Identity and positioning


It is also common to distinguish brands according to their positioning. Positioning a brand means emphasizing the distinctive characteristics that make it different from its competitors and appealing to the public. It results from an analytical process based on the four following questions:

  • A brand for what benefit? This refers to the brand promise and consumer benefit aspect: Orangina has real orange pulp, The Body Shop is environment friendly, Twixgets rid of hunger, Volkswagen is reliable.
  • A brand for whom? This refers to the target aspect. For a long time, Schweppes was the drink of the refined, Snapple the soft drink for adults, Tango or Yoohoo the drink for teenagers.
  • Reason? This refers to the elements, factual or subjective, that support the claimed benefit.
  • A brand against whom? In today’s competitive context, this question defines the main competitor(s), ie those whose clientele we think we can partly capture. Tuborg and other expensive imported beers thus also compete against whisky, gin and vodka.

Positioning is a crucial concept (Figure below). It reminds us that all consumer choices are made on the basis of comparison. Thus, product will only be considered if it is clearly part of a selection process. Hence the four questions that help position the new product or brand and make its contribution immediately obvious to the customer. Positioning is two-stage process:

  • First, indicate to what ‘competitive set’ the brand should be associated and compared.
  • Second, indicate what the brand’s essential difference and raison d’être is in comparison to the other products and brands of that set.

Positioning a brand

Choosing the competitive set is essential. While this may be quite easy to do for a new toothpaste, it is not so for very original and unique products. The Gaines burger launched by the Gaines company, for instance, was anew dog food, a semi-dehydrated product presented as red ground meat in a round shape like a hamburger. Unlike normal canned pet foods, moreover, it did not need to be refrigerated, nor did it exude that normal open-can smell.

Given these characteristics, the product could be positioned in several different ways, for example by:

  • Attacking the canned pet food market by appealing to well-to-do dog owners. The gist of the message would then be ‘the can without the can’, in other words, the benefits of meat without its inconveniences(smell, freshness constraints, etc).Attacking the dehydrated pet food segment (dried pellets) by offering a product that would help the owner not to feel guilty for not giving meat to the dog on the basis that it is just not practical. The fresh-ground,round look could justify this positioning.
  • Targeting owners who feed leftovers to their dogs by presenting Gaines as a complete,nutritious supplement (and no longer as amain meal as in the two former strategies).
  • Targeting all dog owners by presenting this product as a nutritious treat, a kind of doggy Mars bar.

The choice between these alternative strategies was made by assessing each one against certain measurable criteria (Table below).

The firm ended up choosing the first positioning and launched this product as the‘Gaines burger’. What does the identity concept add to that of positioning? Why do we even need another concept?

In the first place, because positioning focuses more on the product itself. What then does positioning mean in the case of a multi product brand? How can these four question son positioning be answered if we are not focusing on one particular product category?We know how to position the various Scotchbrite scrubbing pads as well as the Scotch videotapes, but what does the positioning concept mean for the Scotch brand as aw hole, not to mention the 3M corporate brand? This is precisely where the concept of brand identity comes in handy.

Second, positioning does not reveal all the brand’s richness of meaning nor reflect all of its potential. The brand is restricted once reduced to four questions. Positioning doe snot help fully differentiate Coca-Cola from Pepsi-Cola. The four positioning questions thus fail to encapsulate such nuances. They do not allow us to fully explore the identity and singularity of the brand.

Worse still, positioning allows communication to be entirely dictated by creative whims and current fads. Positioning does not say word about communication style, form or spirit. This is a major deficiency since brand shave the gift of speech: they state both the objective and subjective qualities of a given product.

The speech they deliver – in these days of multimedia supremacy – is made of words,of course, but even more of pictures, sounds colors, movement and style. Positioning controls the words only, leaving the rest up to the unpredictable outcome of creative hunches and pretests. Yet brand language should never result from creativity only. It expresses the brand’s personality and values.

Creative hunches are only useful if they are consistent with the brand’s legitimate territory. Furthermore, though pretest evaluations are needed to verify that the brand’s message is well received, the public should not be allowed to dictate brand language: its style needs to be found within itself. Brand uniqueness often tends to get eroded by consumer expectation sand thus starts regressing to a level at which it risks losing its identity.

A brand’s message is the outward expression of the brand’s inner substance. Thus we can no longer dissociate brand substance from brand style, ie from its verbal, visual and musical attributes. Brand identity provides the framework for overall brand coherence. It is concept that serves to offset the limitations of positioning and to monitor the means of expression, the unity and durability of a brand.

How to evaluate and choose a brand positioning

  • Are the product’s current looks and ingredients compatible with this positioning?
  • How strong is the assumed consumer motivation behind this positioning? (what insight?)
  • What size of market is involved by such a positioning?
  • is this positioning credible?
  • Does it capitalize on a competitor’s actual or latent durable weakness?
  • What financial means are required by such a positioning?
  • Is this positioning specific and distinctive?
  • Is this a sustainable positioning which cannot be imitated by competitors?
  • Does this positioning leave any possibility for an alternative solution in case of failure?
  • Does this positioning justify a price premium?
  • Is there a growth potential under this positioning?
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