More thoughts on why positioning is wrong for your brand

The issue or issues I have with positioning are well documented in this blog.

But I still get a lot of resistance when I try to explain to companies that they are wasting their money relying on advertising agencies to manage their brands by developing a positioning strategy.

This is because another issue that is increasingly relevant is the fact that it takes time to develop a position, strategise it and then communicate it, normally across traditional media channels.

Please, not more messages!
Please, not more messages!

In a (reluctant) nod to the Internet and Social Media, agencies are beginning to use online channels (whilst online advertising is growing, I don’t think it is growing fast enough and one reason is because agencies can’t control it or rather it is too transparent) but they are using these channels in the same way as they use traditional media, ie trying to broadcast a position to as many people as possible.

Developing a position was alright in a ‘mono’ world such as the early to end 20th Century USA or in Europe where many of marketing’s traditional tools and tactics were developed.

Indeed, before commercial flights, mass migration of peoples, national TV and newspapers as well as a more localised population and limited competition, such a model had legs and made sense.

It was also easier to find those USPs – remember when quality was a USP? – imagine trying to build a brand on a product that wasn’t high quality. OK, Microsoft did it but there are always exceptions to every rule!

As Glen Myatt said in his response to one of my blog postings (read his reply in full here) Quote, “With the myriad touchpoints available to brands now, a better way of thinking about what a brand should represent is what its story is rather than what its positioning is.

This is beyond benefits and personality to its values, what it believes in, its purpose in ‘the world’, its ambition.

The result is usually a unique combination of associations rather than a single unique association. (For instance, some may argue Apple is positioned on simple & intuitive technology while others fall back on its creative values of ‘thinking differently’. Both of these are valid as are the myriad other associations that make up the Apple story).

A brand story is typically not single-minded though it often has a central theme. In this respect positioning as a single ownable thought that can be packaged in a 30 second television spot is probably redundant.

As the idea of a unique, ownable story it is alive and well. And companies need to have and steer those stories even as their customers may also be shaping them. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know what you stand for you’ll fall for anything”. End quote.

With 2 exceptions, I agree with What Glen says.

The first exception I have is that I don’t think Apple is positioned. I think it produces great products, tells a great story, creates a great experience and then lets consumers define the brand. In other words, it offers economic, experiential and emotional value to consumers and on their terms (it makes mistakes but generally addresses those mistakes in a transparent, emotional, fair and collaborative manner). It is very human in its approach. Unfamiliar corporate territory but in the social economy, branding dynamite.

Which leads onto my second exception. I don’t believe you can create a unique ownable story and then develop it into a position. And knowing what you stand for doesn’t equate to a position. Those are corporate values. Perhaps there is an overlap…

Going back to my original point, not many companies have the time, or for that matter the resources to go through what is traditionally required to build a brand.

The days of broadcasting a corporate driven message are over
The days of broadcasting a corporate driven message are over

I believe that instead they should focus on delivering economic, experiential and emotional value to customers and on their terms. And do this in a transparent, human, personal, collaborative manner. Everything else will fall into place.

First rule of auto advertising – keep it real!

We are carpet bombed with messages from the moment we wake up till the moment we go to sleep. Little wonder then that studies show we are increasingly oblivious to these messages.

As a result advertising agencies are increasingly hard pressed to cut through all the clutter and make us look, listen and absorb. To try and sell cars, those advertising agencies have for years used CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), think Honda and the ‘greatest ever car’ commercial, sex, think the Renault Megane ‘shake it’ campaign and humour, think Proton and ‘the Pontianak’ in their TV commercials.

Print advertising hasn’t escaped either. I don’t know exactly when automotive manufacturers started to make ridiculous claims in print advertising but I certainly remember when Toyota, in the late 1970s used “Oh what a feeling” to describe driving a Toyota!

I also remember Peugeot talking about the ‘lion leaping from strength to strength’ in the 1990s and the launch campaign for the first Proton MPV the Exora that claimed “You’ll be amazed” in 2009. I’m sorry but if I’m going to be amazed by the Exora then how will I feel about the Aston Martin V12 Zagato? Or, perhaps more relevant, how will I feel about the third version of the Exora due out in 2012?

Most recently I came across an online ad for the Volvo S60. The ad claims there are ‘naughty cars everywhere’ and that ‘naughty cars go everywhere’. The box ad features the price of the car and two links to either get naughty with the car or test drive it.

