Let’s simplify definition “brand positioning”

Ngày: 15-07-2013



The concept of brand positioning was introduced by Jack trout, a well-known brand strategist, on “Industrial Marketing” magazine in 1969. The concept was then thoroughly analyzed, presented and illustrated by numurous interesting examples in the book “Positioning – The battle for your mind” (McGraw-Hill 1981) wirtten by Jack and his colleague Al Ries.


Since then, the theory of brand positioning has been widely applied by many brands in the world.


So, what and how important is positioning in branding?


“Brand positioning is the distinctive position that a brand adopts in its competitive environment to ensure that individuals in its target market can tell the brand apart from others. Positioning involves the careful manipulation of every element of the marketing mix. (BrandChannel)


These are different definitions about brand positioning which are academic but wordy, accurate but complicated. It’s better not waste time to learn every word in such academic definitions.


Simply, a brand positioning statement give a convincing reason why customers should buy that brand. To “sell”, brands have to “cry”. And brand positioning can be considered as “the cry” of the brand. The more focused the cry is, the easier the brand can appeal to customers.


In addition, positioning is not strictly finding a point of difference, but rather, finding a point of difference that others are not using, so you can “own” it as long as this make sense to the audience. For example, years ago, Visa successfully positioned itself against American Express by using the fact that many more retailers used Visa (because Amex charges a higher commission). Though they had fewer locations than Visa, MasterCard still had a lot more shops than Amex and they could have used the same positioning. They didn’t, and Visa owns the concept, expressed as “It’s Everywhere You Want to Be,” a positioning phrase used for 20 years, until the 2006 Winter Olympics.


To evaluate if a brand positioning statement is true and on target, brands are supposed to answer two questions: who are they and what their USPs?


A brand positioning fails if customers fail to understand or believe what that brand “cry” is about.


As the quote of Bill Bernback (the founder of DDB advertising agency): “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what your saying”.


Bill Bernback is the author of the positioning phrase of American car renting brand Avis: “We try harder”.


In American car rent market, Hertz is the market leader for a long time. Avis entered the market and positioned themselves as a “follower” brand with a sensible slogan “We try harder”, which means Avis wisely claim themselves to be No.2. Avis has delicately provoked recognition and secured sympathy from its target audience. Additionally, Avis is very prudent to relate themselves to No.1 brand in a category. Whether Avis actually tried harder was not singly significant to their success. Rather, consumers naturally relate Avis to Hertz, which was already No.1 in their minds.


It is a simple but reliable and creative offer. That is the reason why “We try harder” is ranked in Top 10 best brand positioning phrases.


After the book “Positioning: The battle in your mind” (Jack Trout & Al Ries), there are many books and articles on this topic. Don’t “swim” in the ocean of complicated theories and opinions. The core idea of brand positioning is that no matter how is academically decsribed, it should be true as the brand is. More importantly, “the cry” should be believable and its supposedly matchs what is occurring in the customers’ minds. As it is concluded in classical book “Positioning – the battle in your mind” wirtten by  Al Ries.


It’s not easy in reality however. Let’s see how many brands are successful in this way.


Take a quick look at banking category, clients may suffer from “indigestion” by “trust” concept in banks’ messages:


Techcombank: Keep the trust you have placed in us

MBBank: Sustainable. Reliable.

SHB: Trustworthy partner. Suitable solutions 

Ocean Bank: Trustworthy partner

Vietcombank: Share the trust. Sustain the future

OCB: Trust and Prosperity

Viet Capital Bank: Your reliable bank


Banking and finance category certainly relate to money. And the feeling of trust is essential in marketing communication. However, how banks can differentiate themselves from others if all banks voice the same “cry”? Apparently, there is one that deserves this attribute. But what’s about the rest? How wasteful it is to spend dollars to communicate an attribute which is not perceived by customers.


Remember that “the cry” should be reliable and match what is occurring in the customers’ minds.


Nguyễn Đức Sơn

Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates


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