23rd of January 2019

Published by The Drum See original article

Is it time to reposition positioning?

Quick! What’s the difference between a positioning statement and set of brand values?

Or a value proposition and a brand’s DNA?

What about a brand promise and a brand essence?

If you answered ‘er’ to any of the above, then you are not alone.

Week long workshops have been spent parsing out the distinctions between ‘DNA’ and ‘purpose’. Cut through the froth, however, and we are talking about positioning.

But whatever we call it, positioning is central to what marketers do. Yet, here’s a scary New Year’s thought: is it time to reposition positioning?

When Ries and Trout first proclaimed the arrival of positioning in the late 1960s and early 70s, simplicity was at the heart of their thinking. ‘Positioning compensates for our over-communicated society by using an oversimplified message to cut through the clutter and get into the mind.’

Positioning was a strategic exercise, informing everything from distribution, to product innovation, and marketing communications. By analyzing competition, consumer, and company in question, brands could clearly define themselves against rivals with a strong positioning. Ultimately it was about ‘where’ and ‘how’ a brand should ‘play’ against competition.

As a result, the primary goal of the advertising agency morphed from (tactical) creativity, for its own sake, into the (strategic) management of brands.

Yet, as the synonymic inflation around the word ‘positioning’ suggests, this has become an increasingly complex exercise, cast adrift from the original intent.

We now spend a great deal of time ruminating over the finer points of brand personalities, or carefully delving into semantic nuances. We build pyramids, diamonds, and peel back layers of brand onions (weeping, often, in the process), while flicking through thesauruses for synonyms of ‘inspirational’.

More worryingly, positioning is increasingly detached from its original strategic intent. It has become too concerned with marketing communications, and is often treated as a story which should be told (directly) to the consumer. This is a long way from what it should be. Moore and Helstein in a 2007 article on positioning tersely noted ‘a positioning statement is not an advertising strategy, a slogan, or a tagline. It is an internal document, and is often very dull and straightforward.’

The lack of strategic thought is also evident when it comes to understanding of the competition. Competitor analysis is all too often overlooked, and palmed off on someone more junior, with the results filed away and never used. This leads to the weird sense of déjà vu between a lot of brand executions, born, one suspects, from positionings that didn’t pay attention to, or distinguish themselves from, the competition.

All this distracts from an exercise that was originally intended to focus strategy. Positionings have become a pick-and-mix of Big Words that agencies often struggle to execute against.

And positioning faces an even bigger challenge. Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has pointed out that the way we think about positioning is back to front.

Unlike marketers, the brand is the last thing consumers think about.

Read the full article on The Drum.

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