February 10, 2008
THE POSITIONING "A" TEAM
If you have been reading our weekly Dispatches for awhile, you have no doubt heard us refer to this marketing "age of sameness" that brands everywhere are living in (and have been for some time now)…meaning that fewer and fewer brands exhibit true, functional-performance differentiation these days. And those brands that do offer legitimate differentiation find it harder and harder to sustain it. In short, differentiated Brand Positionings are hard to come by. So, where to seek out this elusive differentiation? We're convinced that the first place to look must be within our own brand-building team -- more specifically, at the strategic thinking and creative talent capabilities of the team members themselves.
Of course, nearly every brand-building, multi-functional team has some experienced people on-board; this alone ensures a level of basic competence. But if you look at the way most marketing organizations operate day-to-day, you see them relying time and again on the internal, multi-functional team (consisting normally of Marketing, Marketing Research/Customer Intelligence, R&D, Professional Services, and Promotions/Merchandising Development). On occasion these teams will include some outside Communications Agency partners, but whenever there is to be an important strategy-setting or idea-generating meeting for the brand, the first "chairs" usually go to the internal team members. In other words, the team is pretty well set with functional experts and, generally speaking, internal perspectives—with players typically changing only when someone gets promoted or a new assignment.
From an organizational-control point-of-view, this team-position-by-functional-role approach makes sense; if every key function is represented at every key meeting, then all will know what brand decisions are being made, and hopefully, will be party to "buy-in" on these decisions. But from the perspective of out-thinking your competition and crafting a differentiated Brand Positioning, this team construct approach often makes no sense at all. Heresy, you say! But wait—look at how other organizations approach their team-building as a way to achieve their own kind of differentiation and success.
What do we see happening in the world of sports, for example? Regardless of the sport or the country, we see team management trying to acquire--by draft, by trade, or by outright purchase—the absolute best possible talent for each position on the team, including the coaching staff. Or how about what we observe from the world of entertainment, say, movie-making or Broadway show production? We see the movie or show billings promoting not merely the acting prowess of the stars but also the director, producer, costume-designer, choreographer and so on. The point is, whatever the field of endeavor, team management or "team architects" usually aim to get the best possible talent they can for each role. The question for us in the field of marketing (no, more importantly, differentiated brand-building) should not be, "Why do we not assemble our teams in the same way?" Rather, it should be, "What can we do to better ensure our Brand Positioning-Building team is truly an "A" Team?" For this week's Boats & Helicopters we offer some suggestions on this "fighting the age of sameness" question.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
As a starting principle in Brand Positioning-Building team-assembly, keep in mind that not every person on the multi-functional team is equally good at all aspects of positioning development. For example, it is highly likely that R&D team members are more knowledgeable and potentially more creative when it comes to identifying possible differentiating Benefits or Reasons Why; but these same team members may not be so adept at Brand Character development.
The upshot of this starting principle is this: beware the "empty chair" syndrome. When there is to be a critical idea-generating off-site there will always be a limited number of participants or else the session becomes unmanageable. Depending upon the nature of the ideas required as outputs, the team leader should aim to fill every available chair with the best idea-generating talent (including those who are quick idea-producers and those who are idea-builders) she or he can get…and should resist the urge to "invite" a multi-functional team member who will, effectively, be an "empty chair" and whose talents are better used at other sessions.
Resist the usual. When it comes to Brand Positioning development, the usual approach is to gather the team in one room for a couple of days and hammer out a complete draft positioning. But another, "unusual" approach often makes better sense: construct the positioning "foundation" -- the Target, Needs, and Core Benefits to pay off those Needs at the two-day drafting session; then assemble customized "special teams" to develop other, more thought-provoking and time-consuming parts of the positioning (such as the Perceptual Competitive Framework and Brand Character). It also often helps if the Reasons Why are developed with a separate "exploratory" of technical experts and their suppliers -- to include both "mad scientists" who have many novel ideas and commercializers who know how to get novel ideas to market.
Think outside! For sure, use the talent of your support agencies to the max. When setting the Brand Character sub-team, for example, be sure to overload it with right-brain thinkers and creative people from different fields, those who can think and speak in analogies and metaphors. See who has been writing books and articles about new angles on customer behavior and invest in some of their time by including them in one of your team sessions (definitely a “fully occupied chair”).
We hope these thoughts get you to reconsider the relative strength of your brand-building team…to appreciate the thinking differentiation that you might assemble and win with in the marketplace. Perhaps you will never have the complete authority to "hire and fire" a full team, but you can sub-divide and augment your effort, and that’s a great start.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.