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Is Brand Positioning Dead?

Put on your mourning clothes and cover the mirrors in the black fabric; it's time to eulogize brand positioning—or is it?

The idea behind positioning theory in marketing is that each brand will occupy its unique lane. Such it space shelters the brand from competitive threats, and differentiators would be obvious, valuable, and potentially justify premium pricing.

A recent research study contradicts the positioning concept. It arrives at a potentially controversial conclusion: "Brand positioning became dead when social media became mainstream."

Brand Shifts

According to WE Communications, social media has reduced companies' control over their brands due to external factors, including technological advances and elevated consumer expectations. Undoubtedly, other changes, such as the prevalence of consumer reviews and user-generated content, shape the brand narrative beyond anything a company can influence.

Brands in Motion

In its place, the authors propose a new concept: Brands in Motion. The core idea is that brands are no longer static and that traditional positioning, with its singular destination or lane, is no longer relevant.

In other words, rather than planting a flag using a single idea or concept, companies can build a brand around multiple core ideas or themes that resonate with customers and may be co-created WITH them. This is an entirely different way to approach branding. Rather than a top-down approach done by creatives in t-shirts at trendy downtown agencies, it enables ideas to come from anyone, anywhere, anytime.

What (Or Who) is Driving Your Brand

Interestingly, one of the co-authors poses an important question: "Are you propelling your brand? Is something or someone else propelling your brand? Or is it both?"

Ultimately, it comes down to which individuals or groups shape the brand narrative. Consumers will authentically use their experience with the brand—good, bad, or indifferent.

Another related article proclaims: "Positioning is dead! Long live positioning!" Marketing theorists have recently asserted that the very idea of pre-determined brand values may be a fool's errand, as "Marketers no longer determine what perceptions customers have of their brands because the internet and social media have wrestled communications power away from brand owners and given it 'to the people.' That has made the notion that a brand owner can 'position' a brand in customers' minds futile and irrelevant."

Is this really the case? Can it be true that no brand can be shaped by a company from the ground up? Modern versions of positioning view it as an ongoing strategic activity with multiple moving parts that go way beyond marketing. Here are two of them.

Two Core Parts of Positioning

First, the company must determine which space it can own (both today and down the road) that makes it relevant for many audiences and different from other brands. The points of difference can be a mission (TOMS), attitude (Nike, Apple), an emotional benefit (Porsche), or a social status signal (Rolls Royce, Cartier). Identifying what differentiates the brand is the start of a much broader process.

Secondly, the business must understand and commit to and exude the position through marketing and business behaviour. Crucially, the organization must walk the talk.

Long Live Positioning

Strong positioning is about being authentic, first and foremost. Clarifying your why, values and mission can make your position clear.

You can't fake it. If it's informed by and built with customers in mind, it's much more likely to succeed. When modern positioning works, it's a very powerful tool in the marketing arsenal.

There it is: positioning is still here and still relevant. Do you agree or disagree?


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