Monday, August 18, 2014
BRAND VERSUS PRODUCT POSITIONING
So what’s the difference between a “brand” versus “product” positioning strategy statement? Is it important? Why so? These are among some of the questions we’ll address in this issue of DISPATCHES.
Let’s start at the beginning with a definition of a “brand.” The brand is a constellation of values that goes beyond the mere physical attributes of the product to include intangibles, and user experiences, in establishing a relationship and bond with customers. Brands create enduring equity (i.e., the worth that customers bestow upon it). It’s more than the product. Products are commodoties. It’s more than a trademark. Trademarks are cues for the offering. Products, and their trademarks, come and go but brands live on (for a long tme, if managed properly). Products may be replicated but brands have a unique identity, and place in the marketplace and, importantly, minds and hearts of customers.
Efforts at creating a brand positioning statement usually fall short, producing a product positioning. The product positioning, while it may have many of the same elements of brand positioning, gets at what the product does at a the base level. It’s about today’s offering, the here and now. It is short term and short-sighted to the more precious asset of brand. It ignores the deeper emotional connection and meaning that brands have with their customers. Take a mere product out of the marketplace and what do you miss? In the vast majority of categories, you have one less meaningless choice in the confusing array of products that characterize this “age of sameness” where products and services are basically the same, doing the same thing and working in the same way.
But a true brand positioning statement gets at the whole offering, the complete entity encompassing the tangible product (e.g., Mac aluminum body) and its intangibles (e.g., Apple Genius Bar and One-to-One personal training), and the customer experience. It leads to an emotional connection. It defines the meaning between the brand and customer. It clarifies the unique and competitive raison d’etre for the brand. Additionally, unlike a product positioning the brand positioning:
- Reflects its customers. Customers identify with the brand. It is a source of identity for them. It may not be an exaggeration to say that in some cases the brand even helps complete the customer. A Mac is more than a mobile computer to its loyalists. It empowers them to follow their passions and make a difference.
- Reveals a distinctive personality. Apple is counter-cultural and, at the same time, approachable. IBM is traditional and remote. Pepsi is somewhat counter-cultural to Coke’s clean-cut all-American persona. Perhaps, consumers choose Pepsi not on its taste but on the badge inherent in the choice of a more hip generation. These distinctions should not be lost. They play out in all sectors and categories. In the Health Care sector DaVinci robotics have been purchased by hospitals to attract leading surgeons, who are able to perform state of the art surgerical procedures, and thereby build their brand as being the place for advanced care and superior outcomes.
- Shares its culture. Perrier and Evian are, well, French. Mercedes is German throughout. Coke and McDonald’s share a taste of (North) America with the remainder of the world. But culture goes beyond geographical boundaries to get at the heart of the organization. Patagonia has an eco-minded, socially responsible culture that spans the world.
- Builds a relationship with its customers. Starbucks pours more than a cup of coffee. It serves-up community. Starbucks is more than a place. It’s a portal to what’s new and hip and cool (within taste) in our society. And Starbucks is not just an employer. It makes its Baristas shareholders so that they have a stake in (better) serving customers.
The brand communicates how the customer should interpret the whole offering, and what to expect, through everything the marketer does (not just advertising!). In turn, the specific activities reinforce the positioning and work to fulfill the Brand Idea articulated in the brand positioning strategy statement.
How Brand Become Brands
Brands come into existence through two major paths. The first is through the vision of its creators. It’s a conscious effort. These come from people who work to make their dreams reality. The dream is the Brand Idea. It is manifested first in the brand positioninig strategy. We’re familiar with this path. It is the path blazed by Richard Branson of Virgin, Howard Shultz of Starbucks, Jeff Bezos of amazon.com … among others.
The second path is the more common. The brand starts as a product with uniqueness. Overtime it unconsciously develops into a brand. It develops through the myriad of activities initiated over years to support it in establishing a relationship with customers. While amazon.com may have started with a vision it has evolved into more than the “World’s Largest Bookstore,” through new offerings that leverage and build upon its business model. And while “G” (Gatorade) may have started as an isotonic beverage mix to replenish lost fluids of collegiate athletes, today it is essential equipment for any athlete (regardless of competitive level) who desires a competitive edge to win. The brands most of us manage, assuming they are truly brands, were borne of this path.
The key to developing a brand, or revitalizing a brand, requires that we create a brand versus product positioning statement. We start, like the aforementioned brand builders, by perceiving our brand not as a mere product but as a vision of the future. We need to capture that vision in the Brand Idea. Then we can begin building the brand positioning strategy statement.
In developing the brand postioning we need to go beyond stating product benefits to define what meaning the brand holds for its customers. We need to rethink how we use approach the competitive framework. We cannot look upon it as merely a classification of the market of like products but its larger, more meaningful, identity with customers. We also need to create a brand personality that emanates from the soul of the brand, the brand bundle, its culture and relationship with customers.
The brand positioning statement is all about providing meaning, purpose and value to the whole product in establishing an enduring relationship and bond with customers. It can immunize us from competitive inroads. It can generate equity. It can provide a platform for line extensions. What is more, it can give everyone who works on the brand a sense of value (e.g., Apple revolutionizing the world).
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
Don’t settle for product positioning strategies when your offering can be and mean so much more to customers. Here are some actions for your consideration in building a brand positioning strategy to build brands customers prefer:
- Using the brand positioning statement, define the brand’s current positioning as perceived by customers (yours and competitors) in the marketplace.
- Create a vision of the “meaning” you want to establish for the brand with customers. We refer to this as the Brand Idea. Make sure that you go beyond articulating mere product benefits, which can be replicated by the myriad of like products (i.e., all the competitors in your category) that abound in this age of sameness. For example, the Axe brand is a “chick magnet” (hey, we didn’t come-up with this) for adolescent males (regardless of their age!).
- Make the Brand Idea emotive. Simon Sinek suggests we need to tap into the “Why” of our brand. What makes us get up and go to work each morning. This is what develops loyalty.
- Develop a plan to close the gap between the currently perceived brand positioning and your Brand Idea.
- Select a target customer that shares the brand’s values. Customers make the brand. Simon Sinek says “the goal isn’t to do business with people who need what you sell but people who believe what you believe.” Who uses DaVinci to perform surgery reinforces the meaning of the brand, and helps attract more like-minded surgeons.
- Get beyond the literal competitive framework to include a “perceptual” competitive framework that will identify how you want the brand to be perceived versus its literal competitors. For example, Steve Jobs didn’t think of the iPod as a mobile music device but a digital jukebox, setting it apart from everything that existed at the time.
- Create a brand personality that emanates from the soul of the brand, the brand bundle, its culture and relationship with customers. Harley is Harley Davidson. And, Harley Davidson owners are, well, Harley. (Yes, it’s more but you get the point.)
- Subject the new brand positioning statement to the question, “if the brand reflected by the positioning statement were to be taken out of the marketplace would the customer miss anything?” If the answer is “no,” it’s unlikely that you have a brand positioning statement. You have a product positioning. Get back to work!
Building brands starts by building brand, not product, positioning strategies based upon a compelling Brand Idea.
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney