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Michael Smock and Rod Watkins are Managing Directors of Darwin's Crucible, a San Francisco-based strategic campaigning group. Darwin's Crucible leverages the Internet to transform the competitive advantage of Global 2000 competitors.

Contact Darwin's Crucible at
(1) 415.457.8449 or info@darwinscrucible.com

1999 Darwin's Crucible


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AdSlogans.com -- Wise Words/4

From Darwin's Crucible comes
Positioning Before Branding --
What Every CEO Should Understand

by Michael Smock
and Rod Watkins

Most of the time companies reach for branding when they should be reaching for positioning. And by doing so waste billions of dollars.

There's a very simple rule of thumb to apply the next time Madison Ave comes knocking with another multi-million dollar branding campaign. It is this:

  • The effectiveness of a traditional branding campaign is inversely related to the complexity of your business model.

In other words the simpler the business model, the greater the impact of branding. If you operate with a complex model the benefits you gain from so called branding campaigns are marginal at best. 

A brand is simply your identity. You communicate your identity through the brand. A brand is articulated with visual images and written messages. 

Positioning is the reconciliation of opportunity and competency. 

Positioning assures that competitors configure their resources in the best possible formation in order to exploit opportunity and threat. 

Organizations execute positioning campaigns at points where their competencies are aligned with their opportunities. Superior positioning assures that resources are configured to optimize the exploitation of opportunity and to minimize the impact of threats. 


Branding is one of many expressions

Branding is one of many expressions of positioning. Branding represents the 'face' competitors show to their customers, competitors, and other constituents. In the standard advertising paradigm, branding is generally presented as the only available tactical objective. 

The reality is that branding is but a minor subset of the overall positioning equation, a tool that should be selectively employed in pursuit of the single most critical marketing objective - superior competitive positioning. 

Typical advertising agencies, regardless of size and resources, are optimized to deliver a specialized form of business communication messages. Advertising agencies have perfected and optimized core competencies in media and creative expression, both essential to crafting messages that are intended to communicate brand identity. 

The typical advertising paradigm fits well with the process of branding. Brands are 'affixed' within the collective consumer consciousness via the massive repetition of high-impact, catchy messages.

What better skill-set to deliver on this than one grounded in creative expression and mass media communications - the definition of the typical advertising agency? 

It is to be expected that professional service consultants will skew their 'deliverables' around their core competencies. For the attorney it is the law. For the accountant it is numerical representations of business activities. For the advertising agency it is branding. 

If 'branding' were always the critical element necessary to capture market share and drive revenues, then a branding program may be warranted. Unfortunately, the value of branding is generally just assumed, and branding is expected to represent the backbone of most marketing strategies. 

B2B/Consumer Crossovers

The most important thing to recognize is that branding fits nicely into the traditional advertising paradigm still in existence today (ironically enough most pervasively on the Internet). The compensation between agencies and clients is still based primarily upon commissions on media and production. In other words, the agency is paid on the basis of how many ads they run and how many materials they produce. They're compensated on frequency and not effectiveness. Their compensation rewards them for doing a million of the same things - regardless of success. Between an ad agency's core competencies and the manner in which they are paid it is no wonder that branding is the most overused tool in marketing. 

And branding is no longer just a consumer marketing technique. Presently, there is more and more crossover from consumer 'mass' marketing to business-to-business marketing. It has even gotten to the point where agencies and consultants are attempting to apply brand strategies to complex business models. They do this on the pretense that one ad can increase their stock price or revenues by developing a brand and running a bunch of TV spots. Or creating a web site and driving millions of eyeballs to it with no sound proposition for converting them into loyal customers. Sound familiar?

Determine Positioning Strategy

The bottom line is that before branding anything ... whether it is a million things one time or one thing a million times ... first define your competitive and market position. Only after determining positioning strategy do you consider branding. But before embarking on an expensive branding campaign take a long, hard look at the

high-price talent recommending the program and make dead certain that their interests align with yours. 

Positioning, not branding, is the starting point in executing superior marketing maneuvers that capture and defend valuable competitive terrain.


AdSlogans.com -- Wise Words/4


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