Of brand positioning statements in the digital media age

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At the recently concluded Social Media Week event in Bangalore, one of the panelists at a discussion said that the classic ‘Brand Positioning Statement’ is dead. This was in the context of today’s digital media being conducive for two-way communication with consumers who have their own perceptions about a brand. It is another matter that the same discussion went on to talk about crowd sourcing brand positioning statements from fans through digital media.

My unsolicited views on this and couple of other related points raised at the event:

Do not consciously propagate the separation of ‘digital’ from other media. Over the last few years, ad agencies & media have unwittingly separated ‘digital creative’ from ‘creative’. Even in casual conversations, there is reference to ‘mainstream folks & digital folks’, ‘ad agencies & digital agencies’. Such a situation ay have to come to be with specialist digital agencies, digital strategist and digital creatives coming into existence. But going forward, I think the industry needs to consciously see and promote them all as one – else we will continue to promote the silo culture and truly integrated brand campaigns will only be few & far between. There has to be one brand strategy and one creative idea (which can manifest across different platforms) – why separate them into different teams. We never had a radio strategist or specialist outdoor creative guys? Why not work towards a single creative team which understand what it means to execute their big idea in new media? The only specialist a brand & creative team needs may be in Digital Technology – someone who understand & executes brand campaigns in new media.

Consumers having divergent perceptions about a brand (often exactly the opposite of what the brand claims to stand for) is not a new phenomenon. During the height of the Mac vs PC campaign, many PC loyalists would trash the Mac (and its users) in tech blog comment forums. Back then, the proliferation of social media was not as high as it is today – so the negative comments were not as visible to a global audience. Today, all the perceptions about a brand – positive or negative has a better chance of being out in the open. Just that in the earlier days, the consumer kept his views to himself or at best, spoke to a few friends about it. The consumer who thought Macs were expensive, poor value existed then too – just that in today’s context he has a better chance of airing his views and influencing others. Similarly, just as many consumers love Samsung & Micromax products, there will be a bunch with exact opposite views.


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Brand positioning is at the core of a marketing & communication strategy – so it cannot be dead. Marketers and agencies need to be clear about a brand’s essence and better still, articulate it themselves. If they cannot, what hope will consumers have? Take the recently launched, ‘Inside wala snan’ by Tetley green tea. It is clearly in the wellness & health space – the creative expression may change depending on the medium. But its ok if it means different things to different people.

Can brand essence be summarised in a word? A brand can attempt to do that but chances are it will not be right. While ‘Coke’ is about ‘happiness’ in all its communication (and mighty successful at that), there are elements of sharing and refreshing built into its creative. Apple may stand for ‘design’ to some, but will the company limit itself to that one word? It’s PR blurb says:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

A brand’s core set of buyers and believers may buy into a set of associations with the brand which is in sync with what the brand managers aim to project. Even those associations may be more than one. To those outside that core set of buyers (the fence-sitters, non-believers, haters, the indifferent) a brand may mean different things or nothing at all. However, it does not mean that those who manage the brand’s perceptions should not strive to drive home a single-minded message. Just that it is virtually impossible for most brands to capture that single-minded thought in a single, ‘ownable’ word.


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  1. The issue is not if BPS needs to exist or not, but rather, goes back to the roots of positioning…not what the brand intends, but how the consumer sees a brand…in today’s multi-info-platform world, there is a greater risk of divergence between BPS and Positioning as the consumer has a lot more avenues to get info to shape his opinion about the brand…how can brands then reduce this divergence or control it better…

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