Branding Business Marketing — 04 September 2012
Brand positioning: More sameness = less potential

A recent inspiring read came from Harvard professor, Youngme Moon, in her book “Different; Escaping the Competitive Herd” blog.

She concludes that corporations have become experts at replication, but aren’t that good at creating meaningful differences. It’s the brands that see a different game that win big.

This reminded me just how often you still observe marketing executives talk about Brand Positioning in relation to their direct competitors. One cannot help to be skeptical about the notion of positioning your brand, simply because too often you find this leading to meaningless points of difference against the category leader(s).

How often do we see brands falling into the trap of “more sameness”? Brands with aspiration to challenge the market leader, yet adopting core promises with supporting evidence or brand character that have become almost generic to that particular category.

The result most often is that we play into the hands of the brand leader and therefore fail in that essential first step towards creating brand preference.

There is strong case for suggesting that Brand Differentiation is a far more powerful strategic consideration than simply Brand Positioning. First of all it demands that you work desperately hard at setting your product apart from its competitors in terms of tangible features and benefits.

Then commences the process of communicating those meaningful points of difference through inspiring and surprising messages that can be uniquely associated with your brand.

Here again, how often don’t we see advertising that simply uses tired old category features over and over with little or no attempt to create a point of difference?

Just think about the automotive category for a moment. Leather interiors, the “cockpit” feel in the driver’s position, sleek exterior lines, airbags and the inevitable driving sequence. Throw in a jingle or music track and you end up with any of a dozen automotive brands that ultimately rely on an aggressive “drive-away” price to secure your loyalty.

Yet in this example of “more sameness” there are brands that have done a wonderful job in creating meaningful differentiation and capturing the imagination of consumers around the world.

One of the best case studies is probably the Volkswagen phenomena, with the true meaning of “People’s Car” captured in unique product features and a quirky brand personality. Advertising admired over many decades and the envy of marketers as well as agencies.

VW models are most often sold at a premium to like for like competitors, yet the brand enjoys market leadership and an outstanding profit legacy for its shareholders.

To wrap up, a provocative extract from Youngme Moon’s book:

“If aliens were to visit a grocery store or drugstore in this country they would have to conclude that we are a people hooked on the pleasures of picking needles out of haystacks”


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(8) Readers Comments

  1. Here’s a test: Take your ad, remove your logo and put your competitor’s logo on it. Does it still work? If so you can rule out any kind of distinction or differentiation.

    Thanks for the article!

  2. That’s a really cool way of testing it Brant, never heard that before!

  3. Not completely convinced there’s a fundamental difference between Brand Positioning and Brand Differentiation. Differentiation is a stronger word, but then we’re just dealing with semantics.

    If the grievance is that brands are not positioning themselves apart from competitors enough (i.e. differentiating themselves enough), then sure; there’s always room to innovate and break free from the mould.

    But with positioning, you are essentially occupying a space in consumers’ hearts and minds based on a point of difference. Naturally, the more different your product or brand from others, the more you may position it.

  4. Good idea and yes you are on the right track here.

  5. Thank you. Your article is a great foundation for debate. For me one of the ways In whIch difference/less of the sameness can be resolved by asking ourselves how we want people to feel after experiencing our comms & what triggers are we activating. That goes a long way in deciding how formulaic we are in our approach…as with all things evolution is slow & scary for some. As marketers we’re constantly trying to justify our existence and sometimes leads us to formula based brand solution that proves to the rest of the organisation that we’re not just the “colouring in” department!

  6. I fully agree with Matteo. In deciding on a brand positioning it is important to position it in a way that stands out from competitors. ie Differentiation.

    Of course it is possible to settle on a positioning that is the same as the rest of your market, but that’s simply poor marketing, lacking strategic insight and direction.

    Just writing up a document and filling something in under the title Brand Positioning doesn’t mean that your marketing strategy is relevant.

  7. Pingback: Employer Brand and Consumer Brand. Why should there be a difference?, Branding

  8. Pingback: Beware the dark side of business, Branding

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