Quick! What's A.1.? (You answered, "Steak sauce.")

Quick! Name a steak sauce. (You said, "A.1.")

Positioning marketing theory calls this "equivalence." Steak sauce is A.1.; and A.1. is steak sauce. This is the single most powerful concept in marketing, and yet the good folks at Kraft are content to throw it all away.

Recently A.1. dropped the "steak" in "steak sauce" because, in the words of a Kraft brand manager, "We wanted the brand to reflect our wide-ranging appeal." Read into that "We want to sell more A.1." And, in the short term, they probably will. After all, this comes on the heels of a five-year advertising hiatus for the brand.

They're not thinking like positionists. It's the same short-term thinking we all criticize, except when we do it ourselves. Imagine the meeting where the decision was made. Let me paint you a picture:

Ten participants: one who is sort of in charge, one who is on a barely-audible phone, and eight who are secretly playing FarmVille. There are bottles of A.1. arranged neatly on a side table and somebody is delivering a PowerPoint that features arrows pointing down.

Somebody's voice rises "... and we all know people aren't eating as much red meat."

It dawns on another participant that their end-of-the-year bonuses are directly correlated with the quantity of A.1. sold. Now he's all in.

Another person offers that he personally uses A.1. on chicken. He's all in too.

Groupthink sets in ... it's unanimous! We drop the "steak" in "steak sauce." Genius.

In the short term, A.1. will probably sell more sauce and everybody will get their bonuses. In the long term, however, if A.1. really wants to roll around in the mud with all the other all-purpose sauces, they'll face pretty intense competition. And, most severely, they'll open themselves up to a focused specialist, because the most successful brands are not everything to everyone.

Remember, fundamental to the positioning school of thought is that a brand, product or service can only stand for one thing in the mind of a prospect. So if any of you are looking for a million dollar idea, here's one ... a sauce exclusively for steak. There's currently an opening at the top.

Innis Maggiore Case Study

A Capital Idea: Say It Loud and Proud
Positioning is not just for the cool stuff we eat, wear and drive. Case in point: Canton, the Utica Capital.

Three years ago, oil and gas exploration and production companies began paying a lot of attention to the geology of Stark, Carroll and surrounding counties here in Ohio. Flush with the success they had had in other shale plays, the E&P outfits set their sights on geologists' latest discovery: the Utica shale.

Innis Maggiore saw the growth opportunity for its hometown, Canton, Ohio.

The city is known as the home of President William McKinley, the birthplace of the National Football League and the host city of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Those attributes really do put Canton on the map.

But what about the companies looking at eastern Ohio to stake their claims in the business of finding and recovering the vast underground reservoirs of gas and oil? What did they know about where to fly, sleep, dine, get professional services, rent office space or buy property on which to build?

Innis Maggiore, the nation's leading ad agency in the practice of positioning, recommended the right idea: Canton needed to market itself as the hub for the Utica business, the ideal location in terms of travel, workforce, hospitality, networking, professional services and everything essential for companies wanting to capitalize on the Utica.

The idea was "Canton, the Utica Capital." The agency pitched the idea to the mayor and Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce. Both immediately recognized the value of that position and embraced it. The mayor, in his 2012 State of the City address, declared, "Canton is the Utica Capital."

Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has registered "Canton, the Utica Capital" and the city and the Canton Regional Chamber are actively marketing the greater Canton area as the focal point for Utica commerce.

Businesses are locating in Canton. People travel through the Akron-Canton Airport. Schools teach students about the work associated with getting gas and oil to market. And the industry regularly convenes in Canton for events.

Canton said it loud and proud from the get-go. And today, Canton is the Utica Capital.