I decided to click on the get naughty link and was diverted to a landing page where I was encouraged to enter a website address. Naturally I entered my address and was confronted with this cringeworthy statement, “When we said naughty cars go everywhere…. we meant everywhere!”

You are then encouraged to ‘start your engines’ and the gimmick is that you can drive an S60 around your website very own website.

Once you get bored, and for most of you that will be after about 3 seconds, you can then request a test drive, invite a fried to have a go or close the tab, which I did. My memory of this exercise is the smoke coming out of the exhaust and the tyre tracks, not very environmentally considerate.

I don’t know about you but I think this campaign is flawed on numerous levels. To start with it really is a stretch to use the word naughty in the same sentence as Volvo. Secondly, what is naughty about the car? thirdly, what is naughty about maneuvering a car around a website? Finally, after all that effort, the campaign doesn’t collect any information on visitors!

You can see some good but hardly naughty volvo videos here

Sri Lanka: A Big Miracle

After the domestic travel trade complained repeatedly that it doesn’t spend enough money promoting the country internationally, The Sri Lanka tourism development Authority (SLTDA) announced that it will launch a new tourism campaign in the next few months to increase visibility in key source markets. The campaign is expected to be in addition to existing marketing efforts.

This is going on at the same time as a new tourism policy is being drafted that should include a new tagline that is rumoured to be “Refreshingly Sri Lanka – Wonder of Asia”. This will be the first tagline since “Sri Lanka: Small Miracle” was binned in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s annual marketing budget is about 500 million Sri Lankan rupees (RM1 = 35 Sri Lankan rupees) which is about RM14 million.

SLTDA spends about RM5.5 million on international trade fairs and about RM1 million on sponsoring international travel writers to visit the country. The balance of about RM7 million is spent on advertising and other through the line activities. It is not clear if funding for the new campaign will come from this RM7 million or additional funds will be made available.

I find it hard to understand what the domestic travel trade is complaining about and why the SLTDA is giving in. I get the feeling this is just an exercise to shut up the domestic travel trade. In my opinion, SLTDA is doing very little wrong.

Arrivals to Sri Lanka in 2010 were up an impressive 46% over 2009. Indeed arrivals reached 654,476 in 2010, the highest since the 566,202 arrivals in 2004. Revenue from tourism in 2010 was over RM1.5 billion (US$500 million).

The government is targeting 750,000 arrivals in 2011 and early indications are that that target will be achieved. In the first six months of 2011, about 381,000 visitors arrived in the country.

The record of 2004 was set after the government and the Tamil Tigers agreed a peace treaty. In May 2009 the government defeated the Tamil separatists to end the 30 year civil war and tourism arrivals have risen every month thereafter.

Furthermore, the country’s tourism business has secured US$1.2 billion in FDI already this year and has another US$3 billion of deals in the pipeline.

Surely the travel trade should be very happy with what the SLTDA has done so far on a relatively small budget?

And surely spending money on egocentric ‘look at me’ awareness campaigns that will be lost in the clutter are not the way forward?

And even if they do work, can Sri lanka manage the influx of visitors? And if it can’t what are the potential ramifications? And what does Sri Lanka do after the campaign?

It would make more sense to invest what funds it has into a well researched brand strategy and implement that brand strategy rather than spending money for the sake of it on a tactical campaign that seems to be driven by misguided travel industry workers.

What Malaysia must do to build a Nation Brand

Traditionally, Tourism Malaysia has had the responsibility of raising the awareness and promotion of Malaysia. And Tourism Malaysia has worked hard to build awareness of the country as a tourist destination and on the whole, it has been reasonably successful.

But in an increasingly competitive world, Malaysia is not just in a global competition to attract tourists. It is also in a global competition to encourage talented Malaysians to return to the country, international talent to live in the country and international investment. Malaysia also needs to move away from its image as a supplier of commodities to the provider of more valued added products and services and increase its influence in Asia and on the world stage. As if there weren’t enough, it is also in a domestic battle to forge a national identity bought into by multiple races!

A strategic tool to achieve the goals of attracting talent, increased revenue through expanded tourism and more valuable exports is Nation Branding or country branding. Australia, India, Norway, Oman and Qatar are all making a concerted effort to attract the world’s attention, interest and revenue by embarking on Nation Branding initiatives.

