What is Corporate Branding & Positioning?
I am seriously fighting the urge to start by saying ‘brand is more than a logo.’ Do not get me wrong, this is a true statement, but I cannot use it because you have heard this before, so it is not new, does not provoke emotion, or solves the brand management problems you are managing. In other words, ‘brand is more than a logo’ is a terrible brand position for brand identity and positioning.
The same is true of the cliches: ‘brand is the feeling you get’ and ‘brand is what people say about you when you aren’t in the room.’ While true, do these statements help you? They have never helped me. Frankly, I do not know what to do with them. That is because, unlike effective branding and positioning, they do not satisfy the basic requirements of effective and consistent brand management.
So, let us talk about the ingredients for effective branding and positioning.
- Positions must be concrete.
- Positions must be grounded in fact.
- Positions must push companies to be better.
1. Positions must be concrete.
I did not make this one up. It is from David Aaker or Ries and Trout (incidentally, if you have not read Positioning: The Battle for your Mind or one of Aaker's epic tomes, you should; they are still right even if they are old).
If nature abhors a vacuum, then people abhor ambiguity. We do not have time to guess what a brand intends to impart through its advertising and communications; no patience for puzzling. Ambiguous positioning (and messaging) frustrates the hell out of creatives, too. Well, not the young ones but they were going to just give you the best ideas they had regardless of position. It takes a few years before creatives learn to love the brief (Ernie Schenck's The Houdini Solution is another enjoyable read that is still true – and no, I get nothing if you click these links!).
Abstract positions like brave, empathetic, or proud do not work because each person has a unique way to define the meaning of these words. Our experiences are deeply personal and not commonly held. Which means my understanding of the brand will differ from your understanding of the brand. Ambiguous positioning always begs the question, ‘in what way?’ and leads to multiple interpretations and inconsistent brand management.
Good positioning is simple and concrete. Instead of ‘brave,’ make it tangible by finishing the thought, like: Never afraid to do right even if it is unpopular. Is this concrete? Not yet – concrete is of this earthly planet and can be experienced through the senses like seen, heard, and tasted. A more concrete statement might be: The Courage to fix broken products. When we make statements more concrete, they often carry deeper meaning – in this case, the company is both brave and delivering quality.
2. Positions must be grounded in facts.
A client once said, ‘you are more than just cake decorators,’ referring to the fact that Coologee zeroes in on what is important and credible. Too often, clients come to us with products or services that just do not work. They expect our marketing story to obscure defects and drive sales.
Can we create communications that will drive interest in a product or service even if it is not adequate? Sure. We can do that. Will we do that? Not a chance, because once you have engaged a consumer and they realize your marketing is all smoke and mirrors, you have lost the chance to make them a customer for life, and you have provoked that person to tell their woes across the interwebs.
Good positions must be grounded in fact because brands do not control their brands anymore. Customers’ experiences are trusted over corporate marketing. Influencers are as concerned with managing their own reputations as they are with earning your sponsorship. When push comes to shove, you had better believe the truth will come out, and when it does, you will come to us asking why your marketing campaign is not working. It is not working because you did not deliver an adequate product or service.
Instead, spend time putting your brand out there, listening to real world reactions to your products and services. Bring your brand managers into the fold and ask them to collaborate on using customer feedback to make the product or service better.
Even cake decorators know they need a cake to decorate.
3. Positions must push companies to be better.
Wait, did I not just say positions must be grounded in fact? So, what is this about pushing companies to be better? Either that or you are nodding along because you know a company’s brand can be true today AND ALSO aspirational for tomorrow. So long as you have the seeds of an aspirational position sowed today, ensuring the position is grounded in truth, then you can make your position bolder and bigger.
Good positions act as a beacon, attracting like-minded customers, employees, and partners. Do you want to deliver on ‘the courage to fix broken things?’ Then you must acknowledge that there are problems to fix, communicate ho how you are going to fix them, and start to prove you have fixed products by directly connecting the dots between this new product and your position (again, make it concrete, no one wants to do the work for you).
Positions should last a decade or more, they should be able to adapt to market changes, compete with new market entrants, adjust to target audiences’ new needs, and inspire your employees to strive for better.
There you have it, my three rules to good positioning. Growth-oriented brands adopt positions that are concrete, grounded in fact, and push their company to be better. The other dimensions that drive brand strength models are important – like engagement, relevance, emotion – but these measures are highly subjective and difficult to measure. When a company has a clear brand position, it can adapt to change without losing sight of its purpose and objectives.