I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of the b-word. It has to be the most misused and misunderstood word in – well – branding.
Unless you’re a rancher, there’s no such thing as “branding”.
If you’re a marketer, you’re dealing with a noun – not a verb. You can’t brand something.  It’s the prize. The word brand can only be applied to your thing (product, service, idea, person, place) once you reach the destination and not a minute before. And you don’t get to decide when you get the prize – your audience does. You have a thing, right up until the moment your audience tells you that you’ve built a brand.
But what the hell is a brand in the first place? Definitions of “brand” are varied, but my favorite is: Emotional shorthand for a wealth of accumulated or assumed information. A more economically driven definition might suggest that a brand is present when the value of what it “means” to its audience is additive to the value of what it “does”. The interesting thing here is that I can’t even get my colleagues to agree to a definition. While it’s not chocolate versus vanilla, it seems everyone has a slightly different flavor.
But, however you want to define brand, it’s a noun. It’s a prize. The verb is positioning.  The work is positioning. The “emotional shorthand” is your positioning idea.
If you successfully position something to someone consistently over time – you build a brand. There’s no magical “brand line” to cross – the real question is how clear is your position? How much strength, power and momentum does your position have?
Whatever you are selling needs to be reduced to an idea that can stick in someone’s head. Stand out from all that clutter there. Take on an importance to that person that outweighs the functional benefit it might provide them. Matter to them.
A great position is a simple yet compelling idea that represents an area of “differentiated advantage”. What makes you different in a way that creates competitive advantage – or – which of your competitive advantages actually define you in a way that is different?
A position is really a concise representation of a marketing strategy. At the heart of marketing strategy is the creation of differentiated advantage. The words of a positioning idea therefore represent the most compressed articulation of a strategy of differentiated advantage.
Ideally, a position represents a strong, even provocative “point-of-view”. A point of view you could write a white paper on and not be laughed out of the room with.
Perhaps most importantly, a position (and therefore a brand) is built on what you do, not on what you say. A position is an asset that must drive internal behavior across the entire organization – if the product development people aren’t working to it, no amount of clever marketing will disguise the inconsistency. Ducks that talk like swans are simply well spoken ducks.
The position must be built on a set of pillars or filters that are used to help the position properly channel and guide behavior. If the position can’t guide and inspire the organization – all of the organization – it surely has no hope whatsoever of guiding and inspiring the consumer. As Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world”. As Michael Jackson said, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”.
Mahatma and Michael – who would’ve guessed?
Austin McGhie, Head of Strategy at Sterling