In this competitive environment, complicated by bickering politicians and individual agendas, tactical rather than strategic initiatives, fragmented and outdated communications, a lack of integration and communication between organisations and dwindling global funds available for investment, Malaysia has a lot to offer.

It is a progressive, innovative and stimulating country in which to live, work and visit. Malaysians are enthusiastic for development and have a natural ability for entrepreneurship. Individual races have capabilities in specific areas important for the growth of the country. For such a young country, it is remarkably open and many times it has been called a model Islamic country. It has numerous natural resources that should ensure quality of life can be high. Residents and visitors can enjoy the benefits of increasingly advanced infrastructure combined with a vibrant, diverse culture and a reasonably well trained and educated work force.

But, unfortunately, Malaysia does not have a clearly defined image or the visibility internationally that it deserves. Part of the reason is that it lacks a national Brand that resonates with Malaysians and enjoys wide acceptance internally and is effectively and consistently communicated externally.

As a result, international perceptions vary widely. Some believe it is an undeveloped country rich in such natural resources as rubber and timber; others look at the Petronas twin towers and fail to see many differences between Taipei, Shanghai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and other Asian metropolises. This lack of a consistent Nation Brand persists despite the efforts of successive Prime Ministers, international events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the 1998 Commonwealth Games and increased visitors to the country.

The need for successful Nation Branding is recognized at the highest levels.

Most recently, the Prime Minister, via his website and with the assistance of Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia has outlined the need to shape the country moving forward and asked for help from citizens. Although technically not a citizen, I have three children growing up as Malaysians so I have a vested interest in the success of the country.

So what should Malaysia do to start building the Malaysia Nation Brand?

Five key factors are required to achieve the prime minister’s goal as an international “corporate nation.” These include:

• Widespread agreement and acceptance on what Malaysia stands for, and what makes her unique in the community of nations. The agreement and acceptance is based on communication and understanding among all levels of government and all facets of society.

• The identification of industries most likely to complement Nation Branding initiatives and a clear process for investing in and sustaining that investment and developing those industries.

• Clear, consistent and coordinated communications to domestic and international audiences by public and private sectors. A long-term plan with goals and measurements is critical. Ideally, these communications must be tailored to specific segments.

• Successful execution of brand messages. This is not just a communications exercise. The public and private sector must facilitate international and other economic involvement, while tourist-related industries and areas must perform according to expectations.

• Leadership. Current branding efforts are hampered by a variety of uncoordinated tactical efforts, each promulgating a different message. Leadership is required to ensure that Malaysia both speaks “with a single voice” and has the necessary long-term commitment.

The following are the key steps required in the development of the Malaysia Nation Brand and they are as follows:

1) Carry out a brand audit. Who do we think we are? Who do our stakeholders think we are? What do we have? What do we want to become? What do we have? Do we have the skill sets required to sell it? Are our communications communicating this effectively? Does the content of our communications resonate with target markets or are we using a one-size-fits-all strategy to communicate with everyone? Are we using the right platforms? Who are key stakeholder influencers? How do we communicate with them? What do stakeholders want from us? Can we deliver? If so how?

2) Analyse and review the data collected in step one and identification of key industries to help drive the Malaysia Nation Brand.

3) Develop the nation brand framework. This stage includes the development and articulation of the vision, mission and values of the brand as well as the development of a positive & competitive identity that offers economic, experiential and emotional value to each target audience

4) Develop a holistic and comprehensive visual and verbal brand. Sadly this is where most nation brands start. Using a creative driven approach, they look to spray advertising across as many platforms as budgets will allow and pray that it sticks in at least some of the places. This ‘spray and pray’ approach to branding is destined to fail nearly every time.

5) Develop the brand strategy. Only AFTER the above steps can the brand strategy be developed. Normally a plan to drive the brand forward, it outlines how to position Malaysia as a unique, different and attractive country for key stakeholders such as tourists, investors, strategic partners and talent and includes, branding, marketing, sales and other imperatives as well as measurement, budgets, responsibilities and more. Individual country brand strategies should also be included for key markets. The brand strategy also outlines requirements to clearly communicate relevant messages to the target constituents and stakeholders in multiple countries.

6) Make sure all initiatives systemically connect the Nation Brand to Malaysia’s core industries, corporate brands and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector brands

7) Measure, improve, refresh and keep relevant.

