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Monday, September 23, 2013



It’s encouraging to see that more marketers are creating brand positioning strategy statements, at least for launch products. Unfortunately, far too many products currently in the marketplace don't have positioning strategies, not the memorialized kind that marketers can get their hands on and eyes to see. But that is another story entirely, perhaps, one for another day.


While we are encouraged that launch products are undertaking development of positioning strategy statements, we’re discouraged to see that they are not very meaningful. In other words, it’s unlikely that they will:  

  • Serve as a blueprint to provide sound strategic direction internally;
  • Work to transform products into “brands”;
  • Create meaningful differentiation versus competition; and
  • Drive customer preference.

It’s such a pity to waste a golden opportunity to realize the full potential of the new entity to forge a special relationship with target-customers in creating brand loyalty.


There are a number of missteps in the development of the positioning strategy. Here are what we judge to be the most significant macro-missteps:


1.  The “horse is out of the barn” – This is an expression of either American or British origin that means it is too late to close the barn door since the horse has already bolted. In other words, it is too late to do anything since the event has already occurred. What has this to do with positioning development? Positioning is taking root in the marketplace before the new product is launched, and often time long before you have even begun positioning development. The horse, your product’s positioning, is already out of the barn. The act of positioning development is started too late, much too late. Remember, competitive positioning is how we want customers to perceive, feel and think about our brand relative to competition.

 In this case, customers already have a positioning in mind. And, it is not our intended positioning strategy. When clinical studies are being undertaken and end points identified the marketplace is developing impressions about the nascent product. They are drawing their own conclusions about its positioning. Additionally, senior managers will make announcements to the press and shareholders about the impending new product - where they expect it will fit in the marketplace, what benefits it will deliver, etc. So, they are, through their proclamations, already positioning it. Additionally, competitive organizations and their sales personnel will opposition your new product entry before it ever gets to market and/or your sales force is able to respond. So, your positioning development is meaningless. The horse is already out of the barn!

2.  Positioning Myopia – Positioning is focused on the point of launch as opposed to taking into consideration where it can play and what it may ultimately achieve over its lifetime. This is rather “shortsighted” since it does not take into consideration the potential for new indications, product improvements, line extensions, campaign developments, marketing ideas, new forms and other developments that can create a bigger, broader and/or more profound entity. It’s like attempting to predict the full potential of a new life, an infant, at the time of birth. It does nothing to inform what direction this life will take and what it might achieve. As it relates to the new product, it does not serve as a blueprint to drive brand development and the realization of its full potential in creating a meaningful differentiated experience with target customers.

3.  Rudderless – The positioning strategy is neither informed by nor anchored to a “Brand Idea.” The Brand Idea gets at the essential meaning of the brand. Let’s use antiperspirants and deodorants as an example. What’s the difference between Axe and Secret? It’s not the product since they have the same essential ingredients. Yet the Brand Idea for Axe is that it is basically a “chic magnet that will help pubescent boys score.” In other words for juvenile boys (yes, and even those “juvenile” men) using Axe will attract, and have an aphrodisiacal effect with, women. (It may seem absurd to us but it is selling hope to the intended target just as cosmetics and beauty care products sell hope to many women.) Secret, is a special brand for women. Secret is “strong enough for a man but made for a woman.” You can easily apply the need for a Brand Idea to your category of products (regardless of the sector) where the standard of identity, indication or mode of action is similar to your competitors. We need a Brand Idea. This Brand Idea is what we want to stick in the minds of the target customer and get them to realize in order to create a perception of meaningful differentiation and make our marketing matter.

4.  Narrow Minded – This refers to creating a positioning strategy for the product, not the brand. It is related to the aforementioned point in that product positioning ignores the larger and more meaningful entity of the brand (the “whole” product which includes both tangibles and intangibles wrapped in an experience). Remember, the brand is that constellation of values, going well beyond the product, that serve to resonate with the target- customer. In this case the positioning is limited to a product benefit, namely what the product does (typically at the time of launch). This is a typical misstep in pharmaceutical and medical device marketing. Since competitive products, especially those in the same class of drug or device, do the same things (often in the very same way) the output is generic. Consider the brand Gatorade versus Powerade. The both have the same product benefits (and features). They quench thirst and restore essential minerals. Yet the Gatorade brand has created a perception that it “fuels champions to achieve winning performance.” Positioning must go beyond the product benefit to incorporate a customer (what in it for the customer) and emotional benefit (how it makes the customer feel) that ties to the Brand Idea.  

