The Potency of ‘Unlike’

In these digital infatuated times, brands too often overlook the criticality of positioning. It seems quaint somehow. Just another marketing term beginning with ‘P’, it’s even given equal weight as the others. When the narrative in the press, and even respected marketing titles, asserts that people, in their revulsion against big corporates, don’t want brands anymore, and that Millennials are somehow radically different from all the other 18-34 people who have gone before (and from everyone else), and that adverts in ‘traditional media’ no longer work (only ‘content’), well, unless you take a check-step, you may actually believe it.  Because, be clear: it’s all nonsense. It’s fake news.

Yes, our times are different. Yes, we have information and digital technology empowering and changing our society and lives in new ways. But in our responses, are we any different to those in the 1830s onwards, when confronted by the revolution of the railway and effective mass transportation? Or the 1700s when confronted with the revolution of organised industry, or before that technology on agriculture? Underneath it all, we are human and respond in fundamentally human ways; we have the same needs and desires. Yes, the manifestations of our needs are in response to new inputs… but why should they be different?

Feminism, consumerism, the growth of youth culture, the explosion of mass culture, the destruction of manufacturing industries, the decline of traditional institutions such as the church – all these and many more have helped transform Britain, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

Kenan Malik 4th Feburary 2018

The structures of our society are going through radical change. And as a consequence, there’s never been a time when brands are more important navigators for people.  Brands continue to fulfil needs and desires on so many levels. These may be purely functional or they may be about our self-identity, but brands remain a constant for everyone in our society, rich or poor. Critically, brands remain a cornerstone for how we navigate life – sometimes actively, more often in the background – but a consistent presence nonetheless. And of course, we leave some brands behind, yet we discover and adopt new ones – since the introductions of brands as we understand them now in the 1800s, it was ever thus. Just because of artisan products from small producers at places like Borough Market, or craft products are sold on Etsy, doesn’t mean brands are dead – the space expands and frankly, it just gets more interesting. Nick Johnson, co-owner of Mackie Mayor a new artisan food hall in Altrincham, Cheshire says, “All our vendors are passionate and independent. We are originators. It’s an antidote to brand mentality”. But he’s wrong. If you look at the craft movement, those that are commercially successful, that scale-up (to a reasonable level to ensure their continued survival) are the ones that create brands. Some protect their independence and grow, some take the money and sell out. If you’re of an ‘artisan’ mentality’ it may make you uncomfortable, but consumers still want brands as much as ever. They may start differently, look different, they may have a different ownership structure or long-term ambition; they may have a different experience, but they are brands nonetheless.

Whilst competition exists, brands exist. And so long as we want to express ourselves through what we consume, brands will exist.

So to treat brand positioning casually, to assume it is less important today, is perhaps the greatest mistake of anyone running a brand. As new methods of manufacture and retail are devised, as new brand launches proliferate in response, the act of setting yourself out differently from current and potential competitors becomes the single most important task you have.

Unlike PictureThere are all sorts of brand positioning models and structures: onions, pyramids, keys, eyes. Worrying about the layout is missing the point. A great brand positioning has four, distinct, parts: it defines the target consumer and what connects them to the brand; it defines the brand itself, the offer it makes, the benefits it gives; it is clear about the relationship it has with you, it’s beliefs and behaviours, and finally it is unambiguous over visual gateways it owns – symbols, signs, sounds, by which people recognise it by.

At the heart of this is the positioning pitch. What does the brand give me, what’s the benefit, why can this brand make this claim?  And given the digital marketeers focus on shares, pokes and likes, it’s perhaps ironic that at the heart of a great brand positioning is an unlike.

This isn’t the act of removing your preference for something. Rather it is being totally clear on who you are unlike.

Unlike Gilette, shaving with Harry’s is cheaper, funkier, more convenient and just as smooth.

Unlike any other form of transport, Brompton cleanly revolutionises your city transportation.

Unlike any other ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s is packed full of chunky indulgent bits.

It’s time to unlike this faddish love of digital marketing and get back to positioning like a pro.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands. Get in touch with David at  / +44 (0) 1283 246260.   You can follow The Crow Flies on Linked In (, on Facebook (  © The Crow Flies, 2018