Building a nation brand is not easy. It requires commitment and perseverance and the will to stick with something even when it may not be going according to plan. Follow the elements above and we will have a much better chance of building a Malaysia Nation Brand.

Brand communications is no longer about broadcasting a company position across multiple mass communication platforms.

In today’s always on world, an important part of any brand strategy is the communications strategy but if Asian brands are going to be taken seriously, Asian CEOs must understand that times have changed and that we are living in a new world order. And in that new world order, the success of a brand is in the hands of the consumer not the corporation.

Today CEOs must understand that how consumers source information about brands and where they source that information from, has changed dramatically over the last 5 – 10 years. Where previously they learnt about brands from television commercials, newspaper advertisements and the recommendations of friends, today they learn about brands from Facebook communities, Twitter lists and YouTube channels.

Gartner estimates that mass marketing campaigns now have only a 2% response rate and this is declining annually. Despite this, Asian CEOs, so long in control of their brands and reluctant to lose that control, continue to try and shape brand perceptions by broadcasting positions repeatedly across traditional media via multiple and repetitive campaigns.

But Asian CEOs need to accept that in today’s noisy, crowded, dynamic, mobile market place, a brand cannot be shaped by repetitive communications campaigns that try to appeal to as many people as possible in the hope that someone will buy and communicated across traditional media. And those CEOs must understand that the success of their brands is too important to be left in the hands of marketers and advertising agencies.

According to Gartner, by 2015, at least 80% of consumers’ discretionary spending will be influenced by marketing across social and mobile platforms. And it is imperative that CEOs do not allow marketing departments to continue the mass market model of invasive campaigns that try to push a one size fits all corporate position onto consumers.

So if building a successful brand requires more than a traditional approach to marketing where reaching anyone and everyone and making them all aware of the brand with a generic message broadcast multiple times across multiple channels is not the way forward, what should Asian CEOs do if they want to challenge the global western brands?

The first thing is that this new world order is good news for Asian CEOs because it means they can stop wasting funds on expensive creative driven initiatives that require deep wallets to fund advertising campaigns repeatedly across traditional media in the hope that they will resonate with consumers and lead to a possible sale because the reality is, very few of them are noticed, let alone remembered.

Try this experiment. If you advertise in a daily newspaper or on TV, ask yourself which ads you remember from yesterday’s newspaper or on TV last night. Be honest. I doubt it is many. Personally I remember the ads from the Sunday paper because I was stunned at how many pages featured supermarkets and hypermarkets having a ‘cheap off’ on chicken wings, grapes and cases of beer.

And these are the very same newspapers that featured advertisements for Patek Philipe and Rolex watches, Lexus and Audi cars and other luxury products and services the week before!

And even if you remember newspaper ads or TV commercials, how many of the products or services advertised, have you interacted with? And of those how many have led to a purchase? And even if they have led to a purchase, what did the company do to ensure you come back again? I suspect they didn’t do anything and instead, after they spent all that money getting you into their store or to buy their product, they let you leave without getting some personal information in order for them to start to lay the foundations for a relationship!

In this era of smart phones and the half a million applications that can be used on them; In this era of social media with five hundred million Facebook users (6 million in Malaysia) of whom 50% are active every day and one hundred and forty million daily tweets on Twitter, many of them generated by Malaysia’s 1.1 million members; the proliferation of leisure time activities and abundant choice at malls and more, Asian CEOs must understand that the answer to brand building is delivering economic, experiential and emotional value to consumers and on their terms and across all touch points.

The global economic situation is a golden opportunity for Asian brands to take market share from established Western firms struggling to overcome cash flow issues and poor brand penetration. But it is up to CEOs to understand that they have to review traditional practices and take an interest, indeed responsibility for the brand and ensure brand departments understand that it is no longer enough just to advertise in traditional media and hope a brand will succeed.

CEOs must ensure too that at the heart of any new strategy must be the organization, making sure every brand touch point focuses on delivering value and communications departments must take social media seriously and understand how to deliver more engaged communications. And this will have to be done in a much more integrated, dynamic and fluid manner.

And whereas in the past, a series of the same full page ads repeated in daily newspapers or a number of prime time TVCs was generally sufficient to build brand awareness which would lead to a sale. Indeed, many consumers would actually watch a commercial and take a note of the brand and where they could purchase it. Those consumers would then go to the store, look for the brand and buy it. If the brand was unavailable they would take time out to come back again and again until they could make a purchase.

