I was chatting to a friend about this blog the other day and he was asking me if I’d had any big debates coming out of it with people; If in posing my opinions on things I’d come across any friction and discussion. The answer is ‘not yet’ but I guess as this contains my opinions, if I stay true a clear point of view and if more and more people see what I write, then there’s a chance I’ll spark more polarized debate in the future.
It got me to thinking about how important it is for a brand to take a stance, have a point of view, a positioning. Only by doing so can it build engagement with its audience, be recognized amongst the crowd, and take on life as a brand with more substantive meaning than just being the name of a product.
A brand’s positioning is the foundation of the brand, the core of that iceberg. Simply put, it is the place in the audience’s mind that you want your brand to own, and as a result it sets the course for everything the brand does, says, looks like, sounds etc.
I’ve seen and experienced how brand teams shape it in various contexts and I’m guided by what I believe are the best examples…
One to admire is how Dollar Shave Club disrupted the shaving market with a distinctive position and voice. A three-pronged knockout:
- Better value. Gillette kept increasing price with every innovation of an extra blade that came out. There was an opportunity to challenge the model, and establish quality over quantity (of blades).
- Your kind of brand. Gillette had become a dry, serious brand not speaking to men in a way male pals speak to each other, leveraging a dated celebrity-based model of advertising in the same formulaic way. There was an opportunity to engage through humor, and be spoken to by someone like the audience.
- An easier choice. The inconvenience of having to go out to brick-and-mortar retailers to get blades, which need to be purchased on a fairly expected renewal cycle is something new technology could help resolve with a direct-to-consumer model.
Each of these were about thinking how to differentiate and stand out, and each had implications for how the brand behaved. Check out the difference in these ads:
Another terrific and iconic example is a brand close to my heart, Dove. As the brand evolved from bar soap to beauty brand, it needed to define its position on beauty. A point of view that would differentiate them from the pack and resonate deeply with how women felt. The answer lay in a strong collaborative partnership with the advertising partners and came from academic research that explored women’s relationship with depictions of beauty in the media. The team decided on the basis of this that they were literally on a mission to make more women feel more beautiful every day, by widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty.
The journey to bring this to life in advertising execution was arduous and continues to this day with some massive successes along the way, but this bold move to define what the brand stands for set the course of making history for this brand. This being the first ad that marked the turning point:
I worked on Dove Men+Care in 2015-6 as part of the team sharpening the positioning of the male brand. A fascinating experience which again involved thinking very carefully about the realities of the consumer – reflecting on what it is truly like being a man in today’s world. That was the magic for me – when we decided that our mission was to champion that masculine strength today is inclusive of caring for self and other people. Many male brands still encouraged the bro-y depiction of the traditional male where showing care was a weakness; taking this stance was disruptive and powerful.
Today I’m entrenched in thinking about how to evolve another iconic brand, Avon. The Avon difference lies in the differentiated direct selling experience and being part of a community of women wanting to make a difference in their lives and for other women like them. Inspiring examples like those above knock around in my mind daily as I work with the team on how we bring the brand to life.
I’m learning that defining the positioning and bringing it to life optimally is not easy. It takes guts to be different, it takes creative flair to express it well and it takes commitment to stick to it. I believe there’s something powerful in defining a positioning based on deep human truth, and there’s something disruptive in a positioning that goes against the grain in society, culture and the market. If you’re working on a brand today are you clear its position? Give it a thought, if you’re not clear on it challenge your team, and if you are clear on it, and it is strong, I’m sure it’ll be the key to unlocking powerful new ideas.