Monday, September 24, 2012
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 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. A stark example of a product positioning may be found in the pharmaceutical industry where many positioning statements are nothing more than the indication for the compound. 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. Additionally, it fails to provide a blueprint for the future management and development of the offering to leverage its potential value.
Take a mere product (not a brand, but a 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. Let’s look at the pharmaceutical industry yet again. With a slew of statins in the market (the majority being generic) taking one out merely distributes sales to the remaining products since they provide basically the same thing for Health Care Practioners and their patients.
But a true brand positioning statement gets at the whole offering, the complete entity encompassing the tangible product (e.g., Mac aluminum uni-body) and its intangibles (e.g., Apple Genius Bar and One-to-One personal training), and the resultant customer experience. It leads to an emotional connection. It defines the shared meaning (in terms of values) 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 encourages them to make a difference.
- Reveals a distinctive personality. Mac is cool and contemporary. PC is traditional and rather industrial. Pepsi is somewhat counter-cultural to Coke’s clean-cut all-American persona. Perhaps, consumers choose Pepsi not on it taste but on the badge inherent in its personality. These distinctions should not be lost. They play out in all sectors and categories. Revisiting Health Care, in this example the Medical Device sector, DaVinci robotics are purchased by hospitals to help attract leading surgeons, who are able to perform state of the art surgical 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. Starbucks and Patagonia have eco-minded, socially responsible cultures that span 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 merely an employer. It makes its Baristas shareholders so that they have a stake in the outcome of the business and, importantly, leads them to (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 what we refer to as the Brand Idea, which is fully articulated in the brand positioning strategy statement.
How Brand Become Brands
Brands come into existence through three paths. The first is through the vision of its creators. It’s a conscious effort. These come from people who dream big, and work to make their dreams reality. We say that this dream is synonymous with the Brand Idea. It is manifested first in the brand positioning strategy which poses a number of choices from target customer selection, to market in which we will compete, etc. 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, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook … 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. The established brands most of us manage, assuming they are truly brands, were borne of this path. We often wonder if many of these product would develop into brands if they were being introduced today. Our point-of-view is that they likely would not develop into brands since their products no longer are unique and they face more competitors.
The third path is for brands that originated from the fast track to become even more important to customers by taking the second track at another stage in its lifecycle to move it up the curve (as in boosting sales) and to the right (as in extending its life). 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 their 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 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 in the here and now but as a vision of the future. We need to capture that vision in the Brand Idea. Then we can begin building a brand positioning strategy statement that’s cohesive with the Brand Idea.
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 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 in the context of the “whole” product in establishing an enduring relationship and bond with customers. It can then serve to immunize our offering from competitive inroads (even lower priced product knock-offs). It can generate equity. It can provide a platform for line extensions (where, perhaps, depending upon the type of line extension, product positioning strategy statements may be acceptable since they borrow and, at the same time, return to the umbrella brand). What is more, it can give everyone who works on the brand a sense of value and purpose (e.g., if Apple is revolutionizing the world then we, on the Apple team, are working together to revolutionize 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 develop brands customers prefer:
- Using the brand positioning strategy statement, define the brand’s current positioning as it is 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 Idea is it’s a “chick magnet” (hey, we didn’t come-up with this) for adolescent males (regardless of their age!).
- Select a target customer that shares the brand’s values. Customers help make the brand. Those notable, successful, elite surgeons who employ DaVinci robotics to perform surgery reinforce the meaning of the brand, and help attract more like-minded surgeons to the brand.
- 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 strategy statement. You have a product positioning. Get back to work!
- Develop a plan to cross the gap between the currently perceived brand positioning and your vision of the brand positioning captured in the Brand Idea and brand positioning strategy statement.
- And now, indulge us for a moment for a brief commercial message. If you’d like to learn more about developing a competitive, enduring, ownable “brand” positioning strategy statement, consider commiting yourself to participating in our Open Brand Power Positioning training program scheduled for 30 – 31 October in Evanston, Illinois. For more information click here or call Lori Vandervoort at 800 255-9831.
Building brands starts by building brand, not product, positioning strategies. Aspire to be more competitive.
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.