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Brand Positioning

The Right Time To Position Brands

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The right time to position brands is seldom obvious. Brand consultants will eagerly advise about how to position your brand. The key to effective brand positioning is more about “when to “ rather than “how to”. Even if marketers know how, they don’t think too much about when. Marketing organizations are so invested in heads down tactics many are risk averse and value predictable outcomes. It’s little wonder many don’t recognize the right time to make a shift in strategic direction until it’s too late.

Living in an era of hyper change.

The distance from innovation to commodity is getting shorter each day. While one company is betting its future on its latest and greatest product introduction, another company is reinventing the future and making everything else in the category obsolete. The recent retooling and reintroduction of the Blackberry is a dramatic case in point. Poor RIM (a.k.a. BlackBerry) spending all that time, energy and capital only to produce a lesser version of the very product that is putting them under.

Sadly it’s too late for more me-too innovation in an era where the speed of innovation is faster than any one company can keep up with. Kodak, Blockbuster, Sears, Newsweek and a host of other brands who were once the dominant forces of innovation in their category, have become mere shadows of their former glory. Stuck in their culture of success, these organizations institutionalized the original success into an impediment to change and adaptability, while more nimble competitors were changing the game all together.

Timing is everything – in fact it trumps aggregated knowledge and capability. When mental models within organizations become the status quo and remained fixed, it’s nearly impossible to face any challenge that does not conform to the organization’s current point of view. There was no way Blockbuster could anticipate the game changer known as Netflix. When Blockbuster did finally react, it was far too late. Blockbuster had lots of knowledge and capability – just no foresight.

The right time to position or reposition brands is seldom obvious.

If you’re in an organization that holds to the adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, then your brand is already doomed to the slush pile. In an age of disruptive product innovation and radical differentiation, what got you there, won’t keep you there. Positioning (or for many organizations re-positioning) your brand is usually an activity done in response to a threat rather than pre-emptive strategy of staying one step ahead. 

How you position your brand is less important than when you position your brand. Every brand has a cycle of development, growth and decline. Every brand lives in an ever changing and unforgiving marketplace. Brands live in a constant cycle of stable states to unstable states. Xerox was in a stable state of success and didn’t see the imminent threat to its business as HP was innovating desktop printers. Apple was in an unstable state of chaos when it completely changed how we buy and listen to music.

Sometimes it’s just not obvious to brand owners where they’re at in the competitive life cycle of their brand. It is in the periods between stability and instability that brand positioning is most possible and necessary. But these in-between periods are subtle. There may not be an obvious threat looming that requires changing horses mid race. On the other hand, a competitor may have changed the game entirely over night.

Brand owners must be ever diligent in knowing where their brand fits within the natural competitive cycles. Having this heightened level of awareness enables brand management to exploit brand strengths and minimize weakness, exploit a competitor’s weakness, leverage unstable states to reinvent the brand, or leverage stable states to block competitor’s threats and remain vital to customers.

Once the shift is underway, the big problem of building a great brand is getting a complex organization to get behind a simple idea. Successful brands positioned with precision are based in obvious, simple ideas. Because we live in a world of perpetual change, it naturally breeds perpetual novelty. Novelty is more interesting than lasting relevance. Although the timing for shifting brand perceptions is less obvious, the best brand positioning ideas are always obvious.

Sponsored byThe Brand Storytelling Workshop

Join us at The Un-Conference: 360° of Brand Strategy for a Changing World
Featuring John Sculley May 16-17, 2013 in San Diego, California
A unique, competitive-learning workshop limited to 100 participants
As in the marketplace — some will win, some will lose, All will learn

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