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How Positioning Impacts All Marketing Disciplines

Brand Shorthand

This week Mark and Lorraine discuss how positioning permeates every single marketing discipline. As a business strategy, positioning should touch every corner of your business, but many marketers give it lip service and execute without a position. Learn why and how the practice of positioning can supercharge your marketing from PR to research and from media planning to investor relations.

32 min

Mark Vandegrift
Welcome to the latest episode of the Brand Shorthand Podcast. I'm your host, Mark Vandegrift, and with me is the lady who puts the posit in positioning, Lorraine Kessler. Thing #1, do I have something exciting to share with you? The Wienermobile is back.

Lorraine Kessler
Oh, oh! You mean Oscar? Yeah.

Mark Vandegrift
They abandoned the Frankmobile rename. The world is right again. Can you believe it? They must have heard our podcast and decided to abandon ship. Aren't you happy you get to sing the jingle again?

Lorraine Kessler
Yeah, they must have been one of the-

Yeah, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer, Frankfurter, that just didn't work, right? I mean, you know, throw out, I don't see, we'll lose the four membered subscribers we have. Ha ha ha. Ha ha. It goes, huh.

Mark Vandegrift
No! Don't sing! Don't sing, Lorraine!

Yeah. Oh my goodness. That was just such a dorky move. It's like, why are you doing that?

Lorraine Kessler
It was like weird wokeism because I don't think anybody was complaining.

Mark Vandegrift
Yeah. Well, here's another thing I saw. And as much as that makes the world right again, I'm a little worried about this headline, but if we dive deeper, it's all okay. You're going to talk me off the ledge. So I saw this headline. It said, ‘seven CMOs on how their children influenced their marketing approach. Top marketers at American Eagle, Chili's, Chipotle, Claire's, KFC, Marriott, and Nissan on how their kids are often a secret weapon.’ So this sort of scares me. I get how you could poll your kids for feedback, but I'm a little nervous that seven sets of kids are making a big impact on a marketing approach. What was your reaction to this?

Lorraine Kessler
Well, my reaction is when I read the whole article is that the headline has all come on and hyperbole. The actual article is very much on balance, and I don't see this a problem. Most of these CMOs just, you know, were curious about where their kids are and we're polling them and finding out where they are. 

And if you look at, you know, the needs of society are always changing, right? So the kind of ads that worked yesterday don't necessarily work today or tomorrow. So you have to keep your pulse on where we are today. 

I remember you not too many years ago, you know, coming in and kind of with what we thought at the time was somewhat surprising information that the younger people are not using Facebook. It's Snapchat and then it switched to TikTok and your daughters were right and you were right.

And so, and that's even changing now, right? So I think what the article puts on balance, again, whoever wrote the headline, they're trying to get readers, right? So, huh, they got us, they got us. Pretty good, nice hook. But most of the CMOs in the article just said they use it as a gut check, it's a starting insight, and they would never run off and create ads or make changes based on that without further data. So I think it's very useful. Would it be dangerous if so-and-so took little Johnny's thought and ram with it, yeah. And we've, sadly, have had some clients who kind of want to feed us information based on that. You know, my nephew told me… and so we should do this, and they're like, okay, you know, it's, you know, okay, how do we diplomatically say, your nephew may be wildly right, he could be wildly wrong. So let's prove it, let's state it.

I think what's really good about it is that what you can by talking to younger generations who are the future of a brand or something like some of the brands that they talked about in the article is that you're going to find their language is different. They have their own lingo, their own way of talking. And that's super important to understand for the marketer because we need to be creating rapport – which literally means from the old Greek to close the distance – between the marketer or advertiser and the audience. And you can't do that if you're stuck in language that's arcane or old or just doesn't connect.

Mark Vandegrift
Good, well I'm glad you talked me down from the ledge. I read that and I was like, holy cow, now we have 10 year olds doing this. You know, it goes back to, I probably have a little bit of PTSD, just from the standpoint of those many times when web was first starting and we'd have a client say, well my 10 year old down the road is building my website for me. We were like, what? So.

Yeah, that's the PTSD coming out in me. But well, let's go to today's topic because we have a lot to talk about. And it puts positioning in the crosshairs of all the marketing disciplines. And by that, I mean, let's discuss how positioning impacts all the disciplines of marketing. Things like public relations, media planning, investor relations, event marketing, research, you know, those are all the various disciplines of marketing.

