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Monday, January 27, 2014




More and more, it seems, we hear marketers confusing and interchanging the classic and essential brand-building strategy, Brand Positioning, with the tactical effort of Branding.  These two terms both contain the word “brand,” so you can readily see how using them interchangeably might occur.  But there is a world of difference in the meaning and value of each.  Which makes it all the more troublesome when companies commit millions of dollars to a design firm for a major branding effort (often referred to as a “Brand Identity” project) without even having a Brand Positioning Strategy in place—to guide that effort.


Sometimes, companies who elect to start with a branding/brand identity effort and then (maybe) follow up later with brand positioning development believe they have urgent reasons to do so.  Take, for example, the world of medical devices:  many of these device companies have a corporate trademark that is well-known among their surgeon and hospital purchasing customers; yet underneath that trademark are hundreds, even thousands, of individual products that cannot possibly all be “branded.”  In such situations, the inferred first order of business for the Chief Marketer is to bring some “order out of the chaos” which so many individual products can create. 


What chaos, you ask?  Perhaps the most common form of chaos is having every product sub-division within the company treat the “parent” corporate trademark in a different way—different logotypes, colors, look of sale materials, tone, and so on.  For sure, this puts recognition and memorability of the corporate mark in a bad way.  But another form of chaos can also manifest itself when marketers for the company’s product sub-lines—lacking any other corporate guidance or restriction—hire an agency to craft a “tagline” or “slogan” to go along with the corporate mark…you know, something like “Quality is Job 1,” or “Drivers Wanted” that the big auto brands typically place under their corporate brand logo.  For customers, which of the taglines are they supposed to remember?


In these kinds of situations (and they aren’t all that unusual), you can get the sense of urgency marketing leaders might feel to, at least, “rope all the company’s product lines together” under the master-corporate trademark.  But here’s the rub:  without having first developed a Brand Positioning Strategy for the master-corporate trademark, how in the world can you accurately guide the branding and “tagline” efforts?  These tactical, executional moves—like everything else the brand does—need to work in concert to communicate what the brand stands for, day-in and day-out in the marketplace…its positioning!


Think about it.  Top brand identity design firms will always demand, and are entitled to, a “spec” sheet before commencing their expensive creative work.  This sheet normally specifies the parameters that will dictate the logotypes they explore, any accompanying icons, appropriate colors, and of course, any tagline or slogan to be attached to the brand logo.  More specifically, to better differentiate and make more ownable our brand identity, these parameters should detail things like:  “bulls-eye” loyal target (current and potential); competitive context (i.e., what, if any, do major competitive brand identities exhibit?); the one or two over-arching customer benefits that the brand promises (critical information for any tagline or slogan!); and, for sure, a robust sense of the personality that the brand intends to represent.  Hmmmmm.  Target, Competitive Framework, Benefits, and Brand Personality.  Sounds precisely like those strategic choices that a Brand Positioning Strategy comprises.


And when the Brand Positioning Strategy does not precede the branding-brand identity effort, organizations often find themselves with a number of vexing brand-building issues:

  1. Tight rules for governing the “look” of any packaging, promotion activity, selling material, and communication become more important than the strategic direction of the brand and its various sub-lines.
  2. Key product sub-lines, many with widely varying target customers, needs, and benefit-promises become “slaves” to a tactical corporate brand “face”…restricting their ability to compete better with similar product sub-lines (from other well-known companies) that do go to market with sub-line or sub-brand positioning strategies.
  3. New product line acquisitions are required to “fit” within the corporate brand identity, regardless of whether that fit best leverages their previous marketplace positioning.
  4. Perhaps most debilitating of all, smart disciplined brand marketers—who want to recommend and gain senior management approval to the strategic direction for their product sub-lines—become totally frustrated spending most of their time instead adhering to directions in the tactical “brand-book.”


Make no mistake about it: having a strong branding effort (including a distinctive and customer-meaningful brand identity) is essential.  Decades of marketplace history suggest that having a globally recognized and understood brand identity is one of the ways great brands get to be great brands.  But there can be no substitute for developing and gaining senior management approval to a competitive brand positioning strategy FIRST.  For those companies who already have their branding effort underway, we say, “It’s never too late!”  Stop and make the effort to build the brand positioning now; then adjust the branding/brand identity as needed to ensure it all works to implement that brand positioning.


Net, there’s a big and important difference between Brand Positioning and Branding.  Here are our definitions that spell out that difference:


Brand Positioning Strategy—The way we (the Company) want our customers to perceive, think, and feel about our Brand relative to competition.  It is the “DNA” for the Brand and it guides everything the Brand does (for example, product improvements, sub-line or sub-brand additions, new indications and so on)…not merely what the Brand says in its communications or messaging.


Branding—All the tactics that a Brand employs to give it a distinctive identity in the marketplace and to protect the trademark from infringement by competitors.  Literally, as the name denotes, giving a product or service a distinctive and customer-recognizable mark…as opposed to having the product be merely part of a class or category of similar/commodity-type products.


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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