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Category: Brand Positioning

Brand Positioning

9 Ways To Counter The Agency Positioning Dilemma

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9 Ways To Counter The Agency Positioning Dilemma

A recent conversation with a client looking for an ad agency was a reminder of just how little of its own dog food the industry eats. Her assertion that “they all look the same and say the same things” highlighted just how difficult brand differentiation is. It’s so hard in fact that even those who claim to do it for a living struggle to do it for themselves.

Marketers come to ad agencies for what they hope will be clear brand strategy, distinctive brand positioning and brilliant storytelling. Ad agencies should be the living proof of what is possible, and the work they do to position their own agencies should be the exemplars – and yet many seem, on review, to display an underwhelming ability to position their own agency brands in ways that make the choices clear and valuable for clients.

It’s not about the work – Visit umpteen traditional and digital agency websites and the first thing you’ll see is a plethora of projects, with Cannes winnings and other awards displayed proudly. The work is the product for agencies. Get that. The awards are the certificates of excellence. Get that too. But when everyone claims to do great work, when everyone wins awards (one year or another) and/or when you can’t see the relevance of any of the work to what you need, it fails as a differentiating factor.

It’s not about the people – Advertising, like all professional services, is a knowledge sector. It’s powered by people, and a great number of those people are very, very good at what they do. So having great people, or even a large number of people, is unlikely to transform your agency into the go-to – because there are thousands of great teams globally. Industry insiders get very excited about who is where and what they’ve done. To everyone else, it’s a hygiene factor. Again, marketers expect top flight agencies to have top flight people. It’s important for marketers to know who they are going to work with, obviously – but is it a compelling reason to prefer? Probably not unless they know the industry from the inside very well indeed. (They also know that the chances of them ever working directly with the creative ‘stars’ are close to zero unless they have a very, very large account.)

It’s not about the process – The methodology is the methodology. It’s how the agency gets you to the end point. It should be robust and measurable. But is it a point of difference? Absolutely not. Because, again, most agencies have robust and proven methodologies. It’s not a secret sauce anymore. It’s expected.

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Brand Positioning

Stay True To Your Brand Positioning

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Starbucks Brand Equity

A few years ago, I was working as a consultant for a luxury brand. After a long and fruitful week of branding meetings across Europe, we ended the week in Paris and I visited the brand’s biggest boutique with one of its senior executives. Enamored after five days of working for this lovely brand, I decided to buy one of their nice bags for my wife.

Unfortunately, when I went to pay for the bag, my HSBC credit card was rejected. The immaculate sales assistant tried to process it several times but eventually, as a line formed behind me, I was politely informed that my card had been rejected by my bank.

It was a horrendous moment made worse by what happened next. My executive friend insisted, in a flurry of French bonhomie, to buy the bag for me. He explained that when I had the money in the bank I could repay him. I exited the boutique with as much grace as I could muster. By the time I turned the corner I had my head in my hands.

I went back to my hotel room and immediately called HSBC Premier. I had a perfect credit rating, a $10,000 limit and nowhere near that balance on my credit card. Why had HSBC blocked it?

Politely I was informed that as I had been in four countries in the past five days, my spending had set off an alarm. As a result, my card had been temporarily stopped. The staff-member assured me that this was standard banking practice and explained that, having confirmed that my card was in my possession, she would remove the block and all would be well.

But all was not well. As I explained to the implacable woman on the end of the phone, I was with HSBC because they were “The World’s Local Bank”. That statement did not just resonate with me, I lived it – spending 20 weeks of the year overseas working for clients. I wanted, and needed, a bank that understood the whole international thing. I didn’t care if it was standard banking practice for four countries in five days to set off a card alert – I was not with a standard bank. I was with HSBC and expected it to be different. That was why I banked with them.

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Brand Positioning

Brand Positioning Through Memories

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I think it’s healthy for there to be a direct relationship between memory and frequency for a brand. The more often a customer comes into contact with your brand, the more consistent the memory needs to be. That’s because brands that frequently interact with their customers have the power of habit on their side. In fact, when someone is buying from you frequently, the memory itself needs to focus on regularity: greeting customers by name; being easy to find; recognizing what they like and maybe working with that; introducing suggestions that fit with what they’re looking for. The memories are smaller in their impact and their “experience” factor, but their frequency makes the effect powerfully cumulative.

By contrast, when your customers only interact with you occasionally, then the memory needs to be stronger and much more enduring. It literally needs to “last” until the next time a customer needs to buy because there isn’t the same front-of-mind of course – which means less consistent awareness and less reminders. It’s easy for customers to decide to explore a new technology or take advantage of what they see as a better price.

Natural or special? Which sentiment do you generate? The feeling that comes with a trip to your favorite deli or the excitement that wells up at the thought of a trip to another part of the world? That’s the choice for many brand experiences. Something so easy that life wouldn’t be the same without it. Or something so wonderful that you really look forward to buying it again.

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Brand Positioning

Developing A Brand Positioning Statement

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The brand position or brand positioning is how the brand is perceived in the context of competitive alternatives in the mind. As brand consultants, when we develop brand positioning statements for clients, we include a target customer definition, brand essence, brand promise, brand archetype and brand personality, giving the intended brand position / positioning (as opposed to the actual brand position in the mind of the customer) greater depth.

A complete brand positioning statement includes the following:

Brand Essence

[Adjective] [adjective] [noun] (the “heart and soul” of the brand, its timeless quality, its DNA)

Brand Promise

Only [brand]

Delivers [unique and compelling benefit or shared value]

To [target customer description]

In the [product or service category] (establishing the competitive “frame of reference”)

In the context of [market condition or trend that makes the benefit or value even more compelling]

Because [proof points or “reasons to believe”]

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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. 

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