4 Questions to Ask When Your Brand Positioning Needs a Refresh
Most CEOs and marketers would agree that the brand’s positioning strategy is foundational to driving the brand’s market position, differentiation, messaging, communication and more. Getting the brand positioning strategy right is critical, and positioning strategy consulting can be a key driver of accomplishing this goal.
This premise seems easy to agree with, and some brands are in the fortunate position of having a clear, relevant and differentiated brand positioning in place.
In our experience, however, many brands do not have the desired positioning. If your brand is in this situation, your organization should explore the option of working with a positioning strategy consulting firm. Working with a positioning strategy consulting firm can help ensure your new brand positioning is relevant, effective and meets a reasonable deadline.
Let’s look at some questions about developing a positioning strategy and how those questions are addressed by working with a brand positioning consulting firm.
Question #1: How often does the typical marketing professional work on the brand positioning strategy?
At large CPG firms with existing brands, the brand positioning strategy may be seriously reevaluated every two to five years. But that doesn’t mean it significantly changes over time. The Marlboro brand, for example, is known for using the Marlboro Man cowboy imagery and independent, masculine approach to positioning strategy and execution that dates back to the 1950s. When they work, these brand positionings don’t change frequently, and that’s a good thing. But it also means the current team may not have worked to develop the original brand positioning.
At smaller and startup firms, the brand positioning strategy is often developed quickly, at times with little or no customer input. Perhaps the brand positioning is a repetition of the founder’s beliefs and stories or like, Honest Company, is built around a celebrity endorser or owner. In certain categories, brand influencers who are promoting themselves ‘define’ the brand’s positioning by default.
Overall, the typical marketing professional spends most of their time focusing on marketing execution, not the brand positioning strategy. This means many marketers lack repetition and skills around brand positioning strategy development, because they are (appropriately) more focused on execution most of the time.
A positioning strategy consulting firm will help by bringing an experienced team with a proven process that addresses four requirements.
Question #2: How many total brand positioning strategies has the typical marketing professional led in their career?
Unless they come from an advertising agency or positioning strategy consulting firm, many newer marketing professionals, with less than five years of experience, will have participated in zero to two brand positioning strategies.
More experienced marketing professionals may have led three to five brand positioning strategies, unless they come from an agency background. A sterling example of an experienced brand positioning marketing executive is my co-author Teri Lucie Thompson who led four major brand positioning strategies in approximately 12 years in her role as the CMO and senior marketing leader at four different brands:
- University of Arizona
- University of Texas
The average CMO’s tenure is approximately 43 months or between three to four years, and there are different skills needed depending on the CMO’s role, ranging from a focus primarily on marketing communication or commercialization to growth strategy to enterprise P&L. This means, on average, that it will take more than 10 years for the executive to have led meaningful brand positioning work on three different brands after they become senior.
The brand positioning strategy consulting firm works on brand positioning strategy more frequently and across a number of businesses and categories, bringing more reps and diverse perspectives to the table, along with a disciplined process.
Question #3: Why invest in a positioning strategy consulting firm when the company’s marketing leaders can develop the positioning strategy on their own?
It’s important to take a look at the marketing team’s real experience around developing a brand positioning strategy as explored in questions #1 and #2 above. Many high-caliber teams simply lack the reps and muscle in this area.
The marketing team may also lack experience in repositioning a brand from its historical strength to a broader positioning. We explored this situation in a B2B case study for unified positioning in enterprise software.
Every situation is different, but if the assessment shows gaps, it’s a good idea to consider outside resources, such as a positioning strategy consulting firm. The investment in an experienced positioning strategy consulting firm helps avoid poor outcomes, such as one situation we witnessed where the marketing team spent more than one year on brand positioning development without yielding a result.
Questions #4: What about using an outsourced CMO to lead the brand positioning strategy?
In our experience, this option is typically considered by smaller firms who lack an ongoing marketing team. Organizations like Chief Outsiders offer fractional CMOs. In our experience, larger firms typically do not use this option.
These individuals bring years of experience that can be very helpful. Again, it’s critical to examine how much experience the individual brings that is specific to brand positioning strategy. Since they come from industry experience (rather than agency), it’s likely they won’t have that many brand positionings under their belt.
While they may exist, we aren’t familiar with any case studies of brand positioning success working with an outsourced CMO.
There are a number of excellent positioning strategy consulting firms, including Equibrand, Insight to Action and The Cambridge Group. We are confident in the results of these firms, having worked with their principals across multiple brands and categories. The faithful reader of this post will recognize that it is important to look into the specific positioning experience of the team who will work with your brand at the firm, not just the overall firm credentials.
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