And the reason to cover this is that I believe sometimes those who follow positioning believe it's a strategy that you figure out upfront, but then from there on, it just gets lip service during the execution of the marketing. And we've already talked about how positioning strategy should impact the creative, but let's talk about how we do these other things, for instance, public relations. We always say PR is the best way to build a brand.

But let's start out with how positioning impacts public relations. What could or should, if we were consulting with a PR professional right here, what would they do differently if they say they're going to adhere to the principles of position?

Lorraine Kessler
Well, interesting, I'm going to just back up for a second because my indoctrination to positioning really began from working with some amazing PR people. I think positioning is the ultimate PR strategy. Why? Because great PR people fight for an angle, right? They fight for a story angle, and they craft the story from that perspective. And they're always asking what's new and different about this product or service or idea. And they tend to have a pretty strong bullshit radar on that. Because, because I know you love when I curse. Because they know that they're first audience - editors and publishers - won't publish something that isn't innately interesting to the public and have relevant meaning to them and Isn't news and by definition news is news if it's new and different, right? 

So they struggle and strive to get the right angle. Some people call the spin pejoratively, but I think it's greater than that. It's the right strategy and that's what positioning is and to put forward to organize their narrative. And they do that not only because of the editors and the publishers, but also because they know that ultimately those editors and publishers are thinking for their audiences, the public, that they're reaching with whatever, their magazine, TV, whatever it is. And they're asking how is this relevant and important to our audience? Because what they have is what they want to accumulate is audience. So they have to give them relevant and different content. 

So I think it's a PR thing and the PR Pro, a great PR Pro, a good one never settles for the banal, which is being lacking originality as to be obviously boring. And the last thing you want to be in PR or advertising is boring.

Mark Vandegrift
Especially in this day and age of anybody able to publish something, right? You know, we can go on to PR Newswire, hit a button, and if you're willing to pay for it, it's going to send it to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of a second. And it's like clutter, clutter. So that, that even goes back to the headline, doesn't it?

Lorraine Kessler
Yeah, it sure does. So, oh wait, you had another question. You had another question in there. All right. And I didn't, I didn't really answer that one. So I'll do that now. What do PR people, I think you said, what do PR people need to adhere to the principles or, you know, to do that? And I'm going to relate this. How would it impact? 

Well, I think, you know, in part the positioning idea, whatever it is becomes the thesis for their story. Now you and I are old enough, we remember in high school, you had to develop a thesis. And then what did you have to do with that thesis after that? You had to support it, right? You had to have facts, examples, whatever you could gather together that supported your thesis as true or accurate. That's what you had to do. 

And I would say that is what a PR person has to do with positioning. It can't be a point, a bullet point among other benefits. It is the whole idea that you're trying to seed in the mind of the audience and the first audience being editors and whatever, media people. And then everything you say after that is organized to support and give credential to that idea. And you and I both, I think, have been through media coaching where you're coached to do media relations talk to the media? And what's the first rule they always give you? Come back to this answer. So come back to this idea, always. No matter what the question, they want you to bring the interviewer back to the home of your thesis or your positioning idea.

Mark Vandegrift
That's a good start on how practicing PR is definitely impacted by positioning. And I didn't even think about the media relation thing. That is a perfect illustration because when you are in front of cameras or being grilled by journalists, you have to bring it back to that one point or your entire message just diffuses if you don't. So that's a good way to refer to it. 

Well, let's move over to research. It is maybe a lesser known discipline among our listeners, but research can be powerful both for the good and for the bad. One example that we use frequently is Tropicana orange juice. We always say that has the most well-positioned image ever used in the history of positioning with the straw into the orange. It just says fresh. Well, Lorraine, tell us how their research led to a very bad decision and how it was corrected, and then how positioning should impact how research professionals should go about their work.

Lorraine Kessler
Okay, I'm not sure because I don't know if it's public, what research methodologies Tropicana used to justify what became the most disastrous package introduction ever, which cost them upwards of 65 million, 35 million to the agency. 

[We need to adjust our pricing structure, Mark.]

