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Monday, October 1, 2012



“…Consider how you want to position your product. This curious verb is in great favor among marketing experts, but no two of them agree what it means. My own definition is ‘what the product stands for, and who it is for.”

–David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising, 1983.


Most would agree that, among the legendary giants of advertising, David Ogilvy stands at the top. Indeed, he has often been called the “Father of Advertising.” And, though he died in 1999, his opinions and advice remain relevant; certainly his widely-read books, Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising still stand as classics. Per the titles of these two classics, David Ogilvy mainly concerned himself with principles for developing advertising—more specifically, advertising that sells. He really did not deal with the broader brand-building subject of positioning much beyond the quick quote above.


We mean no disrespect to Mr. Ogilvy, but his definition of positioning, while not abjectly incorrect, is incomplete…at least for today’s marketplace. We believe there is considerably more to the meaning of positioning than merely the product and the target audience. A sound, hard-working definition of positioning for today must go beyond the tangibles of the product to include the intangibles of the brand; it ought to more precisely identify all the dimensions of what the brand stands for (perceptual, rational, and emotional); and it absolutely must include the competitive context.


So, the meaning of positioning that we prefer goes like this:


The way we want customers to perceive, think, and feel about our Brand relative to competition.


This definition contains only 6 more words than the one David Ogilvy proposed. But each word carries a lot of meaning—as follows:


The way we want—These four little English words carry a ton of important meaning about positioning…and they do so in the right place (at the start of the positioning definition). A brand positioning is a strategy first and foremost, which says that it is a consciously competitive approach chosen by the Brand Team and the Company—an approach that, when successful, gives the brand an advantage in the marketplace. Customers and consumers do not create or choose positioning strategies! Marketers and companies do. Oh sure, when marketers select and recommend a positioning strategy for the company management to approve, they wisely test or check out with their intended customers or consumers to determine which positioning option has the greatest potential.


Customers—We use this more inclusive term than consumers because, while many “household brand names” continue to position themselves against traditional consumers, more and more pharmaceutical and medical device brands are positioning themselves against physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and even third-party payers, whom we do not readily consider to be the same as traditional, packaged goods consumers.


Perceive, think, and feel—Three verbs (also, we believe, in the correct order of importance for today’s “age of sameness” marketplace) that bring home three essentials for a competitive, winning positioning:

  1. More brands today find they cannot make a factual, clinically-proven claim versus their key competitors.  In other words, they cannot make the case for a real product performance advantage...which means it is more important than ever to develop a perceived advantage;
  1. How customers or consumers think rationally remains important nonetheless.  That means that virtually every positioning must still "solve for" rational or functional needs -- the kind that people tend to think more about with their heads;
  1. But it is also true that connecting these rational needs with some higher order emotional needs is what makes for a complete brand positioning -- those needs felt more with the heart, that deliver against how the customer feels.

About our Brand—Perhaps the single biggest omission from David Ogilvy’s definition of positioning is this word: Brand. It’s true, of course, that in the days when he and his agency were creating classic ad campaigns, there was a lot more emphasis on the product. And, for sure, there were a lot more products that had performance advantages over their competition. But, as we have already mentioned, that’s no longer the case. We must have a great product, that’s a given. But the positioning we craft and choose must build a relationship with our Brand, which offers intangible values beyond the tangible outcomes of a the product.


Relative to competition—This phrase is critical. Our brand only has a “position” in the context of other brands and their positions. But even more to the point, our brand’s positioning has simply got to convey the perception (or reality) of meaningful differentiation…so that our target customers or consumers prefer and choose us instead.


These, then, are the meanings and implications behind our definition of positioning. It’s a definition we have been using for over thirty years, and it still seems to hold true. In just a few words, we think the definition gets at the heart of what a Brand Positioning is. But before we close the subject, in this week’s Boats & Helicopters we would like to mention a few of the misconceptions about what a brand positioning is. You could call these “what a brand positioning isn’t.”


1. A brand positioning is not a Vision or Mission Statement. Such things tend to be less than ten-word expressions of a Company’s grander purpose (beyond simply creating shareholder value). Many also tend to be articulated in broad, expansive, and sometimes motivational language—such as “Creating products to enhance human life.” But none provide all the essentials that a brand positioning strategy does: identify the target, benefits, reasons-to- believe, or brand character.


2. A brand positioning is not an annual variable. The ones that are carefully and competitively built are intended to last—a long time. In addition, they are intended to change with the times in an evolutionary way (as in building upon the foundation) not a revolutionary way (as in blowing up the foundation and starting anew).


3. A brand positioning is not marketing-relevant only. On the contrary, it is meant to understood and followed by all the Company’s functions. So, for example, a snack chip brand that requires the chips to arrive in whole pieces for use in satisfying dipping absolutely cannot allow its VP of Manufacturing to change the product’s case-packing (for cost savings) in a way that results in significant increased chip breakage. Such a move would be counter-the-brand-positioning.


4. A brand positioning is not developed only for advertising or messaging purposes! This remains the most misconstrued meaning or reason-for-being of a positioning. Of course, Brand Teams and the agencies create communication strategies and ensuing ads or messages that must be consistent with the brand’s positioning. But, the positioning guides everything the brand does, not just what it says


What’s your definition of Brand Positioning? If you have one that’s meaningfully different (or even more cleverly stated) than ours, we’d love to hear it!


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


P.S.  Don't forget to sign up for the upcoming Power Positioning 2-day session in Evanston, Illinois on October 30-31, 2012.  Space is limited. For more information just click here or contact Lori Vandervoort at or 800-2155-9831


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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