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Monday, September 15, 2014




Sometimes we wish we had a dollar (okay, maybe one hundred dollars) for every client who had said to us something like this:  “Our brand positioning work is done.  We have been working on it for months, and now have management buy-off.  It’s put to bed.”  Of course, we can appreciate why clients would say this.  Creating a competitive brand positioning and articulating it in a technically sound way are hard tasks; what’s often even harder is getting management to understand and approve the positioning.


The truth is, though, that brand positioning work is never really done.  What makes it a continual undertaking are such things as:  diligently ensuring that the entire organization is implementing the intended positioning; adjusting to shifts in marketplace dynamics and trends; and, most of all, keeping on top of competition…both in terms of anticipating their own positioning moves, as well as neutralizing their efforts to de-position or, as we like to call it, “opposition” us.  In other words, a brand positioning is rarely, if ever, invulnerable.  It is always subject to the pressures of the marketplace, which is why no matter when in the brand’s life-cycle, it’s always a good practice to “pressure test” that brand positioning.


You might argue that a brand like Coca-Cola or Mercedes or Johnson’s Baby, which has been around forever and has a well-known and well-appreciated brand positioning, doesn’t require the same level or frequency of pressure testing that, say, a relatively new brand does.  But what we’ve found is that brands that need a pressure test the most are the ones in a pre-launch phase—when they have pulled together and tested an approved positioning but before they have actually entered the market. 


In no product category is this more critical than in pharmaceuticals, where more than one company is usually planning to launch a new drug or even a totally new drug class within a similar timeframe.  Because of the lengthy FDA-required sequence of clinical trials prior to a new drug’s approval for market, and because clinical trial outcome data is rarely exactly what everyone expected, new drugs “in the pipeline” have a way of shifting some from their originally planned positioning.  For these reasons—and simply because, until a competitor launches, we can never be positive about what their actual brand positioning will be—it really is a best practice to pressure test one’s own brand positioning.  And what would this entail?


Above all else, conducting a pressure test of a positioning demands an openness…by everyone on the team, but especially by the smaller, inner team who has taken the lead in developing the positioning all along.  What really helps to foster this openness (besides a decision to assemble the wider brand/support team to once again examine the positioning!) is something often overlooked:  having part of the team construct the most threatening, likely-winning brand positioning for the #1 competitor.  In fact, it’s even better if some of those who have sweat blood and tears to get our brand positioning approved take on this task of assuming the competitor’s stance…and trying to beat us.  This kind of exercise doesn't typically come easy to us:  for one thing, we love our own brand and believe it is better than anyone else’s; for another, we find it tough to play the competitor in the best possible light—because, after all, they aren’t all that smart and, well, we’re better than they are!  But believe us, nothing makes for a better pressure test on our brand positioning than imagining our top competitor as a determined winner.


As for some key places to look within our brand positioning, you cannot go wrong by considering these:


1.     Is our Target virtually identical to that of our competitor?  If so, then right away we should be hearing alarm bells.  It matters not that we will be sold in the same channels of distribution as our competitor.  Nor does it matter that our Sales Force will call on all of the customers in the market, just as our competitor’s Sales Force will.  If we have not found a segment or two within the market that we have a better chance to win with, we will—at best—be fighting for some “fair share” of the total market…rather than fighting for a, dominant winning share. 


2.     Does our brand positioning merely re-state the category or class we’re in (in the Competitive Framework)…or does it include a differentiating Perceptual Competitive Framework?  That is, have we cleverly created a conceptual “label” for our brand—like Bayer’s “The Wonder Drug” or Gleevec’s (the revolutionary cancer drug) “The Miracle Cure”—that, when implemented in the marketplace, prevents the commoditization of our brand as yet another “category alternative” and, instead, fosters the impression that our brand is a better choice?


3.     In what ways do our Benefits go beyond “class-effect”?  Following up on the above, precisely how or in what ways do our brand Benefits provide a meaningful advantage—to our chosen Target, naturally?  And, assuming at least one of our Benefits does offer a meaningful advantage, have we articulated that advantage as clearly as possible (by including such words as “only” or “more” or “better”)?


4.     Do each our Reasons Why link in an obvious way to one or more of our Benefits; and would each one stand up if challenged in court?  It seems there is almost always a tendency to include as many product features and attributes in the Reason Why section of our positioning—as many as we have, that is.  But when it comes to pressure testing, less is definitely more:  we want each one of our Benefits to have the added credibility-insulation of being supported by a logical, memorable Reason Why.  And the more we include, the more difficult is it for our team and our customers to understand and remember.  Finally, when doing a real pressure test of a positioning, we should always assume that our Reasons Why might be challenged by competition.  How well will the facts and data hold up when that occurs?

Honestly, nearly every brand, whether long-lived, recently introduced, or soon to be launched, faces a kind of “pressure-cooker” in today’s marketplace.  That’s why having the discipline to “pressure test” our own brand’s positioning ought to be an on-going practice for brand-builders everywhere.


Richard Czerniawski & 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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