And talking about super premium and 30 million in lost sales. So that's a pretty painful mistake or miscalculation. I would have to look at the methodologies they use and with the questions they asked. Did they show, for example, both the new concept package and maybe some iterations of that and get a read on how people felt about it and thought about it? What they what communicated with them alongside the current package. I would guess they didn't do that. I would guess they didn't concept test. So one of the first things I would do is, and I think this is probably a mistake if I'm right, is they didn't concept test the designs themselves. Because there was a lot of things going on. They changed the logo. They changed the font in the logo. They changed the whole look of the package. They changed the orange with the straw.

Like they massively changed everything. They changed 100% pure, I think the language was pure premium, with the straw on it. All right, they changed that to 100% orange and that confused people. So I would have done that. And not knowing what the research methodologies are, I would have started there. We know that the research was flawed because the CEO… within six weeks, the package failed, right? They lost 30% of sales. And so the CEO came out and said, we really underestimated the deep emotional connection that people had to the old package, to what it meant to them, and this passionate audience, was passionate about the brand and how it was presented. And we miscalculated or underestimated that. 

So to me, if the research was done correctly, he even said the research missed that. We didn't see that in the research, something to that effect. So the point is that then I don't think they did the right research, right? It's pretty simple. And it was only after the fact that they found out that the look and feel of the new package was a problem. I mean, consumers actually told them it's ugly. Okay, not good. It's generic and representative of a low-range supermarket brand, which Tropicana is a premium product, so was at that premium level. So again, I think concept testing would have helped a lot. Now here's what I think was really going on, in my opinion.

Peter Arnell, the Arnell agency said that, we thought it would be important to take this brand and bring it or evolve it into a more current or modern state. OK, when I hear that, I'm like, what? Why? Where did this need to modernize come from? What's the problem we're trying to solve?

Is there a problem? It sounds like a want turned into a need. So were consumers clamoring for a modernized package? Is that what they were saying? I'm not buying your product because I don't like your packages. What does modernize mean anyway? It's so open-ended, right? So was Tropicana losing sales with their current customers, like the people they felt they should own? Did research in any way substantiate that consumers were bored with the current package?

No, I think what this sounds like to me is that the higher ups in both the company and the agency had a bee in their bonnet and they wanted to make their mark on the brand, right? And instead of letting, and I think this is a really key part of what happened, instead of letting research lead the way, they led the research to the conclusion they wanted. And it's really easy to do.

So I'll say that again, instead of letting the research lead the way, they led the research to the conclusion they wanted. This is like a detective who doesn't follow the facts to or the evidence to a conclusion, but has a conclusion and finds all the facts that fit. So it's called confirmation bias. And it's really easy to fall into when you are in any field and certainly marketing.

And the problem is it actually even changes. That's why I wanted to know what were the methodologies, but moreover, what were the questions that were asked? Because I will bet you the questions would lead to the Rome that the agency and the leadership wanted to be the answer. So I think that's what went wrong.

Mark Vandegrift
Well, so it seems like there's two parts to that. One, initial research with confirmation bias said we need to change the packaging. And then, so that was a bad methodology or, you know, again, getting to a conclusion based on what you want it to reach. Secondly, then, had the research said to change the package, they should have done concept testing.

So there's two missteps in that research.

Lorraine Kessler
The research was flawed because the design was flawed, and the design was flawed because from the very beginning, the people asking the questions and directing the research were crafting those questions in a way that led to the conclusion they wanted. So that's what I think happened. And yes, secondly, had they done real concept testing, and I wouldn't have just shown one design, I would have showed, they changed so much on the package. That's a lesson to everybody. You should never massively change that much. What happened is they confused the public and they couldn't even recognize the package. And then they didn't trust it. They weren't sure this is the Tropicana I knew and loved. So that's a fatal error. 

But had they tested concepts and iterations, they may have found that, hey, we got to keep the orange and the straw, but people really like this part of the new design. They would have gotten more feedback, I think.

Mark Vandegrift
If you use positioning to overlay on research, right? What does that look like? So what are we trying to really test? We always talk about the right and left side of the brain. We do, when we are asked research questions, we use the logical side of the brain, but when we buy, we use the emotional side of the brain. So how does positioning impact just our general approach to research?

And maybe that is answering the same question, which is how should a research professional approach research based on good positioning principles?

