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Growing brand strength starts with a clear positioning

by Lynette Dicey
The discipline of marketing has undergone fundamental changes in recent years. More than ever it is having to prove its impact on the bottom line.

The Covid pandemic accelerated this rate of change, says Ivan Moroke, CEO of Kantar SA and chair of the Marketing Achievement Awards (MAA). “A combination of the economic impact of the pandemic and digital transformation has fundamentally changed the way people live their lives as well as their behaviour. At the same time, consumers’ expectation of brands has changed, and both brands and consumers have become more conscious of sustainability issues. Brands that fail to embrace this greater consciousness do so at their peril.”

In an era of product and price parity, marketing that differentiates brands through an aura of magic is what stands out and what consumers will ultimately be prepared to pay a premium for, Moroke says.

American author and former dot-com business executive Seth Godin says: “People don’t buy goods and services, they buy relations, stories and magic.”

Successful brands are typically clearly positioned and occupy a defined territory. In today’s cluttered environment, positioning is more nuanced than ever, but also more opaque, because it’s no longer just about a single brand association. In fact, brands can have multiple associations.

Critically, however, brands need to be consistent. Strong mental structures depend on mental connectivity, in part created by repetition.

To evaluate a brand’s positioning, Moroke suggests a brand positioning audit. This involves identifying your target audience; emphasising what makes your brand unique; then testing your position; and, finally, curating a brand ambition.

“We should never forget that emotion is the ultimate driver of human behaviour,” Moroke says, adding that brands with good emotive clarity include Nando’s, Savanna, Discovery, FNB, Sanlam and Woolworths.

Moroke cautions against snap decisions to change a brand’s positioning, as changing it can take a long time and a great deal of effort. “The ability of brands to change their positioning depends on four main factors. First, the brand should ask what the starting point is and where it wants to get to. In other words, is a fundamental change required or is it trying to strengthen an existing positioning? Second, it should ask what level of investment is required to achieve this. Third, the brand should be consistent with its activities over time and across brand touchpoints. The last point for it to consider is whether competitors are also starting to move towards its target positioning.”

Brand assets such as logos, colours, fonts and physical cues such as the shape of packaging, slogans and other distinct styles, play an important role in its positioning, providing consumers with a mental short-cut to place the brand in decision-making structures.

“People don’t usually spend a lot of time making a purchasing decision, and the quicker they identify a brand the more likely it is to be chosen. It’s therefore important that assets are intuitively linked to the brand,” Moroke says.

Author and brand strategist Laura Busche describes a successful positioning as “finding the right parking space inside the consumer’s mind and going for it before someone else takes it”.

Useful resources:
The Red Zone
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