POSITIONING: A big hand for the brand - How do positioning andbranding support each other?

While Mazerov believes that positioning lays the foundation for brand-building, he also sounds a theme that is familiar to all marketers who constantly have to resell the idea that positioning and brand-building take time: "You best have a client with deep pockets, a long fuse, and a lot of patience."

While Mazerov believes that positioning lays the foundation for brand-building, he also sounds a theme that is familiar to all marketers who constantly have to resell the idea that positioning and brand-building take time: "You best have a client with deep pockets, a long fuse, and a lot of patience."

Where PR comes in

Developing brand recognition and managing brand assets requires the integration of numerous resources. A large advertising budget also helps.

But while advertising's role is primarily brand support, public relations remains the tool of choice for positioning and message creation. Public relations, along with the other activities in a marketing communications program, becomes the diffusion and support mechanism. Each has its role to play, and each leverages its particular strengths to communicate messages regarding brand and position.

"Branding starts with market creation and positioning,

says Kevin Gallagher, principal of Alameda, CA-based Gallagher PR. "And a positioning strategy is the basis for any solid public relations initiative. Once you establish - or create - a solid market category and position, you can then develop consistent messages that enable the eventual creation and establishment of a brand."

"Branding and positioning are two very distinct processes,

says Eileen Elam, general manager at KJ Communications in Mountain View, CA. "In particular, public relations can be very influential on the positioning side,

she says.

"To create positioning, we first engage in market research. This can range from editorial audits, to interviews with our clients' sales teams and customers, to bringing in a market research organization. Following this input, we craft messages that communicate a value proposition. We also work with our clients to help them incorporate these messages into other media, such as adverting and collateral."

Before engaging in any public relations campaign, Gallagher PR starts each client relationship with a positioning review. "Our clients' positioning is usually based on technical attributes that they consider important.

But what the customer considers the most salient attributes may not necessarily resonate with the customer or other members of the target audience. Our first job is to adjust the positioning to tell the best story,

Gallagher explains.

As an example, Gallagher cites Riverstone Networks, a publicly held networking equipment company based in Silicon Valley. "The company's positioning was based loosely on performance and bandwidth control within the network - essentially, a position heavily focused on features rather than benefits.

"But the primary concern of their customers - large telecommunications services companies - was in figuring out how to deliver and profit from services that employed Riverstone equipment. To make the story more effective, we changed the nature of the discussion from performance to service delivery.

Now, Riverstone's slogan is 'The Brains Behind Bandwidth,' and it has become a brand that Riverstone's customers associate with them."

The importance of building a brand and the relationship between brand-building and positioning continues to be a source of discussion and sometimes-passionate debate among marketers of all stripes.

The first problem is one of basic definition. What exactly is branding?

What is positioning? The second problem is one of application. How do the two interrelate? How important are they to the success or failure of a particular company? Those and related questions can produce a wide variety of answers, some of them complementary, and some at odds with one another.

When it comes to the nature of branding and of brands, there seems to be widespread agreement that a brand is something profoundly deep - something that has personal meaning above and beyond the simple nature of a consumable item.

"The brand is the covenant between you and the consumer,

says Bob Mazerov, president of Denver-based Mazerov Research, a strategic marketing and consulting firm. But he is quick to add that proper positioning work must be done before you achieve that covenant. "Branding is taking your position to another level, and making it stand for something."

Others see the relationship between positioning and branding as a continuum, moving from the material plane to the personal plane.

"Positioning is getting your customer to buy your product. Branding is getting your customer to live your product,

says Clare Price, CEO of Verstand, a San Francisco-based provider of brand-value management software.

Price agrees with Mazerov on the concept of the covenant, but she phrases it a bit differently.

"You are promising the customer that you will be able to do what you say you can do. For example, when I buy Tide, I expect to get clean, fresh-smelling clothes,

she says.

The brand as an experience

A laundry detergent like Tide has a specific brand promise of clean clothes.

But the consumer-products industry (of which Tide is a representative product) on the whole still has some dirty linen when it comes to branding, says Brian Creath, president and CEO of Brand Maverick, a St. Louis-based branding consultancy. Consumer-products companies have been fairly weak in fashioning the idea of a brand that encapsulates the experience that a customer has with a particular company, Creath claims.

"The need to define a corporate brand is something that is just now coming (into play),

he says, noting that until now, consumer-products companies have been able to sweep the importance of company-wide branding under the rug.

As a result, consumers haven't really formed an idea of a Procter & Gamble, a General Mills, or a Ralston Purina brand experience outside of a specific product.

Sometimes, a company-wide brand is absolutely vital to success, because the company offers a single service or product that is indistinguishable from the company itself. Such was the case for Green Mountain Energy, according to Curtis Zimmerman, a partner in the Zimmerman Agency, a Tallahassee, FL-based marketing communications firm.

