In the business of marketing, words matter. Sadly,
marketers disagree over basic branding
terminology. Through overuse, the terms
‘mission’, ‘vision’, ‘value proposition’, ‘mantra’, ‘essence’, and
‘identity’ lack precise definition. The confusion makes strategic thinking
about brands more difficult and undermines marketers’ credibility. If marketers
can’t agree on basic terms and frameworks, how serious can the business of
brand strategy be?
In the 1990‘s, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business
Professor, David Aaker, introduced the concept of brand as an asset to be
managed for the benefit of the corporation, thus wresting responsibility for
‘branding’ from ad agencies and putting it in the hands of marketing managers. Since then, many agencies, brand consultants and
academics have built on Aaker’s foundation, making their own contributions to
the art and science of branding. Years of adaptation, melding and cherry
picking have resulted in a world where marketers have no consistent frameworks
or proven models from which to work.
Our experience teaching brand strategy to MBA
and undergraduate marketing students and working with brand strategy clients tells
us the answer is to integrate much of the work that has been done into a
coherent framework, grounded in common principles, terms and frameworks. The
work begins with understanding the necessity of Value Proposition, Brand Identity
Our Way Back: The Trinity of Brand Strategy
Some elements of a brand
are (or should be) relatively constant while others need to adapt to a dynamic
marketplace. As a result, Value Proposition, Brand Identity and Positioning are
all essential components of a comprehensive brand platform.
Of the three components, the most constant is the
Value Proposition. A Value
Proposition articulates what is most enduring about a brand, its enduring
benefit across all audiences. The statement speaks to higher-order outcomes and
results the brand aspires to deliver in the future. Value
Proposition is the brand’s North Star that informs everything from recruiting
to the product development roadmap.
Positioning is the most adaptable
of the three elements. The concept of ‘Positioning’ is perhaps the best
understood element as well, thanks to the
popularity of the ‘classic’ format which specifies the target, frame of
reference and key benefit. The reason for Positioning’s adaptability lies in
frame of reference,’ which defines the alternatives
available to customers and the context in which the brand competes.
Competitive context and target audience change,
sometimes quickly, as a category matures. As competitive offerings change and the
brand’s offering evolves, positionings must also change. Additionally, Positioning is always specific
to a target audience, and targets change over time. Consequently, Positionings need
to evolve to reflect changes in the target audience, the competitive
alternatives and the strategic priorities of the brand.
Value Proposition and Positioning alone are
inadequate to define a multi-faceted brand with internal and external
stakeholders. A powerful Positioning enables consistent, short-term
communications, but is limited to just one or two ideas. Value Proposition, aspirational,
does not speak to a higher order purpose or mission or explain how a brand will
connect emotionally with the values, culture and needs of its constituencies,
both internal and external. The Brand Identity fills in these missing pieces.
more enduring than Positioning, and more adaptable and multi-faceted than Value
Proposition. It articulates how marketers wish
customers and others to view the brand in the foreseeable future. Our Brand Identity prism model is
based on work by brand strategist and INSEAD professor, Jean-Noel Kapferer. The
left side is internally focused, while the right side explains how the brand
connects externally, with customers, members, investors and other stakeholders.
Each element provides a crucial guide to developing the brand’s message, visual
and verbal identity, corporate culture, and more. It also describes the brand’s Noble Purpose,
its reason for existence beyond staying in business and paying employees.
Purpose is becoming an essential aspect of brand differentiation, and it is not
addressed by Positioning or Value Proposition.
It All Together
Together, Value Proposition, Brand Identity and
Positioning provide a complete brand platform that can serve as a roadmap for brand
development over a 3-5 year time horizon. Each element should be revisited
periodically, with Positioning revisited most frequently, at least once a
year. Positioning is a tool for helping
the brand move toward the desired Brand Identity, and multiple Positionings may
be required to achieve the Identity. While the point of Positioning is differentiation,
Value Proposition and Brand Identity can also be differentiating.
Our experience with these models has proven them
to be relevant to B2C, B2B and non-profit organizations. We have applied them successfully
to clients ranging from grocery products to high tech services. When combined
with clear business objectives, a careful brand audit, and a profound
understanding of the target, these tools provide a powerful guide for brand
To learn more about the tools and frameworks
discussed, check out these resources:
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Carol Phillips and Judy Hopelain of Brand Amplitude
Sponsored By: The Brand Positioning Workshop
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