What often goes wrong with marketing campaigns can be traced to a disconnect between branding and positioning. Too many VPs of marketing, their product managers and their CEOs pursue a branding campaign when it is positioning that is required.
Making matters worse, many folks don't know the difference between the two. They think the two are synonymous. They aren't.
Brand is ubiquity, where everyone knows you. Position is value, where everyone wants you. Brand's primary intent is to generate an emotional response from the intended audience where logical and legitimate product comparisons are difficult. Commodity-type products from multiple vendors with minimal differentiation are generally best served via branding. Especially when price is the prime determining factor—or, as studies have shown, it is not a serious purchase that requires an extension of the self. Pick up a branded soap bar and move on.
Brand provides recognition and awareness. Position helps the customer recite its attributes. It also takes time and time and money. Positioning can be done in a much shorter timeframe (months, not years) and is much less expensive and time consuming.
For many industries and companies, especially where constant innovation is the hallmark of the market and market windows close within six months or less, positioning—not branding—is the best strategy for improving sales and market share. Besides, branding is difficult to measure and does not always show up in the form of sales.
This insistence on pursuing brand without articulating a position, or value proposition, contributed to the meltdown of many of the dotcoms. Companies embarked on brand identity campaigns, highlighted by 30-second commercials during the Super Bowl, thinking that if they could just get people to the Web site, they could sell something.
But there was no value proposition to get them to the site in the first place. Just because something can be done over the Internet does not mean there is value in doing so. And what is proving even more prescient, advertising during mega events works best for those already with a brand identity.
In high technology, there are companies that can claim to have true brand. Intel, Cisco and Microsoft immediately come to mind. Sun Microsystems's brand is eroding and is in serious need of a reposition—and until that's done, and done correctly and credibly, the company will continue to suffer.
Rob Gelphman is Principal of Gelphman Associates and an adjunct instructor of marketing at Golden Gate University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.