Brand positioning: More sameness = less potential

A recent inspiring read came from Harvard professor, Youngme Moon, in her book “Different; Escaping the Competitive Herd” blog.

She concludes that corporations have become experts at replication, but aren’t that good at creating meaningful differences. It’s the brands that see a different game that win big.

This reminded me just how often you still observe marketing executives talk about Brand Positioning in relation to their direct competitors. One cannot help to be skeptical about the notion of positioning your brand, simply because too often you find this leading to meaningless points of difference against the category leader(s).

How often do we see brands falling into the trap of “more sameness”? Brands with aspiration to challenge the market leader, yet adopting core promises with supporting evidence or brand character that have become almost generic to that particular category.

The result most often is that we play into the hands of the brand leader and therefore fail in that essential first step towards creating brand preference.

There is strong case for suggesting that Brand Differentiation is a far more powerful strategic consideration than simply Brand Positioning. First of all it demands that you work desperately hard at setting your product apart from its competitors in terms of tangible features and benefits.

Then commences the process of communicating those meaningful points of difference through inspiring and surprising messages that can be uniquely associated with your brand.

Here again, how often don’t we see advertising that simply uses tired old category features over and over with little or no attempt to create a point of difference?

Just think about the automotive category for a moment. Leather interiors, the “cockpit” feel in the driver’s position, sleek exterior lines, airbags and the inevitable driving sequence. Throw in a jingle or music track and you end up with any of a dozen automotive brands that ultimately rely on an aggressive “drive-away” price to secure your loyalty.

Yet in this example of “more sameness” there are brands that have done a wonderful job in creating meaningful differentiation and capturing the imagination of consumers around the world.

One of the best case studies is probably the Volkswagen phenomena, with the true meaning of “People’s Car” captured in unique product features and a quirky brand personality. Advertising admired over many decades and the envy of marketers as well as agencies.

VW models are most often sold at a premium to like for like competitors, yet the brand enjoys market leadership and an outstanding profit legacy for its shareholders.

To wrap up, a provocative extract from Youngme Moon’s book:

“If aliens were to visit a grocery store or drugstore in this country they would have to conclude that we are a people hooked on the pleasures of picking needles out of haystacks”


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