Monday, June 27, 2011

Positioning losing its fixed position

“Positioning” is the flashiest word in Brand Marketing and Brand Building. In MBA schools, the one who frequently uses this jargon is considered a guru and often preferred in making the presentation to the class on the subject or related subjects. Several self proclaimed gurus have written a million stories and articles on the subject, defining and redefining the word in context of the change around us, people, businesses or products and services. In the industry where I belong, the most easy and yet difficult asked question is “ What is that one thing that your brand stands for” and everything gets answered except this one question. The easy part is the question itself, the words, the tonality, the visuals that come to the mind. The difficult part is to comprehend what it means. What is this thing about ONE thing? And why ONE thing? If my brand has three good things about it, how can I select that ONE from the rest. Isn’t it a compromising situation? And why would people have a problem in remembering three good things about my brand. The more they remember the better it would be, right. If one is forgotten then the other two can save the day.
To add to the difficulty, rephrase the question, “What is that one thing which gets uniquely registered in your customers mind about your brand”, Phew!! A simple question yet so many words needed to elicit a simple answer. Did anybody ask ‘for how much time should it be registered’? I mean, is there a time frame to it? WOW, that’s a twist. Never thought of it like this before. But seems quite apt. And does the duration imply positive or negative results. If I can remember one thing about the brand for five years is that good or bad? Versus, if I can remember one thing for only about a year and then remember another thing about it for another year and so on. I hope I am not infringing into the rights of information about the brand.
But then if I were to look at it closely, the second option is not bad either.
Let’s have a close shave with the way to interpret the second question. Apple was registered in my mind 1995 as Macintosh, in 2000 as iMac, 2005 as iPod, 2007 as iPhone, 2010 as iPad. Suddenly the span of remembering ‘ONE thing’ about a brand seems to shrink. Earlier one brand was known for its singularity for a longer duration of time or presence in our lives. Today that singularity exists but keeps modifying and is existing only for a small period of time. Maruti in mid 1980’s is registered in my mind as an Indian-Japanese car maker, mid 1990’s as the affordable Indian car maker, in 2000’s as the people’s car maker, 2005 as biggest car maker in India, in 2010 as economical car maker. In each of these times, there is focus on one thing and that is the car. While in the case of Apple the focus changes from one product to another as time passes by. The purpose of all cars is to take you from one place to another but all products of Apple don’t do the same – an iPod is different from iPad from what it does and why we use it.
Remembering few good things about a brand versus one good thing about a brand, still remains answered for now.
Positioning is also important for businesses like brands. Whether you are in the B2B or B2C space, it matters, because you deal with people, and it is here that memory is questioned. Inanimate things don’t have brains right, and so you don’t expect them to remember things.
When I look at my business/industry, I often feel uncomfortable when we are asked “what do we do”. Because actually we do a lot of things for a lot of businesses and hence, what is that ONE thing which I should answer becomes a challenge. Brand Design industry is a big picture already in our country. A decade ago it was in its nascent stage and it was very difficult to describe “what we do”. Often ‘what we did’ was misconstrued as ‘similar things’ like advertising agency. Which was true, just that “what we did” was a piece of the big pie in advertising which we blew it up into a whole new industry leaving the advertising behind. The separation was understood by companies but with difficulty and advertising people certainly didn’t like it.
Today when we pitch, we pitch as ‘all solutions in one basket’ just that the basket can hold only a few solutions. The moment we try to spread ourselves too large we tend to become thinner and deprived. We singularly cannot accommodate all possible solutions for a brand but don’t mind not mentioning it.
“What is that one thing” as a question looses it merit in our industry. While there are companies who have been able to answer this quite well, but more often it’s a hand in mouth situation.
I believe that Positioning defined as ONE something, will not matter any longer given the way things are moving, businesses are expanding, brands are extending, people are evolving, environments are becoming organized. Positioning will become fluid and hence will take the shape of the vessel in which it will be poured. It will have its own inertia but its pull will have to be configured according to the situation and needs.
Since the solutions expected from us will differ from one brand to the other, positioning ourselves as ONE solution provider will no longer be fruitful.
Design in itself has evolved in its definition and execution. It is no longer an ingredient but an outcome in itself. It is no longer a tool but a way of approaching a problem. It is a state of mind and not one person’s ability to deliver. Designers are no longer born in colleges but in the minds. A housewife is as good a designer as a product designer of her mixer grinder.
We all expect brands to deliver more because there are so many look alikes and do alikes. Hanging on to one string will only cause tension and break it. Beyond a point you cannot pull the string else it will snap releasing all the good energy and wasting all the time.
Design by virtue is like a fluid. The more easily it flows, the further it will reach. The denser it is the more depth it will have.
Positioning will still exist for brands but brands will have to find their fluidity – positioning, to exist, depending on the time they want to occupy ONE single position.

1 comment:

  1. Very apt question! This battle between fixed and fluid exists in my mind too. I have slipped and gathered myself a lot of times on this. The way I understood the idea of positioning, has changed. After debating and listening to the various points of view I am gravitating towards the opinion that positioning is not a dot but a collection of dots which create a meaningful space. Change of a byline is not necessarily a change in positioning. Positioning is the broad context within which you have conversations about the brand. And every conversation can make a different point depending on when, where and what of the subject of conversation. Even back in the 90s Maruti was a car which was more affordable due to low entry price and efficiency and therefore a people's car by default. Later, the people's car became the people's choice - reliability, size of fleet and slipped into a way of life for India. But still the best answer to - kitna deti hai. Maruti was never premium or the last word in technology. And I think the sanctity of these spaces still exist after an onslaught of International brands and options across segments.