Monday, April 18, 2016
WE FINALLY HAVE A COMPETITIVE POSITIONING.
“In order to own a competitive brand positioning in the marketplace, it must be reflected in everything you do, not just what you say…it is reflected in all the marketing mix elements (product, pricing, advertising, promotion and so on).”
--Czerniawski & Maloney, Creating Brand Loyalty
“Tipping point: the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
--Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
It’s such a wonderful and satisfying accomplishment to, with the assistance of a full-functional brand team, craft a genuinely competitive brand positioning strategy. Wonderful because getting there is so darn difficult—and rare! Satisfying because what makes it competitive is the winning advantage it specifies versus typically darn tough competitors. It’s not all that surprising, then, that upon completing such a positioning strategy there’s a common tendency to exhale and exclaim, “It’s done!”
But, as we expressed in our first book, Creating Brand Loyalty, a brand positioning strategy is never “done.” As hard as it may be to actually articulate an ownable, winning positioning, that’s merely the beginning…because until that positioning comes alive in the marketplace, until it is reflected in everything the brand does, it represents only words on a page. You may say, “Well, of course. It’s intuitive. Like all other business strategies, the brand positioning strategy must be implemented externally—in the marketplace.” The real question, then, is how do you get that external implementation up and running? We’ve found that the answer to that question isn’t always so intuitive, such a no-brainer. In fact, we’ve found that all too many brand positioning strategies end up still-born (as in never really implemented) or, at best, only partially implemented in the marketplace. So they never take hold.
As it turns out, there’s a “tipping point,” a “moment of critical mass” that must occur between the completion of the brand positioning statement and its implementation in the marketplace: implementing the brand positioning strategy internally. Without implementation within the Company—across all functions—there will be no, or only limited, implementation externally. And this internal implementation requires a disciplined process, in much the same way that arriving at a competitive positioning strategy does.
The goal of this process is to ensure that everyone inside the Company who in some way touches the brand and its target customers or consumers (a) understands the meaning of the positioning, and (b) acts consistently with that meaning. So, for example, Consumer Affairs representatives would always email or tweet brand customers in accordance with the brand positioning. Likewise, plant managers looking to increase productivity via new shipping containers would ensure that the product in those new shippers continues to deliver the benefits expressed in the positioning. Every action is “cross-checked” against the brand positioning strategy. We have some proven recommendations towards getting to this kind of internal “critical mass.”
Implementing the Brand Positioning Strategy—Internally
- Make the brand positioning strategy an “official,” governing document. The analogy may be a bit of a stretch, but you could argue that the Brand Positioning Strategy is a kind of “Brand Constitution.” It exists to govern everything the brand does…to ensure a corporate consistency in making the brand live up to what the Company believes about the brand, what the Company wants the brand to stand for. To make such a brand constitution official, then, what’s needed first and foremost is approval—by the company’s ultimate leadership. After all, if George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and other designated American leaders signed the U.S Constitution, the Company President (and Chief Marketing Officer) ought to be signing the brand positioning strategy. And there’s a relatively easy way to secure these approving signatures: present and dialogue with the Company President the recommended brand positioning statement in a format that shows each positioning plank alongside the marketplace research that supports that plank. Make adjustments to the positioning where warranted and then get (literally) a signed copy.
- Share the official brand positioning strategy with all company function heads and their chief lieutenants. The idea is not simply to email out or provide a signed copy of the positioning to each Senior VP. Rather, the idea is to schedule a set time to walk each one through the positioning strategy, taking great pains to demonstrate that all planks (Target, Competitive Framework, Benefits, Reasons Why, and Brand Character) are supportable by sound, disciplined market research. Nothing in the strategy is merely one person’s bias or opinion. Taking this kind of approach not only mitigates a lone function head’s disagreement with the strategy; it also engenders respect for the due diligence that the Brand Team has employed. It definitely serves to overcome the perception that other functions sometimes have: namely, “Marketers make things up as they go along.”
- Think of and treat the internal implementation of a brand positioning strategy as you would a major new product launch. That is, take the approved brand positioning “on the road.” Set up regional “launch” sessions with Field Sales and Field Operations, and make the case as to why this positioning, when implemented externally in the marketplace, will lead to significant advantages (and growth!) over major competitors. And, above all, take questions and engage in dialogue with these critical field teammates. A good many of them may never have spent any time in marketing, so part of the “positioning launch” session must also enable folks to (a) understand exactly what a brand positioning strategy is and why it’s important, and (b) how their actions on the brand’s behalf will make or break that strategy’s success.
In case it’s not obvious by now, it’s worth repeating: Brand Positioning work is never really done. Creating and then qualifying a potentially winning positioning strategy indeed takes hard work and time. But so does giving that positioning real meaning within and across the Company. Probably the one thing that makes this “internal implementation” so difficult is that so few in a company share the same appreciation for the value of a brand positioning strategy (often resulting from so many confusing that positioning strategy with a communication or messaging strategy). Despite the difficulties, however, one thing is certain—the brand positioning has to come alive within the company before it can truly come alive in the marketplace.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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