Take a position – and own it

In deciding on a position for a company, product or service – creativity plays a big role. This is where the course of a campaign, or even a brand, can change if we are bold enough to rock the boat. Unfortunately, that’s so against the grain of our natural instincts that it rarely happens.

It’s ingrained in us to conform, follow the rules and go with the flow. We are social animals that run in groups. We don’t want to be the ones placing our own head on the chopping block. The Japanese have a corporate saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” But in marketing, this will get you a seat and a drink ticket at the Dreary Awards for creative lemmings. Differentiation is a requirement.

Positioning is the first place that every brand needs to be bold. You cannot be a leader by following. If you don’t start with a differentiating position, don’t expect differentiating creative. The magic starts with one benefit that holds a unique place in your prospects mind.

One great example of a change in positioning that that I think had a drastic change in creative direction is the “Got Milk?” campaign. Let me note that the results of this campaign are debatable. Milk consumption has been in decline since the 1980s, and the Got Milk campaign has not reversed that decline, though some might argue that they have slowed it.

Originally, the positioning used by the Milk Processor Education Program centered around a health position – “milk does the body good”. And they dramatized it by using healthy looking celebrities to capture attention and give testimonial to their love of milk. Along with the milk mustache, the campaign did become popular and recognized, but did it sell a lot more milk. It didn’t. Why? Because most people don’t drink milk for their health. People drink milk because it’s a comfort food and it just goes with certain food, like cookies, brownies and cereal. And some people love it just because they always have.

When GS & P partnered with the California Milk Processor Board, they changed the positioning of milk from a health drink to an essential comfort food, and they were able to take the creativity of the campaign in a much more engaging direction. The Got Milk campaign dramatized the lack or deprivation of this essential comfort food in quirky vignettes, like the now legendary original spot “Aaron Burr”, and nailed the real reason you buy milk, it’s irreplaceable. There’s just nothing else like it. I think the resulting ideas lifted the campaign to new heights – even though sales have not reflected the same success. The real creativity of that campaign happened when they changed the positioning.

Of course, health is a bigger issue now and so in 2014 the MilkPEP discontinued the Got Milk campaign and have gone back to more of a health position with a new campaign from Campbell-Ewald that uses the tagline, “Start your day with the power of protein. Milk life.” Maybe in the end, you can sell milk to more people if they think it makes them healthier, but the competition for health drinks is getting out of hand and there’s a lot better choices than milk. None of those health drinks has the emotional connection or history of milk as one of the most essential comfort foods, that is also good for your health. So there may be some short-term gain in people trying milk again, but they may not stay loyal milk drinkers if that deep emotional desire is not cultivated. But I digress…

Back to the point, a positioning statement is a simple statement of what we want our prospects to think of us. A clear position that we can attempt to own in their mind. Like, milk – it’s a health drink, or milk – it’s a comfort food. As the example shows, subtly different positions will lead to radically different brand experiences. Remember, there should be a positioning statement for every company/brand and each product/service the company sells.

A good positioning statement can be stated very simply: The (insert product/service) that gives/makes you (insert most important benefit). Example: The car that gives you the best driving experience. I’ll bet you can guess who that is, right?


Again, SINGLE benefit. One. Uno. (See previous entry for more on the singular benefit.)

There are many formulas for positioning statements, but I think you can boil them all down to this: For the PRECISE TARGET, the COMPANY/PRODUCT/SERVICE provides SINGULAR BENEFIT.

A longer (and more confusing) version looks like this:

1. TO: describe the precise target from the research and discovery
2. Product or Service being promoted IS THE: give as specific and brief a description as possible
3. THAT (WHICH): describe the most important single feature of product/service
4. SO THAT: describe the most important single benefit to the target

Often, in the course of determining a positioning, you’ll need to write out several of these statements and do some testing to see which is most relevant to the target audience.

Ultimately, you’ll have to choose one, get agreement in writing from the client and then move toward creative development. The beautiful thing is that once you’ve got agreement on a positioning that includes a singular benefit, writing subsequent creative strategies is much easier. I’ll talk a while about that in my next post. Cheers.

Creating the creative strategy

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