5.  Misdirected – The positioning is misdirected. It is intended for communications as opposed to building a brand. Positioning is treated as a subset of promotion. This has got to stop! It needs to be treated as the most important “P” in marketing, whose function is to transform mere products (i.e., compounds, devices and formulations) into brands that create a special relationship and bond with its customers. Reis and Trout, who originated the notion of positioning in their classic book, Positioning – The Battle for the Mind, were two advertising guys. They perceived positioning as a subset of promotion – what you say to promote your product as opposed to everything you do to create the brand. Over the years we have come to realize that positioning is, and must be, so much more. It is the blueprint for the development of the brand. It is transformational not mere transactional. It addresses all the most important strategic questions. Who is your target- customer? What is your market? What is your core differentiation? What is your place (Brand Idea) in the life of your target customer? Etc.

6.  Swallowing the Elephant Whole – This is closely related to the previous point. It is about attempting to communicate the entire positioning to the target-customer all in one sitting. Instead of communicating the most salient point, the one that will stimulate achievement of a specific, needed behavior objective, the marketer attempts to communicate everything. As a result the strategic advantage is lost. The salient point, or news, is lost in the mix of messaging. At best it “tells” versus “compels” customers since it is likely to obfuscate its advantage at the time of launch and, because it is not single-minded, will not be able to be delivered in an evocative way.


Certainly there are other missteps, which we’d refer to as being micro-missteps, among which are:

  • Attempting to target everyone in the known universe (and having meaning to no one!)
  • Limiting the market to the standard of identity or class of pharmaceutical/ medical device/service or consumer product
  • Not creating a Perceptual Competitive Framework (or north star to further differentiate our entity and guide direction for its evolution)
  • Settling on generic benefits
  • Employing rather expected and generic reasons-why to support the benefit
  • Stuffing additional benefits in the reason-why section
  • Stuffing additional reasons-why that do not link with benefits
  • Not including a Brand Character (personality of the brand)
  • Misusing the Brand Character (in one or more ways)



Here are suggestions regarding practices you can adopt to help make your positioning matter more:


1.   Start Early – Don’t let the horse get out of the barn! Start the positioning development process at the beginning of the product development (not product but product development) lifecycle. The positioning should inform all development activities including clinical studies. Today it is more important than ever to have a clear positioning in mind before clinical studies are designed and marketing has begun so as to engineer a competitive advantage.

2.   Get Beyond the Launch – Consider the life of the brand. Identify all potential targets, indications and developments that are expected to occur over the life of the brand. Develop the brand positioning strategy to support the breadth of the brand lifecycle and communicate its advantage at the time of launch.

3.   Start with a Brand Idea – This is about differentiating the brand entity, not just a part of it, in full achievement mode in the marketplace. If we don’t have a Brand Idea, one that is relevant, it is highly likely that we will chase (as in react to) competitive developments and fail to establish real meaning, the kind that leads to creating brand equity, with target-customers.

4.   Think brand – Make positioning the most important “P” in marketing. Do not limit it to communications. Use the creative brief to direct the development of communications. Ensure it contains a single-minded, strategically appropriate communication strategy that reflects the brand positioning and is directed toward achieving a predetermined, important behavior objective. But use the brand positioning strategy statement to direct all activities within the organization and in the marketplace.

5.   Be single-minded and evocative in all communications – Do not attempt (or worse yet, force your target customers) to swallow the elephant whole. They will gag. Think campaigns. If you have a product advantage go with it in your first campaign and hold on to it as long as it keeps producing in the market. But ensure that it is communicated in a way that is emotive. Make your target-customer feel it!


Call to action: To make your positioning matter more order and read our book Competitive Positioning – Best Practices for Creating Brand Loyalty (Click here for more information and to order it or simply call Lori Vandervoort at 800-255-9831 or 620-431-0780 if you are calling internationally).

. Better yet, consider and choose BDNI to assist you in developing an enduring, competitive and ownable brand positioning strategy. If you are interested, simply reply to our email.

Best wishes in making your positioning matter more.
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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