The one question the will transform your brand story
There is a problem with our brand positioning process. It hasn't evolved like the marketplace that it hopes to operate in.
Brand positioning exercises are meant to help us focus our thinking to create a relevant and compelling foundation for our brand stories. These exercises take into account the ideal target for our stories as well as their trigger points. They define the competitors that we need to defeat. And outline our arsenal of features that will combine to deliver the beneficial punch that will win over those targets.
I have participated in the creation of hundreds of these positioning platforms since I was introduced to the seminal marketing strategy book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind first published in the early '80s. The positioning statement became the standard form for laying out the differentiating attack plan for the brand story.
Therein lies the problem for the positioning statement in today's world. It feels like a battle plan used by an aggressor to conquer. It should come as no surprise that another book was also extremely popular in the same era that the positioning book was released - Sun Zu's The Art of War.
We use terms like "target", "defeating the competition", and "winning the business". Feels a little militaristic, right?
In today's world, I don't think any of us are looking for an organization to crush the competitors vying for our attention and "win" us. That makes us sound like a bunch of powerless and needy damsels in distress. Who among us wants to be approached that way?
Who is our brand for?
Today, we don't want an almighty conqueror. We want an empathetic collaborator. We want an organization that will take the time to understand what is really important to us. I'm not talking about our functional needs (i.e. a widget that works a little bit better or costs a little less.) Meeting our functional needs is the price to play. What I'm talking about is the ability to help us work toward our aspirations. And if we really want to win the hearts of those we hope to serve, we need to figure out how we can help them work toward making a difference in the world (I call it a Big Audacious Meaning).
We need to change the way we think about the fundamental strategy at the core of our brand stories. We need to quit talking in terms of conflict (even that positioning book talked about "the battle for your mind"). We need to shift our focus to lifting up those we hope to serve rather than crushing a competitor.
It comes down to a question we need to ask before we start laying out the strategic core of our brand story:
Are we positioning against something or for someone?