Green Mountain, an Austin, TX-based energy provider, started off with the core idea of providing environmentally friendly, clean energy, but didn't get a lot of market traction in its early days, says Zimmerman.

The Zimmerman Agency helped Green Mountain refine its positioning, and build its brand equity.

"A brand cannot be something that is just conceptual; consumers want to know what's in it for them,

he says, adding that the idea of relevance is crucial with regard to any positioning and brand-building exercise.

"The positioning is where the relevance comes in."

While Green Mountain's message of environmentalism was intellectually appealing to people - and potential customers - it still did not serve as a potent driver to get them to talk with their dollars, according to Zimmerman. The agency had to find a way of communicating the relevance of Green Mountain's product and service - in other words, "What's in it for me.

It did so, by making the value proposition inclusive of the customer's life.

The new positioning took the following form: "In the future, this (approach to generating energy) is going to make the world a better place for you and for your children,

Zimmerman says.

In the case of Green Mountain, the new consumer-inclusive approach to positioning started to make customers and potential customers associate the Green Mountain brand with their own well-being, and the well-being of their families.

This relationship between positioning and branding is key, according to Randall Hull, creative director of the Brand Ranch, a Los Altos, CA-based advertising agency that specializes in brand-building. "Positioning includes the early steps that you go through to establish a brand. If you don't do the positioning, you cannot establish a brand," Hull maintains.

Sometimes, if positioning does not keep pace with the momentum of a company or of a market, a brand can suffer severe damage. Take, for example, what's happened to Kmart in the past few months, with the company losing market share to competitors like Wal-Mart and Target, laying off thousands of employees, closing hundreds of stores, and then filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In the view of Brand Maverick's Creath, although Kmart achieved strong first-mover status in the discount retail market, it never clearly articulated its positioning and its core value proposition. Therefore, its brand identity was somewhat weakened from the beginning.

"Kmart had a lack of understanding of what they were about in the first place,

Creath says. "At the end of the day, it stood for nothing."

Being able to measure the impact and, therefore, the value of marketing activities, has always been a major problem, according to Verstand's Price.

Beyond that, making sure that positioning activities keep pace with market dynamics - and therefore the value of the brand - is of key importance, she maintains.

"If you can't measure the success of your marketing activities, how do you know that you've achieved what you wanted to achieve? You often hear it said that 50 cents out of every advertising dollar is wasted, and we don't know what 50 cents is,

Price explains.

Keeping things in sync

Beyond the problems with measurability, positioning and the brand have to be on the same page, Price maintains. "If the brand and the positioning being used to support it are out of alignment, it will have a negative impact on the brand,

she says.

Price cites the Intel Inside campaign as "a very good example of positioning being very much in sync with the brand."

On the other hand, there have been some dramatic examples of positioning being out of step with the brand, according to Zimmerman.

"If companies allow themselves to be something that the brand is not, they will lose their focus, and they will go the way of the dodo like Oldsmobile and Plymouth did,

he says. Those two automobile brands, Zimmerman explains, lost their distinctiveness because their positioning efforts actually undermined the brand.

There are other cases where an advertising campaign blunts its own effectiveness by being too fuzzy or indistinct. Yahoo's television ads, which ask, "Do you Yahoo?

miss the mark, according to Hull of the Brand Ranch. "It's a dumb campaign,

he says. "It tells you nothing. It's not a benefit statement, it's a question."

Hull also believes that it's vitally important to tailor the message to the nature of the audience that is being targeted.

"Audience profile is very important, because it influences the language that you use,

he says, noting the vast difference in audience between a consumer item like soap and something like electronic-design automation software, which has a highly specialized audience.

But there are some times, according to Brand Maverick's Creath, when audience profile is not very important. "Coca-Cola does not have a unique profile against an audience - it goes above and beyond that. It's kind of an all-things-to-all-people proposition,

he says.

On another front, a giant corporate merger can create enormous positioning and branding implications, according to Mazerov of Mazerov Research. He points to the pending merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq as a prime example.

"HP is a legacy brand with regard to the printer market. Will HP be hurt in terms of brand equity?

he asks.

"If I were the people at HP, I might see the merger as being better for Compaq than for HP.

Mazerov believes that Hewlett-Packard will have to do a seamless job of marrying the company cultures and the product and service businesses to avoid a dilution of the HP brand.

On a positive note, Mazerov cites the merger between Ford and Jaguar as a very happy marriage. For years, the Jaguar brand was associated with classic styling, elegance and power, and an equally outstanding record for a lack of reliability: Jaguars spend more time in the repair shop than on the road. But since being taken over by Ford, the reliability of the Jaguar has surged to higher levels, while the line has maintained its reputation for styling, elegance, and power.

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