Positioning Strategy

Appreciating Jack Trout

Jack Trout, and his partner, Al Ries, developed the seminal concept of Positioning, the most influential big idea in identity and branding in a generation. The books they have written explaining the existential importance of positioning have had major impact on the identity, branding and marketing industry – and on me personally during my 40- year career as Vice Chairman of Landor and Chairman of Marshall Strategy. Their positioning explanations, guidelines and insights are as important today, maybe more important in these disruptive times, than they were when first introduced. Although the industry today has been swept up by concepts of user experience, customer engagement, content creation, artificial intelligence and big data, we must not abandon the fundamentally important need for effective positioning.

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It Never Pays to be a Copycat

It Never Pays to be a Copycat.

A recent WSJ Article trumpeted “Copycats Rule the Skies.” It was about how the three largest U.S. airlines have all become so much alike.

Why are the Delta, American and United brands so much alike? Patrick Moynihan, the former Harvard professor and U.S. Senator had a theory called, “The Iron Law of Emulation.” His theory held that nations that competed against each other became more and more like each other. This certainly seems to be the case with our airlines, hotels, banks, etc.

Moynihan pointed out how the U.S. and Russia once emulated each other: We got the bomb, they got the bomb; we got intercontinental missiles, they got intercontinental missiles; we got nuclear submarines, they got nuclear subs, and on and on.

During my 20 years at Landor, we designed the brand and identity strategies for dozens of leading airlines. Our purpose, always, was to differentiate each airline in a way that was relevant, true and compelling. To create a preference or command a premium, we built on each airline’s unique brand characteristics which were often its national characteristics: British Air was about their understated global competence. Singapore Air was about the pride that Singaporeans take in providing personal service. Alitalia was about Italian style. Hawaiian Air was about sunshine, flowers and relaxation. These identity strategies influenced all the decisions each airline made. Whom to hire, how to train, what kind of fleet to operate, and what passenger offerings and style of operations would reinforce their particular identity.READ MORE

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The Importance of Listening

The Importance of Listening

The most basic of all human needs

is the need to understand and be understood.

The best way to understand people is to listen to them.

~(Ralph G. Nichols)

Watching the Democratic national convention, we’ve been closely following the protests of Bernie supporters, not because we love drama, but because we believe they will rejoin the party once they believe they’ve been heard and understood.

We are often asked what makes a strategic positioning or identity program succeed or fail. One of the most critical keys to success is to ensure that important people within the organization feel like they have been heard and understood. From universities to corporations and government initiatives, decision makers and rank and file alike are more enthusiastic and involved when they know they’ve been heard.

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Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Many organizations – whether corporations, non-profits, or educational institutions – develop broad stables of identities to segment their offerings to different audiences. Some of them succeed with this strategy, but many of them do not. Our client, The University at Buffalo (UB)’s recent success can help explain why a singular identity lends more collective strength to an institution than can a handful.

UB is an AAU institution, which means it has been carefully selected to sit among only 61 peers in the American Association of Universities. It is the largest and most comprehensive research university in the SUNY system, and has multiple nationally ranked departments. Over the years, however, UB has had multiple names, and adopted specialized identities for athletics and other departments. These changes had a dampening effect on awareness, appreciation and internal pride.

Now, the university is committing to a singular identity, backed by a strong and unifying brand strategy, and is already reaping huge rewards in local pride and national momentum.

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Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of Youth

Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of YouthRecently I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Leah Garchik. She recapped a story that involved a pilot, who, while navigating a flight to the East Coast, suggested over the intercom that passengers look out the window for a scenic “Kodak moment.” As Garchick reported, one flight attendant then asked, “What’s Kodak?”

Once a ubiquitous tagline, “A Kodak Moment” made its way into casual speech to describe a moment worth remembering, but awareness of Kodak’s popular tagline, as well as its brand relevance today, has almost completely evaporated.

This is a huge lesson. Success can be fleeting, even for the most iconic brands; The question is, how can you prevent that from happening?

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Lessons on Being (and Staying) No. 1

Lessons on Being (and Staying) Number OneAt Marshall Strategy we’re fortunate to work with many clients who are ranked No. 1 in their fields. These range from Caltech (No. 1 on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings  for the last three years) to Google (No. 1 in search) to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (the No. 1 rehabilitation hospital in the U.S. for 23 straight years).

Many of these companies enjoy status as household names. What unites them, and what lessons can others learn from them?

Congrats on Being No. 1: Now, How Do You Stay There?
In some respects, you might expect our client roster to be made up of companies that are struggling. After all, aren’t they the ones who need the most help?

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Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not AppearanceSeveral years ago I took a Harvard Business School course on business thinking for design leaders. Toward the end of the course, one professor told us that what we do as brand strategists and designers frightens some CEOs. Why? Because what we do, while vitally important to their success, is not always directly quantifiable. It’s hard to measure emotional connection with a number.

This unsurety and discomfort can cause business leaders to judge brand expression solely on its aesthetics, rather than on the idea the expression is meant to represent. Ironically, this can increase CEOs’ discomfort; what sits before them does not appear to be immediately satisfying. Without a clear understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the brand expression, executives will miss out on the value brand thinking can create for their organizations.READ MORE

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Sound Bites, Slogan, and Political Positioning

Advertising Age recently listed the slogans of 21 presidential candidates.

Forgetting who these slogans represent, if you know, or can tell:

  • Do any of these messages differentiate their candidate?
  • Are any of these campaign messages relevant, or compelling to you?
  • Which messages seem most credible? Least credible?
  • Which message would interest you in its candidate?
  • Reigniting the Promise of America

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Brand Impact of Mergers

The Brand Impact of Mergers

Last year saw a n ear-record high in M&A activity, which at $3.5 Trillion was the highest activity recorded in seven years, according to the New York Times. Tiny startups (WhatsApp: $19 Billion) and major blue chip companies (DirecTV: $49 Billion) were swallowed up by larger acquirers for astronomical sums.

The conventional wisdom fueling these buying sprees goes like this: once a company gets to a certain size, organic growth becomes very difficult to sustain. Acquiring into new areas or capabilities is a much faster route to growth in revenues, capabilities, and ideally profitability.

But what happens to brand value in these transactions? How should brands be managed to retain or augment their combined value? Which company gets to keep its brand name and promise, and what happens to the other? In our experience, too few companies invest in the upfront strategic thinking and decisions required to get full brand value, and hence business value, out of their mergers.

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