Positioning, an exercise in naive manipulative futility

I have a great dialogue going with Derrick Daye at branding strategy insider

I told him that positioning is an outdated strategy that wastes money, is immeasurable and should be confined to the marketing graveyard. He replied that I am wrong because although the world has changed in the last 40 years, the human condition hasn’t.

Here is my response in full.

Derrick you make the fundamental mistake that the majority of other marketers make – that the human condition hasn’t changed. Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that despite all that extra noise and clutter and, let’s face it, false promises on product capabilities and deliverables; despite the radical changes that have occurred in the way we lead our lives and so on, the tools and channels that we use to source information, the human condition is the same in 2009 as it was in 1969?

The world has been through unprecedented changes since Mr Trout published his first article on positioning. Yet advertising agencies and brand consultants continue to recommend positioning to clients, whatever their industry. I do agree that in its day, positioning could work, and I stress the word could, for large consumer-oriented firms but with MAYBE one or two exceptions, it is not the right way forward.

It is exactly because of the multiple sources of information available to the consumer, including from those that the consumer respects and, more importantly, believes and the subsequent over-communication of product controlled messages as mentioned by you, as well as the fact that there is an abundance of choice and channels, the consumer can now control the relationship the brand has with them and therefore define the brand.

Indeed, any attempt to ‘own a singular concept in the mind’, or as someone else put it, ‘find an empty space in the consumers mind and then park your brand there’ is basically an expensive exercise in naive manipulative futility.

Support for my stand on positioning

I’ve drawn a lot of flak after my comments about the end of positioning (comments, incidentally, that I stand by). And then I read an excellent article by Larry Light in Adage that reminded me it was Larry who had first got me thinking about the demise of positioning.

In the Adage article, he talks about his six rules for revitalising brands. Not once does he mention positioning. In fact, he is essentially echoing the FusionBrand definition of a brand available elsewhere on this blog.

Anyway, deep in my hard drive, I found the inspiration for my article on the death of positioning. So here it is:

“Bringing our brand up to date means that we have to abandon marketing practices & principles that are out of date. So we reject the outmoded view of the positionistas, declaring an end to the out-of-date, simplistic concept of brand positioning; that marketing lock-box that locks brands into uni-dimensional, uni-segment, monotone marketing. Instead we are adopting an up-to-date, multi-segment, multi-dimensional marketing approach.”

Larry Light when he was CMO of McDonald’s 2002 – 2005. He was also voted Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year title in 2004