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Monday, September 17, 2012



A bewildering thing sometimes happens when we work with clients aiming either to articulate (for the first time) their brand positioning or to strengthen the brand positioning they already have. And the bewildering thing is this: invariably, after a fair amount of work devoted to just completing a technically sound brand positioning, someone on the Brand Team will remark, “But, if we took our brand name out of the positioning statement and put in the brand name of one of our main competitors, wouldn’t the positioning work equally well for them?” Whenever this happens, you can almost feel the air racing out of the big balloon. For it means that, while the team has succeeded in building a legitimate brand positioning strategy, they have not yet succeeded in crafting a competitive brand positioning strategy…one that is meaningfully differentiated versus competition.


Of course, much of what we get paid to do is to ensure that any client’s brand positioning we work on is as competitive as possible. Still, for many marketers, just getting the team on the same “brand-positioning page,” using the same nomenclature for the same meanings is challenging enough. For one thing, particularly with marketers who have less experience (like those at many pharmaceutical or medical device companies who typically enter marketing from a strong sales background), it takes time to reach a shared understanding of the brand positioning concept itself, let alone the essential components of a technically competent positioning strategy. 


For another, too many marketing organizations seem to lack the required marketplace information to complete a technically sound positioning statement—information from things like market segmentation studies (including psychographics); usage and attitude studies; need-state studies; even in-depth customer or consumer interviews to flesh out things like “telling target behaviors”…which are so helpful in better understanding the positioning target’s driving attitudes and psychographic profile. So, even though the goal is always a competitive brand positioning, sometimes the best, first end-product is simply a brand positioning that is technically well-put-together.


If you’re keeping track so far, then, we’re saying there are—in many cases—two kinds of brand positioning statements that often occur in sequence: first, one that is technically sound and then, eventually, one that is also competitive. In reality, though, there is a third kind of brand positioning statement: a creative positioning. More and more, it turns out, marketers are finding that crafting a creative positioning (that’s, naturally, also technically sound) is the more likely road to success in the marketplace. And what exactly is a creative positioning? It’s one that creates the impression of meaningful differentiation for a brand whose product performs the same as competitors’.


As the term implies, developing a creative positioning inherently requires creativity! Perhaps better said, it requires thinking about meaningful differentiation differently than many of us marketers have been taught or have become accustomed to doing. Many of us have been taught that meaningful differentiation occurs mainly in the positioning benefit, so we try to come up with some functional need-benefit that our brand can win with…or at least can be the first to tout. But accomplishing either of these gets harder and harder. We need to think beyond the benefit if we’re to craft a creative positioning. For example, here are some different kinds of “differentiation moves” that can underpin a creative positioning:


1.   Differentiate with the Target—Find and exploit a market segment that others haven’t. There is no better example of this creative positioning move than MasterCard’s targeting of the overlooked, large (and continually growing) psychographic segment we call “Credit Card Pragmatists”—people who have joined the “anti-badge” movement. This was not only a significant segment that competitive cards like Visa and Amex had overlooked, it was one that they could not easily win with…due mainly to their longstanding investment against a counter-segment, the “Credit Card Elitists.”


An even more recent example of differentiating with the target is what the U by Kotex Brand has done with “Millennial Teens and Young Women.”  With no meaningful differentiation in the product’s performance, the brand has established itself as the only option with the right attitude about sanitary protection for today’s young woman.


2.   Differentiate with the Competitive Framework—Rather than “accept” the category or class your product competes in as the only competition, how about looking at contiguous categories and classes…to find a product yours can beat? You see this sometimes at play in the OTC medicine categories. For example, in the highly competitive antacid category, where there are several brands with products that perform equally well, the Maalox Brand shifted its competitive focus to another related category—the H2 Blockers. Among this competitive set, Maalox could claim a legitimate product advantage…namely, faster onset and relief of heartburn.


3.   Differentiate with the Reason Why/ “RTB”—Despite the fact that a good many brands actually have something different in their formulation, feature, design, or mode of action, it seems that too many still under-leverage their opportunity to make something more of these kinds of differences. Really, you have to admire those parity-performing products whose clever (creative!) marketing of a differentiated feature implies a better overall performance—especially when such a performance cannot be legally claimed. We have often cited both Schick and Gillette for their implied smoother/closer shave benefit, when all they have had to work with was the design feature of more blades. But there are other even less obvious RTB’s that some leading parity-performing products have made into implied advantages: Luck Strike’s “It’s Toasted” tobacco-processing for implied better flavor; Folgers “Mountain Grown” beans for implied richer coffee taste; and, one of the grand-daddy’s of them all, Johnson’s “No More Tears” formula for implied better protection of baby’s eyes during shampooing.


Just considering these few examples of creative positioning, it’s pretty clear that the only difference between a competitive positioning and a creative positioning is that the former typically includes real, meaningful product-benefit advantages versus competitors, whereas the latter compensates for not having them by finding a target segment, a competitive set, or an RTB to win with.




For this week, here’s a simple matrix to consider. In which column does your brand’s positioning fall?

Is technically sound: it meets the essential technical criteria:

Clear—incapable of being misunderstood

Complete—No critical elements missing (e.g., the Target has all 7 elements)

Cohesive—All the parts link together; there are no “dangling” themes

Choice-Full—Not all things to all people

Is technically sound and includes obvious meaningful differentiation versus key competition…most likely in the Benefits, but also in other positioning elements.

Is technically sound but lacks a real/claim-able Benefit advantage; however, contains a differentiated positioning element—such as the Target Segment, Competitive Framework, or an RTB—that the brand can achieve an implied “win” versus key competition with.

Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

That’s our topic for this week. And if you would like to do more than just read about these kinds of brand positioning strategies, why not join us for our annual BDNI “Open” Power Positioning College—in Chicago on October 30th & 31stContact Lori Vandervoort for information and sign-up:



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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