Sunday, May 20, 2012
QUESTIONING BRAND POSITIONING
When we published our latest book, Competitive Positioning, in late 2010, we included an appendix chapter that comprised what we called “The Ten Most Common Questions about Brand Positioning.” It wasn’t easy to get the list down to just ten. And once again this past week, working with regional and country marketers (as opposed to “global” or “franchise” marketers), we realized that there are some other very common questions that always come up about brand positioning…questions that we had neglected to include in our top ten.
Actually, regardless of how many, it’s always a best practice to ask questions about brand positioning—particularly about your brand’s positioning. Questions about how competitive it is; questions about how the team will continue to proactively build and strengthen the positioning (what we refer to as pro-sitioning); questions about differentiation opportunities in positioning elements that often are overlooked—such as the Target or the Perceptual Competitive Framework. But, as important as these kinds of questions are, the ones we heard again this week were more about the process of crafting and implementing a brand positioning than they were about the quality or content of the brand positioning.
So, since we didn’t address some of these kinds of questions in our latest book, we thought we would take a shot at them now.
1. “We don’t develop or write Brand Positioning Strategy Statements for the Company’s major brands here in the local markets--these come from ‘global.’ So, why do we need to spend valuable time on positioning training?” Although at first such a question might sound a bit naïve, when you consider things like (a) how furtively many global or franchise marketers guard their right to control a brand’s positioning and (b) how many hours country marketers spend fighting executional fires and getting initiatives out the door, well, it doesn’t seem all that naïve a question. But, for sure, it’s a question that all marketing organizations ought to put an end to—once and for all.
In the first place, could anything be more obvious—even to headquarters marketers who have never been out in the field—than this “no duh” question in response: “Who does the global brand team expect to implement the brand’s positioning in the marketplace?” It may well be that much product and packaging innovation derives mainly from the franchise-headquarters teams; but it is just as true that much, if not all, of the merchandising, promotion (both customer and consumer), PR, sponsorships and events, social media programs, and on and on derive from the regional or country teams. And all of these positioning efforts MUST be “on spec”--as in building the brand per the positioning specifications.
The right question everyone in the organization ought to be asking is this one: “How can any regional or country marketing team implement a brand positioning when they don’t understand what a positioning strategy is all about or when they don’t understand the strategic and technical bases for their own brand’s positioning?” If we’re honest about the way we should be investing the Company’s resources toward building and sustaining a winning brand positioning (i.e., consistently in everything we do!), no one should be working in regional or country marketing without a rock-solid understanding of and appreciation for the Brand Positioning Strategy.
2. “Out here in the field we have a Brand Positioning Strategy Statement for our big global brands, but they’re typically so broad in scope (without compelling detail) that, frankly, they’re mostly ‘fluff.’ What are we supposed to do with something like this?” Before attempting an answer to this one, let’s first aim for some consensus on why it is that so many of these global positioning strategies are so broad, so vague. You guessed it: because, by definition, they must be global. And while we all know how much the world has shrunk with today’s technologies, individual country cultures, values, and market development vary dramatically. So, from a headquarters management perspective, the only way to account for these dramatic variances—while still insisting upon a global brand positioning—is to articulate that positioning without too much specificity.
But recognizing this common practice doesn’t mean that the global positioning cannot be adhered to, adapted, and implemented well locally. It takes disciplined thinking, sound marketplace research, and a commitment to “filling in the details” of the broad statement for one’s own market. Quite literally, each country should start with the global brand positioning as its “umbrella” and then craft a technically sound, competitive country brand positioning underneath it that brings it to life locally. For example, if the global positioning has as its combined functional-emotional benefits something fluffy like “Only_______ brand allows you to perform with a winning edge,” then the local adaptation needs to spell out—in precise language—what specific performance & to what degree and what feeling, exactly, is intended by winning edge.
Oh yes, besides requiring disciplined thinking, sound research, and filling in local details, success in adapting and implementing a local rendition of the global positioning strategy requires this most of all: the local marketing team’s competence at carrying on a convincing “positioning dialogue” with the global marketing team.
3. What if, during our positioning dialogue with the global team, it’s clear that there are some “non-adaptables” based upon differences between our marketplace development and that stated or implied by the global brand positioning? How do we handle these…to ensure we’re not implementing the wrong brand positioning for our market?” When you think about some of the most common differences among the development level of various markets, what quickly comes to mind are things like consumer or customer needs and category usage behaviors/non-behaviors. Clearly, highly developed markets are often poised to find compelling emotional needs more relevant than well-known, well-addressed functional ones. Likewise, in low-development markets, where category penetration is almost non-existent, it makes little sense to position a global brand as the “best breath-freshener in the category.” Trying to convince millions of Chinese that Listerine is a better mouthwash than Colgate Plax isn’t very likely to get them to start using a mouthwash along with their toothpaste.
When these kinds of fundamental positioning drivers are so different, the local marketing teams have no choice—they must push back and push back with convincing facts. Agreeing to implement a global brand positioning with needs that are not ones the brand can win with locally is not an option. But because pushing back on a global strategy is not always easy, for this week’s Boats & Helicopters we’re offering some techniques that can help.
Just before that, though, it’s worth reminding ourselves that questioning a brand’s positioning, like questioning anything else that is presented to us as “gospel,” is always helpful—for better understanding and, in building brands, for better results.
1. Before doing anything else, make sure you and your local marketing colleagues “speak the language” of brand positioning—to make clear that you understand what each element is supposed to be doing…and to be instantly credible with your global or franchise colleagues.
2. Treat your “push back” dialogue as you would an annual marketing plan: in other words, don’t start it until you have done your local homework. Have unshakeable facts to substantiate your recommendations for “exceptions” to the global positioning. And tell a compelling, logical story.
3. Focus on the benefits to the Brand and to the Company of making any exceptions to the global positioning; don’t waste time (or risk antagonizing the global team) by dwelling on “what’s wrong with” the global strategy for your market.
4. Seek, at a minimum, a temporary “exemption” from those non-adaptables in the global positioning; and promise a data-based assessment/review with the global team of any significant changes your local positioning implements.
5. Where possible—thanks to models from your agency partners and other outside resources—offer examples of other brands that have made a few exceptions for a period of time from their global positioning…and have been successful.
In short, make the case for what you know is right!
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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