The process of brand positioning

By what practical process can a brand platform be defined that will maximise the chances of a successful brand launch? This concerns local brands but also global ones with the big challenge of finding a strong global identity, and eventually a global positioning (if not, one that can be tailored to different markets). There are five phases to this process: understanding, exploring, testing, strategic evaluation and selection, and implementing or activating the brand:

  1. The understanding phase is about identifying all potential added values for the brand, based on its identity, roots, heritage and prototypes, as well as its current image. This is a self-centred approach: a brand’s truth lies within itself. However, in order to detect which area of potential is most likely to be profitable for the business, an analysis of customers and competition is required.

    Markets are also analysed for this reason, as well as developments among consumers looking for ‘insights’ – consumers’ aspirations or dissatisfactions on whom the brand can build. Lastly, the aim of analysing the competition is to identify opportunities, gaps, exploitables and areas of interest. The tool for this is perceptual mapping, for in marketing the fight is over perceptions. Perceptual maps do produce a remarkably synthetic model of the mind of the consumer – the psychological battlefield.

  2. The exploration phase is about suggesting scenarios for the brand. Finding the brand platform is not something that can be done in one fell swoop: it takes an iterative approach, using repeated eliminations and adjustments. For example, what would the possible scenarios be for a brand such as Havana Club? This is the only rum produced in Cuba, an island famous for the quality of its sugar cane (and thus its rum), and seeks to promote this quality on a worldwide scale.

    Going back to our four questions– against whom? why? for when? for whom? – we can identify four major scenarios, each of which uses its own approach to express the full richness of the imagery evoked by Cuba and its capital Havana, which have remained authentic and intact over time (see Table below). Note that these four scenarios do not each rely on the same product. As is the case with many brands, preferences can differ from one country to another.

    For example, in the case of rum, some countries consume only white rum, while others consume only dark rum. Evidently not all of these countries could be penetrated using the same product. This has a strong impact on positioning, as the competition faced by a white alcohol will not be the same as that facing a dark rum. In one case, Havana Club will try to take market share away from gin and vodka, while in the other it will be up against whiskies, malts and brandies. Within the white alcohols sector, the question concerning the competition needs to be asked again: are we targeting the leader or not?

    It all depends on the subjective category and the targeted competitors: to define oneself as rum is already to have specified the nature of the competition. In the UK, however, there is no rum market – despite the fact that Bacardi sells very well there. But to drink Bacardi, do you necessarily have to be aware that it is a rum? It is – thanks to Cuba – perhaps the very epitome of the party cocktail drink.

    The angle of attack will differ depending on whether the target is Bacardi (the world leader), mixers and quality rums, or dark spirits in general (whiskies, brandies and so on).

  3. The test phase is the time when scenarios are either refined or eliminated. It requires consumer studies to evaluate the credibility and emotive resonance of each scenario. What are being tested at this stage are ideas and formulations, but certainly not whole campaigns.
  4. The strategic evaluation takes the form of a comparison of scenarios based on criteria, followed by the economic evaluation of potential sales and profits. The latter is conducted in ‘bottom-up’ fashion, through the summation of sales and contribution of forecasts from each country in question and so on.

    Let us look again at some of the 11 criteria for evaluating positioning. The second of these raises the question of the strength of the ‘consumer insight’ on which it is based. Is there a genuine business opportunity here? The fifth is a reminder that all positioning has to target a weakness in the competition – and indeed, a long-term weakness. Positioning itself is a durable decision. So you might ask the question, how do you find your competitor’s long-term weakness? Paradoxically, through its very strength (Neyrinck, 2000). For example, what is the long-term weakness of the world leader, Bacardi? It is the very fact that it is the world leader. To sell in such quantities, you have to sell at low prices, and thus produce everything locally. Bacardi may have been born in Cuba; but its rum no longer comes from Cuba, for a variety of commercial and economic reasons.

    Comparing positioning scenarios: typical positioning scenarios for a new Cuban rum brand

  5. To evaluate a positioning, one must always take the trade into account. For example, in the world of shampoo, would a positioning of the ‘for men’ type constitute good positioning? The answer would seem to be ‘yes’ when judged by certain strategic evaluation criteria. It achieves differentiation and it represents a ‘customer insight’ (a genuine purchasing motive). But adopting the philosophy of the retailer leads us to a different conclusion.

    Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Asda tend to have a special men’s section for hygiene and cosmetics products. This would immediately attract those arguing for this positioning. But it tends to be women who buy for men, and these women tend to choose for their men a shampoo from their own section.

    Thus, in terms of sales potential, it makes more sense to leave the product in the normal shampoo section. If it were put in the men’s section, sales would fall by 50 per cent. Furthermore, let us suppose that the brand was in the men’s section, at which point the ‘for men’ positioning stops being a source of differentiation, since that section contains nothing but products and brands for men only!

  6. The fifth phase is that of implementation and activation once the platform has been chosen and drawn up. This new term clearly expresses the fact that today, a brand’s values must be made palpable and tangible; and the brand must therefore transform them into acts at 360°.

    This is all about defining the brand’s marketing strategy, functional objectives and campaign plan. Will it be mainly massmedia advertising, or mainly proximity marketing? How will the brand be activated? Here again, choices will be determined by the competitive environment. Consider the example of Dolmio – the European leader in Italian sauces – whose marketing strategy cannot be the same for both the UK and Ireland.

    In the UK, Dolmio controls a mere 20 per cent of the market, while in the latter it is the comfortable leader with 50 per cent. Furthermore, far more proximity marketing can be carried out in a country with a small population than in a very large country. Activation is the phase during which strategy becomes behaviour and tangible actions, thus transcending mere advertising and promotion. (See Figure below)

From brand platform to activation

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