully executed in the marketplace. The best strategy will get you nowhere if it is not, or poorly, executed.
The causal factors for not executing consistent with the brand positioning strategy include inconsistent understanding of the strategy. If people within the organization and external support groups do not understand, or know, the strategy their creative efforts will not likely hit mark. This inconsistent understanding of the strategy can be traced to its development by just a few inner circle managers. It’s important to not just develop an official brand positioning strategy but to do so in collaboration with those managers who will be executing it. This ensures going beyond mere intellectual acknowledgement to a profound, shared understanding. And lest people forget, it is important to evangelize the strategy throughout all corners of the brand team (internal and external resource groups) over and over and over again. Everyone needs reminders of what it is that the brand will stand for in the minds of customers and prospective customers.
Another causal factor is archiving the brand positioning strategy as opposed to using it as a living document and checkpoint for which all ideas must pass. The strategy statement should not and cannot be retired upon its completion. It is not something we check-off as having completed. It is more than a task. Instead, it must become an important gate through which all ideas must be screened to assess their potential to create a competitive brand meaning in the marketplace that drives customer preference.
The resultant impact of not executing all marketing mix element consistent with the brand positioning strategy is that the intended positioning fails to be seeded in the marketplace. And if it is not seeded it does not develop and grow. It is a dream that goes unfulfilled.
Customers are confused about the meaning of the brand. As a result they will take the easy route and commoditize your offering. The critical determinant of purchase behavior will become price if one is even able to capture the customer’s attention. It is not the stuff of brand loyalty.
The product offering exists, versus thrives, from promotion to promotion. It is kept above water by news such as new features or line extensions. It is not built on a mutually beneficial relationship between brand and customer.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
We’ll share Boats & Helicopters for your consideration at the conclusion of this series in two weeks. At that time we will also bring you the number “1” most critical error in brand positioning. Do you know what it is? Please let us know what you think?
In the meantime if you are interested in learning more regarding the subject matter of this article just click any of the titles from these past DISPATCHES articles:
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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