Today those same consumers don’t bother taking note of the brand names because they’re carpet bombed with messages throughout the day, every day. Many of those messages are making outrageous claims or are totally irrelevant to them. They are also too busy multi-tasking during the expensive commercial breaks. Furthermore, they’ve been let down so many times after believing those claims that they now often ignore them completely. And because consumers have so much choice and so many information channels, they don’t need to pay attention to messages broadcast via mass media any more.

Now consumers use social media and other tools where they inhabit communities that they relate to and trust, to seek information about brands. So it is in these communities where brands must learn to communicate and engage with consumers and deliver value that resonates with those consumers enough to make them want to own the brand.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t advertise but I am saying that if your organization is not on brand and all marketing initiatives are not integrated to allow you to deliver on the brand promise. And if your organization is unable to deliver value across all touch points and if you don’t use every opportunity to engage with consumers and collect data to help you get to know your customer and start to build a relationship with your customer, your advertising efforts will be wasted and your brand will not survive these extraordinary times.

In this crazy, always on, competitive market place it is these relationships that are going to help build a successful brand and not newspaper ads or TV commercials, no matter how cool they are and no matter how cutting edge is the technology used in the commercial.

What will be the impact of social TV on your brand?

A fascinating survey by Digital Clarity in the UK of 1,300 under 25 mobile Internet users reports that a large number of them are talking to friends about the show they are watching.

80% of the survey participants said that they used Facebook, Twitter or other mobile applications to actually comment on the programme and talk about the programme to friends as they watch it.

Twitter (72%) is the most popular platform, followed by Facebook (56%) and other mobile applications (34%). Of those surveyed, 62% use a combination of all three.

Social TV as it is being called is popular because it means young people can communicate with friends, in real time whilst watching their favourite programmes.

But this is really going to put the cat amongst the advertising pidgeons. Here are half a dozen questions that I’d really like to get you input on:

What are the implications for advertisers, already struggling to keep viewers focused on the TV during commercial breaks?

Will advertisers accept that reaching lots of consumers is no longer a relevant metric and demand more from media owners?

Will advertisers push the creative envelope more to try and position products?

Will product placement increase, perhaps with cross platform repetition?

How will they integrate technology with traditional marketing initiatives?

How will this integration of consumer habit impact overall branding strategies?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Dulux goes local

I expect most people around the world recognise international paint brand Dulux.

In its early days Dulux wasn’t available through retail channels because painters and decorators were the firm’s main customers. However in the 1950s, the firm still spoke to consumers in its advertising, telling them to, “Say Dulux to your decorator”. The goal of course was to get your tradesman to buy Dulux.

By 1953 Dulux had gone retail and in the 1960s the The firm became an institution in the UK following a ground breaking advertising campaign featuring an adorable Old English Sheepdog. Nowadays, people of my age often say, “Oh look, the Dulux dog” to bemused children whenever they see an Old English Sheepdog.

Dulux has maintained a very high profile in Malaysia and I have seen numerous billboards, print ads and TVCs featuring bright colours, smiling healthy children and sometimes of course a cute, adorable dog.

It always struck me that this was a questionable strategy, not only because this old mass economy model of spraying money everywhere and praying it would stick with enough consumers to increase sales was rather an archaic approach but also because it was a very Western approach to marketing paint to consumers.

In developed countries such as the UK and USA, home improvement is big business. In the UK alone spending on DIY by householders increased from £7.7 billion in 1998 to £10.9 billion in 2008. The average per household works out at about £700. Interestingly, spending on tradesmen to do the work fell from £6.4 billion to £5.7 billion during the same period.

According to a Euromonitor report, in Malaysia about £300 million was spent in 2008 on DIY and gardening and an average per household of about £20.

One of the reasons for such a difference is that many Malaysians live in apartments but also because it is relatively cheap to arrange for someone else to do your garden and there are plenty of contractors to carry out renovations and paint your house. So the target market in Malaysia should be these small contractors and not consumers.

Anyway, up until this week Euro RSCG, an advertising company had been the incumbent on the brand’s US$100 million global advertising business which it won from DDB in November 2009.

