Wednesday, May 2

The Shelf Life of Positioning

During last week's Small Business Bootcamp, I got a TON of questions.  It was so great to see everyone so engaged.  The most interesting of the lot, by far, was this one:

Is there a shelf life on a brand's positioning?  How often do you have to update it before it goes stale?


The question made me so happy because a) it's so thought provoking, b) positioning is the hardest part of marketing and c) it showed me that folks were really paying attention!

Positioning is such a hard concept for most marketers to grasp ... especially those in small business who may not have had any formal marketing training or experience.  Let's start with a definition of positioning and then we'll attempt to answer the (impossible) question.

Positioning is the mental space that you want your brand to occupy in your customers' minds.  It's what you want your customers to think of, when they think of your brand.

Now this is my version, so it may not appear in any textbook (other than my own), but it makes it pretty easy to understand (although not necessarily easier to create).  It's also inherently emotional, which is what any successful brand should be all about.  It's the emotional connection with a customer that turns an ordinary product into a brand ... and is truly the basis for building a compelling brand experience.

So back to the question:  How often do you have to update a brand's positioning?

Never and all the time.  In reality, a positioning should be so well crafted that it should stand the test of time.  And in fact the secret behind truly successful brands is that they stay consistent execution after execution, year after year ... staying true to who they are as a brand.  One of my favorite personal examples is Clean & Clear.  I launched that powerhouse brand when I was at J&J back in 1993.  Still has the same positioning today!

But the reality is that a positioning should also evolve.  Consumer attitudes and behaviors change all the time ... just take a look at what the recent economic forces have done to our behaviors.  Plus every time a new competitor enters the market, it could swing how consumers view all the players.  The skin care category is a great example of an ever-evolving market, based on consumer emotions and pop culture trends, that has new players entering constantly.

Now you can't change a brand's positioning every day.  It's too much effort and it would be too confusing in the marketplace.  I recommend that you take a hard look at your positioning every year, as part of an annual 3-year planning process.  You should always be planning 3 years out, and you should update your positioning, or at least take a hard look at it, every single year.  Unless something dramatic happens in the interim.

It doesn't mean you'll change it, and in fact you probably won't.  Your brand's positioning is likely to stay in tact year after year, just like Clean & Clear.  But take a hard look at it annually just to make sure that it's keeping up in the marketplace.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President, Cohn & Wolfe North America
Author, The Experience Effect and The Experience Effect for Small Business
Professor, NYU


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