Every successful brand occupies a distinctive position in the customer’s mind. Hard to deny isn’t it? Nonetheless, critics are gunning for it and as per usual when marketing concepts are claimed to be obsolete, the effects of digital are nominated as the cause. Brand positioning died with the ascendance of social media, so some say. Positioning is criticised for being too static to work in an age of accelerating customer expectation and unabated disruption.
To be fair to the critics, what you say about positioning does depend on how you define it. Originally, evolved to succeed the USP it was usually singular and rational. An oft quoted example is Volvo. Safety was its USP and the safe family car its positioning. Such a strategy would no longer have the same impact today as all cars are perceived as safe. Indeed, across categories, all products tend to be good. As a result, emotional differentiation and the brand experience have come to the forefront.
That said, the use of emotion is nothing new. It has been incorporated into positioning or used alongside it for many years. Under the USP concept, buying decisions were believed to be driven by a rational differentiator. This was then supplanted by the idea that customers feel their way to decisions before post rationalising.
Today’s brand concept incorporates both reason and emotion. What customers think and feel about a brand determines its success. The manner in which a brand is seen to ‘behave’ and the experience customers have with it supports what it stands for. These can change but only in a way that aligns with the brand’s personality. Positioning has therefore evolved but it is not dead. On the contrary, it is very much alive and has a key marketing role. Brands need to occupy a space in the customers’ minds even if the way we think about that is more complex and fluid than it once was.
Nowhere is this truer than in technological areas like pharma. No matter how big the scientific breakthrough, we need to define what it’s for, who it’s for and what it offers over current treatment, taking into account the regulations, as well as recognising the need to adapt to new data or competition when it arrives. Not only that but we need to consider emotion, the personality we present. Being seen as big, brash or controlling in rare disease areas doesn’t go down well! Instead, we need to understand the culture and be empathetic to the needs of all stakeholders, then act accordingly. Doomsayers love to announce the death of valued marketing concepts, yet seldom do they provide useful alternatives. Positioning, even if it has evolved, is a clear case in point!