In the last couple of days, Dulux has let the agency go and is now moving away from using a global advertising agency to implement its advertising strategy and instead is giving local markets responsibility for their own campaigns.

This is an excellent move and will hopefully just be the start as other companies such as Patek Philippe, Audi, Lexus, Cartier to name but a few, are all wasting money on traditional mass market global advertising campaigns that may make sense in one market but do little for the brand in others.

Is positioning still relevant today? Part three

Here are some thought starters related to my belief that positioning is generally a pointless exercise:

According to Industry Week magazine, 70% of today’s manufactured goods will be obsolete in six years. There are estimated to be more than 30,000 new product introductions in the US alone every year, just in the packaged goods market. According to AC Nielsen, up to 90% of products fail. This means that as many as 27,000 of those new products will fail.

Despite approximately US$1.5 trillion spent on marketing annually and over US$500 million spent on advertising alone in the US, the annual US based “Most Memorable New Product Launch Survey 2007”, found that unaided, 77% of respondents could not name one of the top 50 new products of 2007, even if it was a strong well recognised brand.

The development of a positioning strategy takes time and the communication of that ‘position’ will be the responsibility of an advertising agency and that agency will, generally speaking use mass media to communicate the position.

With such short life times and high failure rates, isn’t it time companies reviewed the tools/tactics/strategies/channels etc that they are using to build brands? Don’t they owe it to their shareholders, investors, customers, the environment to do something about this?

What do you think?

Is Positioning still relevant today? Part two

Recently I wrote a blog post questioning the relevance of positioning today. You can read the full post here. A fellow blogger called Pepita responded with some well thought out and pertinent comments. Below are her comments, taken from the comments section and re posted here together with my responses embedded within the questions.

Pepita: You state chat a model that was developed for the US mass market in the seventies is not applicable to other countries or through time. Why does a market have to be similar in order for a model to work? All markets have the same elements (competitors, customers, manufacturers etc.) don’t they. If you extend your statement to other theories it is the same as saying that economic theories cannot be applied in Malaysia because they were thought up by Americans or English in another era. This reasoning in my opinion is flawed.

Marcus: I think that one of the reasons so many products fail to become brands (According to Ernst & Young this figure is 90%) is because companies assume that a model that works in one market will work in another. The mass economy was powered by mass market products that were standard and mass media was used to sell those products in multiple markets. As a simple example, for years British car manufacturers had a monopoly on the Malaysian market even though their cars were build in the UK and shipped here with UK specifications. So, a customer in the tropics was expected to buy a car with a heater. Limited choice meant customers had to accept this and British cars had over 90% market share. Then someone imported an American car with aircon. To this day, British auto manufacturers (of which there aren’t many) have been unable to make up that lost market share.

Pepita: Bad claims or outrageous claims developed by agencies for the clients doesn’t mean that the concept of positioning is no good. It means that agencies did poor work.

Marcus: Ries and Trout developed the concept of positioning because audiences were receiving multiple and confusing messages from more and more companies. Positioning’s goal is to create a ‘position’ in the consumers (any consumers) mind that is a reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of the offering. If you are first in that category even better. If you are not first, the goal was to create another new category. Positioning, according to Ries and Trout is about being ‘first in the mind than first in the marketplace’. Companies had to shape information communicated to consumers. Mass media was the obvious vehicle with its massive reach. For this they used and still do use agencies. The outrageous claims were a result of the pressure to create those new categories or influence perceptions. If companies didn’t like the work created by agencies they are able to reject it.

Pepita: I am not sure what you mean by your statement that positioning is only suitable for mass markets. As long as there is competition and there are customers you can use the concept. Even if there is no competition you can still position your company or your brand.

Marcus: You are right, as long as there are customers and there is competition, you can attempt to position your brand. Even if there is no competition you can still try to position your brand.

Pepita: Mission and vision, values, BHAG’s; there are tons of stuff in business that are immeasurable. Or they are measurable but aren’t measured. Does that mean that the concept doesn’t hold? I don’t think so.

Marcus: Generally speaking, in today’s customer driven marketplace where customers not companies define brands and with the tools available to marketers to collect data and use that data, positioning, with one or two exceptions is no longer relevant. Brands are built through retention (you have a 15% chance of selling to a new customer and a 50% chance of selling to an existing customer) not acquisition yet positioning tends to focus on acquiring new customers not retaining them.

