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Why Brand When Positioning Will Do?

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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.

In all cases, brand for these companies is defined by a position. Intel is the undisputed leader in microprocessors. Cisco makes networking equipment used in the development of the Internet. And try to find someone who doesn't do Windows. These companies do have brand in their respective markets. More importantly, their position is well recognized and understood.

Intel has tried to diversify into other markets like all good companies should. But its $10 billion in venture investments into networking and communications infrastructure has yielded nada, according to its own CFO. It learned that the brand does not translate, and nobody wants to be “Delled.”

Hewlett-Packard is trying to repackage itself as a consumer electronics company and announced 150 products for this “space” at a press conference in New York last fall. But its underpinning, its very credibility and brand identity, has been its roots as a solid, dependable company with a deep understanding of technology. Carly Fiorina wants to shake up the company from its stodgy perceptions, leveraging the success and leadership in HP's printer division into a repositioning of the company as a consumer electronics powerhouse. Are you buying it?

Dell lost the “Computer” from its name and will probably follow HP into digital TVs, and you can expect one, if not both, to offer cell phones by the end of the year. There were almost 500 million cell phones sold last year, and two, Motorola and Nokia, control more than half the market. Now tell me, again, why we need another cell phone company?

Gateway is transitioning from a computer company into a consumer electronics company, complete with its own retail outlets, and it is one of the leading branded digital TV vendors. But the company is still not making money.

Yahoo has defied the tried-and-true test of brand building by developing a brand reputation very early. At the beginning of its young life, it could claim as its position to be all things Internet. This worked at the time, 1995 and 1996, as the Internet and the World Wide Web were still in embryonic stages and people were looking for a company, or anybody, who could put definition to this new communications technology.

Because the stakes are so high and the competition so formidable, many smaller, emerging companies assign themselves the Herculean task of creating and implementing a branding campaign. In reality, they should be picking the under-serviced segments that their large competitive brethren are ignoring, and attack with an unassailable position and value proposition.

Customers in these niche and very vertical markets are looking for a solution and are not as tied to a brand as some might think. If serviced properly, these customers would probably be more than willing to serve as reference accounts. Then the smaller and more nimble company, as it tackles new market segments, can leverage these customers as proof of validity, reinforcing its position.

So don't worry about being all things to all people. The essence of positioning is that to be inclusive is to be exclusive.

The key to a successful marketing campaign is to demonstrate value. This is best done through positioning, and that is equally true in good and bad economic times.

Positioning is dynamic and fluid. Yesterday's uniquely positioned is today's commodity provider. Useful positioning describes who the company is, what it wants to be when it grows up, and why anyone should care.

Branding requires continuous bombardment with a particular message, repeated ad nauseam. Effective positioning makes the customer a part of the unpaid sales team.

Positioning leads to brand, but brand does not always lead to position. Positioning is expected to change with the dynamics of marketplace. The essence of a brand is to provide rock-solid stability. Brand and position may live in the same house, but they are not necessarily related.

More importantly, positioning leads to sales. And in today's volatile, albeit recovering, economic climate, who cares about anything else?

Why brand when positioning will do?


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Rob Gelphman is Principal of Gelphman Associates and an adjunct instructor of marketing at Golden Gate University. Reach him at robert@gelphman.com.

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  • by Brian Wed Feb 13, 2008 via web

    Hi. These two sentences seem contradictory. Could you please explain more? Thanks

    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.

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