Brand Positioning

Posted by James L. Clarke (08/01/2013)

Putting a case to the sceptic as to why a bit of work on your Brand is time well spent.

10 sceptical questions answered

1. Why should I bother with brand positioning?

Would you apply for a job without a CV? Would you go to a job interview scruffily dressed and say nothing? It's obvious when you stop to think about it.
However, apart from the biggest multi-nationals, I contend that most companies are guilty of not spending the time to put together a formal brand positioning document.

2. But isn't it simply a waste of my time?

You won't be surprised to hear that I say "No it isn't." And that applies to companies of all sizes. This is because brand positioning isn't some academic exercise, nor is it a meaningless piece of morale-boosting like the overrated 'mission statement'. The positive effects of good brand positioning stretch into every aspect of your company's efforts, providing a firm foundation and making everything more efficient, coherent - and therefore successful.

3. Where would I start?

By gathering together a list of what makes your company stand out, what makes you proud. This list should include things like: your USPs - what you're especially good at... what makes your staff stand out - their expertise or helpfulness... your commitment to service... your greenness... and so on.

You should find you can separate these items into different areas, or levels, such as:

  • Brand essence - what your company is all about.
  • Emotional benefits - how your company makes your customers feel.
  • Functional benefits - the rational reasons for choosing your company.
  • Personality - what you are like as a company.
  • Philosophy - what your company believes in.

4. What do I do with this list?

I accept that many of you Brand Guardians - especially if you are also the MD - may feel you don't have time for this. But you really will reap rewards if, at the very least, you go through this process of gathering a list together, preferably with your key staff.

This, along with your perception of your company, should enable you to create a person, a character, that personifies your company. He or she may never be seen by your customers - but this persona is vital in ensuring that all your interactions with the outside world are consistent and human - in very much the same way as a professional copywriter visualises a single person to represent the target audience they are writing to.

5. OK, so I have a Brand Persona. Now what?

Once you have a clear picture of this representative of your company, you'll find things begin to get a little easier. Because you'll find that this persona has a certain character, uses certain words, wants to achieve certain things. If you're lucky, he or she will come to life in your head, like the hero of a novel you're writing.

So whether you're working by yourself, or with a colleague, a consultant, a creative agency or a copywriter - you should find it easier to give consistent creative briefs for every communication - whether it's website copy, catalogues, direct mail, the notice in reception, memos to staff - or whatever.

6. Why do you think that copy is so important?

Because unless you can afford TV or radio ads, words... written words... are all you've got. Face to face, you use all your senses. When two people are talking in person, visual cues - clothes, facial expression, body language - make up well over 50% of what you are taking in, as opposed to what is being said.

On the phone you at least get two-way communication, and can hear tone of voice, etc. Written copy, whether print or digital, is one way with no feedback. So it has to be as good as it possibly can be - which is why it really pays to use professional techniques.

However, the art and craft of copywriting is a whole new can of worms - we'll leave that for another time.

7. But what about selling my products?

Of course you must use most of your space and copy to sell your products. But the non-product copy really gives your products a unique frame.

It gives the reader reasons to buy from you rather than your competitors, it establishes a relationship - a relationship that can means they can be persuaded to buy more from you, might recommend you to their friends, might come back to you again and again, might forgive you if you make a mistake, or disappoint them.

The introductory letter, the guarantee, the directed choice, the cross-selling, the offers, the customer testimonials. That's why good home shopping companies 'waste' all that space on these elements.

8. So what are the key steps to a good brand positioning?

  • Work out what your key brand elements are and use them to construct a brand persona.
  • Identify and describe your ideal customer (or your target market or markets).
  • Establish your tone of voice and vocabulary, that you will use for all communications.
  • Review, clarify and rationalise your key brand messages - i.e. all your communications, both external and internal.
  • Keep it consistent!

Oh, and check you don't need to change your brand identity - logo, tagline, typefaces, colours, and key brand images - because it doesn't fit with your newly discovered brand identity. (But that's a whole other topic.)

9. Can you give me an example of good branding?

Certainly. The Virgin brand. The brand persona is of course Richard Branson. His twinkly personality, soft-spokenness and good humour are all strong differentiators. They make people want to work for Virgin, and people want to fly Virgin, be Virgin customers - and be associated with the brand. (Of course it's so much easier if your brand persona is a real person!)

In his youth, Richard started up by selling records, he had the odd brush with the law, he is somewhat anti-establishment, anti-suit, he doubtless had a series of attractive girlfriends. He is the sort of person that non-elitist, reasonably successful people think well of.

This persona percolates through the Virgin brand. People who don't want servants on their planes, but who want friendly, good customer service. People who want professional informality.
In a very competitive market, the Virgin Airline brand really does stand out - not least because it's so consistent.

The big recent-ish Virgin ad was their 25th anniversary one. I accept it's a hugely expensive, and entirely above-the-line, brand ad - but just count the engaging and emotional touchpoints in it!

10. Can you show me Virgin's branding at work, cost-effectively?

For me, the more impressive ad showing their branding at work was a below-the-line, direct ad after sales. It is the recent short Virgin TV ad about their sale on holiday flights (New York and Thailand). The ad was duotone - black and red. There was a sensual but proper burlesque performer, holding short simple messages in round cards, that covered her modesty. She smiled conspiratorially as she moved the round cards to reveal the next offer. She then almost dropped a card, and gestured 'Oh dear!' but her expression and body language showed she was in control - the final card read "We've taken off as much as we can."

To my mind, this was clearly a Virgin ad from the first frame - red, black, featuring burlesque (a bit funky and trendy). An attractive, 1940s-style woman, enjoying herself, and in control of the situation. It was one of their cheapest ads - brand messaging can be powerful without being expensive. It had knowing humour - the Virgin audience is intelligent, twinkly, like the Virgin brand.

I'm sure this was followed through into press ads, direct mail and print brochures. It's perfectly possible to have a strong brand that is only print based - if you have a good creative agency.

(Incidentally, if you find the Cruises version of this ad, you'll notice this version doesn't have the "Oh dear!" expression - a very intelligent and subtle adjustment for different market sectors.)


Of course, we're not many of us blessed with having a sexy, exciting and relevant past to use as the basis for our company's brand positioning, but there are lessons we can draw from the Virgin brand - without knowing the detail of the brand positioning document. And of course there'll be a document - just because it seems like the kind of boring thing Virgin wouldn't bother with... that's the power of good brand positioning!

Now you may well be thinking - that's all very nice, but how can I possibly apply this to my company? When you have the answer to that question, you'll be well on the way to a powerful and effective brand positioning of your own.

The Author:
James L. Clarke is Brand, DM & Copy Consultant with TA Design. He started his career by co-founding and later heading up a top 20 UK direct marketing agency as creative director.
Over the years, he has worked with blue chip companies in every sector, and at the highest level - in the areas of branding, marketing strategy, creative strategy, direct marketing, print and web.
As well as creating vivid and compelling copy for over 20 years, James also writes articles, lectures (and on a good day walks and talks). He is a Life Fellow of both the Institute of Direct Marketing and the Royal Society for the Arts.

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