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A simple answer to the most important brand positioning question

When determining your brand position, you should first ask yourself or your marketing director “Why should we position our brand, product, or service in direct competition with other more established companies?” If you examine this question, you might determine that the answer lies within the question. By the way, the answer is “We (you) shouldn’t.”
In order to simplify the concept, I’ll offer a metaphor. In order to position yourself, in a spatial sense, exactly where another object is, you would have to move the other object first. To further emphasize the point, imagine the marketplace is a puzzle, each competitor consisting of one piece. Now, imagine removing the piece that represents one of the companies you feel you compete directly against – one that you will strive to unearth from their enviable position in the marketplace. It’s pretty simple, right? After all, it is our nature to want to compete and beat the establishment at their own game.
Now, picture the shape and characteristics of your puzzle piece, which represents your company. It would not have the exact same size and shape of the company’s piece you’re striving to replace. Following that logic, your piece would not fit into the vacated space. Therefore, the answer to the question at hand, “Why should we position our brand, product or service in direct competition with other more established companies?” is likely to be “We shouldn’t and we can’t.”
If you’ve bought my premise thus far, your next question might be “Do we position our brand to compete against nobody?” Precisely.
It isn’t easy. But it is easier than going head to head with established products, targeted to a similar audience, at a similar price. Imagine trying to get your customers and prospects to explain why they do/would do business with you if you’re constantly communicating through your advertising, publicity, web site design and internet marketing, direct mail, brochures and company literature that you’re just like competitor A or Z, only better.
The result is that many marketing initiatives will have minimal results. In fact, by making this basic and common error, most companies will come to the conclusion that marketing just isn’t effective or necessary for their company. With a me too brand positioning approach, they’re probably right.
As Al Ries has so effectively documented in his books on positioning, the only surefire, if not the easiest, way to win category leadership for your brand is to be first in the category. That means you’re going to have to create the category in the minds of the customers. It is common for marketing directors to head for the safety of the me too camp at the very thought of this proposition. We recently had a client adopt the new category positioning strategy, then abandon it abruptly, even after the media and customers who called in had embraced the new category name in the exact terms used in our communication to the market. When asked why they wanted to abandon the strategy, one member of their team said, “Because the media and customers who are calling in are all referring to it by name.” Another said, “We don’t want to coin a whole new phrase.” Finally, another member said “If I Google the category term, I can’t find any mention of it.” Of course, they all missed the point of creating the category – you’re competing with nobody. Eventually, those searches would bring up results that would lead directly to their Web site and their site only. That is, until the me too followers begin chasing after their position, vainly trying to remove and replace their puzzle piece.
Once they had returned to the positioning of their competitors, who largely had failed to make much headway in the marketplace, we knew that any future marketing efforts would be undermined by a doomed position in the market. We resigned from the account.
We encourage you to develop your brand position very carefully and avoid a me too approach. And, we’re willing and able to assist in this process.
The next article will provide some examples of how to create a new category as the first step to gaining market leadership for your new found brand position.

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