I often find myself sitting in front of a marketing director, managing partner or CEO who wants to “do some brand work”.
And my first question’s always the same:
“What do you mean when you say brand?”
The question isn’t as silly as it first seems. Because people often mean very different things.
Brand. A brand. The brand. Your brand. Branding. One little word, so many variations, so many implications.
In my experience, more often than not people don’t mean brand at all. They mean positioning.
To illustrate the difference I’ll use this quote, which manages to be wrong & right at the same time:
Brand isn’t positioning
A brand — or your brand — has never been what you tell people it is. Your brand has always been what people say it is. That’s why it’s so important.
To quote Jeff Bezos (I know, I know, everyone uses this example, but that’s only because it’s a good one) “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.
When I’m working with clients I tell them that their brand is the sum of anything & everything that creates a perception about who & what they are.
So they better make sure they understand what that perception is & how it’s been created.
Positioning isn’t brand
Your positioning has never been what people tell you — or each other — it is. Positioning has always been what you tell people you are.
And this is generally what people want to work on. They want to develop a clear, consistent positioning the entire firm can get behind & that differentiates them in the market.
But here’s the rub. You shouldn’t work on your positioning until you understand what your brand is.
Imagine people see you as reliable, steady, a safe pair of hands who won’t rock the boat. And you decide to position yourself as edgy, exciting, a bit of a wild child that could do anything next.
It’s simply not going to be believable.
As Al Ries & Jack Trout counsel, you should anchor your positioning to something that already exists in people’s minds.
And this is where the magic happens.
Where you take all of that brand research, distill it down to something crystal clear & razor sharp, then build it out into a powerful & memorable positioning.
A marketer not knowing the difference between brand & positioning?
It’s like a lawyer not knowing the difference between equity & debt financing. A doctor not knowing the difference between an under-active & over-active thyroid. An accountant not knowing the difference between a private & public company.
We wouldn’t let a lawyer, doctor or accountant get away with it. We shouldn’t let marketers get away with it. It’s too important.