Take a position – and own it

In deciding on a positioning 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. And don’t expect bold results. The magic starts with one benefit that holds a unique place in your prospects mind.

Great positioning takes what is inherently unique about the brand and connects it with an emotional center of the right audience. It maps a benefit promise that the audience sees with their own filter and inserts your product/service as the only solution.

One great example of a change in positioning 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 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. No it didn’t. Why? Because most people don’t drink milk for their health. Most people drink milk because it’s a comfort food and just goes well with things like cookies, brownies and cereal.

When Goodby Silverstein & Partners got the account, they changed the positioning of milk from a health drink to an essential comfort food. The Got Milk campaign dramatized the emotional connection of this essential comfort food in quirky vignettes, like the now legendary original spot “Aaron Burr”, and they nailed the real reason you buy milk, it’s irreplaceable. There’s just nothing else like it.

Of course, health is a bigger issue now and so the client has ended the Got Milk campaign and have gone back to more of a health position. Milk sales continue to decline because the competition for health drinks is getting out of hand and there’s a lot better choices than milk. But none of those health drinks has the emotional connection or history of milk. They own a position as one of the most essential comfort foods — that is also good for your health. You can invest a ton in media and get some short-term gain in people trying milk again, but they may not stay loyal milk drinkers if that deep emotional connection and desire is not cultivated. But I digress…

A positioning statement is a simple statement that represents how we want our prospects to think of us. A clear position that we can attempt to own in their mind. Hopefully with little or no clutter competing. Like, milk – it’s a health drink (like many others), or milk – it’s a comfort food (like nothing else). As the milk example above shows, subtly different positions will lead to radically different brand experiences.

Positioning is NOT the company mission and vision. Those are statements about how and why the company does things. They are important, but they are not the positioning. Tag lines and slogans are also NOT the positioning. They should evoke the positioning, just like a good product name should evoke the positioning.

Bad positioning and weak creative based on that positioning can be countered somewhat with lots and lots of money. Repeat a crappy tagline a million times and people will remember it — but probably not for the reasons you want them to remember. When a positioning is done well, it sticks with the audience almost immediately – for the right reasons – and is nearly impossible to forget.

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 IDEAL 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

Kent Land is a marketing and communications strategist, creative director, social entrepreneur and musician who can be found at brand67.com. Read other marketing and creative articles at Brand67 or you can email kent@brand67.com

#positioning #strategy #marketingstrategy #brandstrategy #brandmarketing #marketingideas

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