Not that long ago I was asked by a client to review different brand positioning models with a view to taking best practice and my, as a marketeer, what an illuminating way to spend a few days it was. Whilst it was no doubt a lesson in metaphors and also surprisingly educational about amusing fruits, body parts and long-forgotten polygonal shapes, what was particularly striking were the commonalities (or lack of them): what great brand positioning statements need to have and where they slip up. Here at The Crow Flies we call this the ‘2 Wings and 10 Feathers’. But we would, wouldn’t we? The important point is that firstly, there are 5 critical building blocks of a positioning – the structure of what’s important to construct a compelling and consistent brand, and secondly there are 5 watch outs to ensure the way the positioning is constructed is sharp, meaningful and clear.
Wing 1: the 5 building blocks
Clarity of purpose: too often, ‘purpose’ is treated as a mandatory corporate tick box exercise (see here) and too often it’s confused with commercial goals. Being clear on what you want to be, for whom, by when is important – but not here. That’s for your plan. Purpose is something else, higher level, heart-felt. It’s why your business does what it does, or in this case, why your brand does what it does. It’s crucial – arguably the most crucial aspect of your brand positioning – because it provides guidance. It cuts off the options. It forces choice and sacrifice. It defines what you won’t do as much as what you will.
Defining who the target consumer is and their connection to your brand: it’s staggering how often the brand positioning models reviewed made no reference to the target consumer. None. Or perhaps a blunt socio-demographic description and a few random comments on what media ‘Jules’ likes to consume. Clarifying who the target is, in a way they would recognise, and more importantly what the problem is they want fixing, the need they want met or the simple desire they want fulfilled is a cornerstone of a great positioning.
Defining what the brand is and what the benefit is: your brand exists to fulfil a need. Your brand is in some way bought as a reward for fulfilling the needs, desires or fixing your targets’ problems. So of course, being clear on what your brand offers functionally and what reward it meets emotionally is critical. Identifying the underlying truth of your brand that matters is essential too – but you can only define this if you’re clear on who your target is and what they’re looking for. There’s a virtuous circle that both keeps you honest and helps you make great decisions.
Defining how it is recognised: great brands are instantly recognisable. Great brands own many mental pathways and one of those is a bundle of visual and semiotic cues. Colours, shapes, words. These ‘anchors’ can be a curse if your brand has to change, but your greatest asset if you’re in good shape and looking to accelerate.
Defining the nature of the relationship: ultimately a strong brand is more than a product. It builds a friendship relationship with its consumers. Yes, it delivers something functional in a way that a product does, but how it communicates, and how it does so consistently over time, means that a relationship is built that is beyond transactions.
Wing 2: the 5 ‘watch outs’
Confusion – this first point builds on the foundations. What does each element do, why? It’s incredible how many of the positioning models reviewed bandy phrases around. Positioning, proposition, promise. Values, Principles, Traits, Personality, Tone of Voice; Essence. Lots of elements, but no order, no clarity.
Duplication – of words, sections, phrases. It’s a personal bugbear, but the repetition of phrases in multiple locations in a brand positioning is a clear signal that it’s not fully understood. Precision is key.
Compounding – why have one benefit when you can have ten? It’s so tempting –because your brand can offer many benefits, doesn’t mean it should. In fact, let’s not beat around the bush, it definitely shouldn’t. As consumers, we are impacted by thousands of pieces of data every day. Our brain is effectively a big filtering system, and if it can filter something out, it will. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Your goal, your aspiration, is to be single-minded.
Fluffiness – whilst it’s tempting to unleash the inner poet or lyricist, most positioning statements suffer because, like a member of TOWIE, there are too many fillers, and not enough power. Don’t be tempted to crack your positioning in a day. Draft it. Write contenders. Get input and constantly, constantly, distil; which leads nicely on to…
Over-elaborate – as Albus Dumbledore so notably said, words have so much power they can become magical. It’s easy therefore to be tempted to scribe five words when one will do. Celebrate simplicity.
Great brand positionings? It’s a matter of two wings and no prayers.
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, brand strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. If you’re looking for brand positioning help, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 295100.
© The Crow Flies, 2017