Rubber Chicken

Positioning – Much Abused, How to Use

In Building a Brand by Distility2655 Comments

Positioning – Much Abused. How to Use.

Sales Guy #1: So What’s Your Positioning?
sales Guy #2: We’re a global leading manufacturer of rubber chickens.


Poor Positioning. She is so misunderstood. Maybe even the most abused term in Marketing. Here’s the bottom line. Positioning needs to be relative to something else. You don’t say “Position that rubber chicken on the table.” You say “Position that rubber chicken next to the whoopee cushion.” Even when the term isn’t being abused, it doesn’t help that marketing experts have many different positioning methods and models. No wonder buying branding can be so frustrating.

How We Separate the Signal from the Noise

Here at Distility we respect two schools of positioning. The first is the more classic definition. We call it “Market Positioning”. The best description of this type of positioning I’ve ever read is in “Kellogg on Branding” in the first chapter written by Alice m. Tybout and Brian Sternthal.

The key components in this model are:

1. Your target customer
2. Their need
3. Their point of reference
4. The dramatic difference(s)
5. The reason(s) to believe

Here is said model applied to Distility 1day1brand:

Brand Positioning of Distility

Take note that the positioning here is taking place relative to the customer, their need, their frame of reference, and most importantly your competitors.
It is easy to get any one of these wrong if you’re rushed or not careful. Technology firms typically get the point of reference wrong. Tivo, according to Tybout and Sternthal, fell down here. They should have used the VCR as their point of reference. “We’re like a VCR except you can…” Because they never clarified their Point of Reference, it took way too long for consumers to make sense of their technology.

The Trout &amp Ries Model

Jack Trout and especially Al Reis were the big thinkers in the early days of branding. Reading the Reis book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding was a milestone event in my development as a branding expert. But it was their collaboration, and the book “Positioning: The Battle for your Mind” that most influenced my techniques in the early days of running aXle Branding (now Distility). Trout & Ries taught how positioning happens in the mind of the customer. That was key. They also explained brand categories. According to them, the customer can only remember a few rungs of the ladder for any brand category. So when s/he thinks smart phone, they think of the iPhone at #1, then Blackberry at #2, then a mess of other players at #3, #4, etc. To grossly simplify, Trout & Reis wrote about the critical nature of category leadership, and ways to “reposition” the #1 player, or become #1 by creating your own category or sub-category.

To distinguish this from the “Market Positioning” we described further above, we call this “Brand Positioning.” I suppose you could also call it “Brand Categorizing” but that just sounds off. Most companies are naturally averse to creating a new brand position/category. Their desire for legitimacy is stronger than their desire to differentiate. One of our first clients was a software firm from Montreal. Their software helped game and movie makers work with huge digital crowds. They considered themselves to be in the “3D Animation” category. We worked with them and developed a new category “AI Animation” (AI – Artificial intelligence). Before this “repositioning” they would meet prospective customers and say “We’re in 3D Animation Software…” customers knew that category, and they knew that the #1 and #2 player were multimillion dollar software plays, not our client. Our client wasn’t being remembered.

But when they dared to be different, and said “We’re the first AI Animation solution” the audience had just one thing to say: “What’s AI Animation?” That’s the golden moment. You’ve just created a NEW category in the customer’s head. And you are at the top. Trout and Reis showed how this new, top position was far more meaningful and memorable, the sticky way to establish yourself in the minds that matter most to you.

To come back to Distility, our brand positioning is Distility 1day1brand is “The world’s first team-based brand development system.”

Putting it all together

As mentioned at the top, with Distility we use both models. For us “Market Positioning” is really all about positioning in the marketplace. The Trout & Reis style “Brand Positioning”, actually dovetails into the classic method fairly well. But is far more focused, and exclusively about the category in the customer’s head – creating a new one, or pushing your way up an existing one.


 This video for Moto’s Droid superphone is a good example of the Trout & Reis “Repositioning the Competition” strategy.