Pepita: Wikipedia is no official standard. It could be my opinion or yours; whoever comes last. So dimissing positioning because you do not like the definition in Wikipedia is a sophism. Skipping that and going back to Ries & Trout, the wrote a book on bottom-up marketing and always had the consumer/customer/prospects in mind.

Marcus: I’m not trying to deceive anyone. I googled the ‘definition of positioning’ and got 12 million responses. The beauty of the Internet and tools such as Wikipedia is that we seek references and definitions from others through these platforms. Opinions shared across social media and other peer to peer networks play an increasingly important role in building profitable brands. Positioning simply cannot address these voices, opinions, concerns and so on.

Pepita: You state positioning is one way communication. The company is telling the customer how the products are positioned. I think that you are confusing claims with positioning again. I hope companies would be smarter than to communicate their positioning to their target audience. Who cares?

Marcus: I agree, nobody cares or pays any attention yet positioning, according to Ries and Trout is about, “what you do to the mind of the prospect.” Once it is created, the position has to be communicated via communications and claims are made in those communications that reflect the required position.

Pepita: To me positioning is both competition and consumer/customer driven. That is the way I work and I know that others do too. And Ries & Trout say the following: “To find a tactic that will work, you have to leave your ivory tower and go down to the front where the marketing battle is being fought. Where is the front? In the minds of your customers and prospects”.

Marcus: A couple of responses to this, firstly, using the actions of competitors to determine your brand strategy is a complete waste of time and resources as you will forever be playing catchup. Secondly, my mind is so full of clutter that you will have trouble finding any space to position your product! Much of that clutter is made up of negative connotations related to claims made by brands when trying to position their products in my mind. This is probably a universal state which is why we have the sad statistic from Ernst and Young above.

Pepita: Of course the world has changed significantly over the last 40 years but that doesn’t mean that theories and models aren’t true or usable anymore?

Marcus: Actually, although this is a sweeping generalisation, I don’t think you should be using models developed in one market 40 years ago to build a brand in another market. It would be nice if it could be done but the reality is the agencies want firms to because it makes it easier for them and also marketing professionals. But more importantly, consumers have changed, the way they source and gather information, their influencers and so on. Furthermore their requirements for economic, experiential and emotional value are very different and vary considerably from country to country.

Pepita: You state that positioning uses mass market channels. To me positioning is a strategic concept and not equal to marketing communication. So what you really seem to be saying here is that mass market channels aren’t of this day and age. I agree with you there, but it has nothing to do with the concept of positioning.

Marcus: As I mentioned above, positions have to be communicated. Most agencies recommend mass media to do this because of its reach. But this is an agency issue.

Pepita: Advertising can cost a lot of money. You are equaling positioning and advertising. Positioning is a strategic concept and Advertising is a possible form of execution of the strategic positioning for a company or a product.

Marcus: Again, positions have to be communicated. Don’t forget, this is a blog post not a book! I’ve only got so many words to play with. The most common method to communicate positions is via mass media advertising.

Pepita: Of course tennis rackets have changed throughout the years because of the possibilities technology offer, but since 1873 tennis has been played with a racket. The concept of the tool is still the same. People still play tennis with a racket. If I apply this analogy it would mean that the theory of positioning can be innovated and developed throughout the years, and still be a tool to be used.

Marcus: I don’t see how positioning has been innovated and developed throughout the years.

Pepita: You state some undeniable facts. Markets and consumers have changed. Communication channels are of another era. But your arguments for positioning being outdated and unusable are – in my opinion – flawed and have not convinced me. I also miss an alternative. It would be great positioning for your agency: The brand agency with the alternative to positioning!

Marcus: Nice idea for a tagline, thank you! So much has been written and so much time spent learning about the power of Positioning and the 4 Ps by a whole generation of marketers. But the world is a very different place, the way consumers live their lives and their knowledge and the tools available mean that we have to think past using increased budgets to build brands.

There is no silver bullet to building strong, profitable brands. Every brand is different as are its customers. Some brands are B2B, some B2C. But there is a process to building a strong profitable brand. It requires a focus on research, organisational excellence, planning, personalisation, retention and doing business on customer terms. It’s not particularly sexy and won’t see many brands staring down from billboards, much to the delight of brand owners and ad agencies, but it will go a long way to building strong, profitable brands.

Because without profitability, a brand is irrelevant.