Lorraine Kessler
Well, the first thing you want to know is kind of, you know, you want to be, again, open to what facts are going to come. First you want to say, here's the problem we're trying to solve, right? Here's the objective of the research. And I think that sometimes even just the objective needs to be looked at in terms of how do we have a deeper understanding of what's going on in our customer minds when they think about our product, our image, what we're about and our competitors. And why would they, when they don't buy us, why? Why are they buying our competitors? 

So you and I have done something called positioning gap research, which if you're having a new kind of a new idea, sometimes it's a new product and it's going into an existing category, which is helpful because you have a lot of things that you know about the people who buy in that category.

If you can test different positioning statements, like we did this for a cat litter once, cat litter that is sanitized, cat litter that is healthy, safe, cat litter that kills both kinds of odors, cat litter, and you have all these different propositions, and then you measure them in terms of importance, which is relevance. And then you measure them in terms of how differentiated they are. Like, does this sound, do you know anybody offering this if a whole bunch of people know the top three then it's that means that idea is owned. But maybe the idea of fourth no one owns and you can own that and it still has pretty high value It's not the highest importance, but now you don't have to be an also round, right? You can take the fourth idea and own it. So I think you have to really know the objective of the research and in what you're trying to find out positioning. 

Creative concept testing is a little different. That helps when you know a position and now you're trying to express it through design and aesthetics. And I have found this to be very successful if you do both quantitative and qualitative. And there's ways to approach each.

Mark Vandegrift
Good. Yeah, I like the illustration you've always said where if you put a picture up on a wall that an artist did and you show it to a hundred people, you're hoping for a hundred different emotions and opinions, but if you put an ad up on the wall, you want it to convey the exact same thing. And I think concept testing will test that, you know? Is this art or is it actual communication? And a huge difference, isn't it?

Lorraine Kessler
No, absolutely. I mean, it's just 180.

Mark Vandegrift
Yeah. Well, there have certainly been a lot of stumbling, bumbling research decisions. That's for sure. I think with our proprietary positioning research, our goal is to p0ll - P O L L - the emotional side of the brain, and some real good things can be accomplished with research, but only do enough research to get into the market with what you consider to be the best researched idea.

Let's move over into media planning then. It's probably one of those areas that most think is very mechanical in nature, especially with the self-serve orientation of a lot of media today. But some of the greatest campaigns that we know of were a factor of a differentiated media plan that only further cemented the position in the minds of the prospects. Share with us some examples that show how media planning should be impacted by positioning strategy.

Lorraine Kessler
Well, sure, you know, Marshall McLuhan is famous, you know, his quote, right? ‘Media is the message.’ And, right? I mean, and people hear that, but they don't really analyze what he was saying. And what he was really saying is that where your message is seen and heard, right? Influences or even determines how your message is received and whether or not you're creating the perception you want, because people judge the media. So, uh, this is what we call the environment of the media. And. different media exists in an environment. And some environments are better than others. And so some are better choices for some positions than another position. 

So if I was promoting Uber, I might find benches to put my advertising on. Because why? People there are looking at public transportation or they're looking for someone to pick them up.

So, you know, what's that? That's the environment. That's the context that puts it in an unusual media, what we call, they call out of home. But that's pretty creative media. 

If I was promoting wiper blades, I might do a message on an umbrella, right? There's a context, aperture. That's why ballpark hot dogs, while the product is terrible, terrible - even my dog won't eat it - but the name is perfect because it evokes, where do you eat hot dogs? And you really enjoy the experience of hot dogs at the ballpark. So this is what he means by the environment. So if you're selling a high-end lifetime sailing cruise to the most exotic islands, to the top quarter percent of wealth in the world, do you think an ad in the classified ads in a local newspaper would be better than a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal? 

So these are the decisions, this is how positioning does affect the media. You begin to think about what does the idea really mean? Where is our distinctive customer? I've always said this, the right position, you're not going to, you can't have all the audience. You got to, you have a distinctive audience that cares a lot about that idea.

So you start to think about where, if your distinctive audience are people who love to travel for pleasure, then you start to think, well, where do people who love to travel for pleasure, where do they go? They're at airports, right? They might be at their library. So you use data to figure out what's the behavior of this target and can I put a message where they are rather than trying to make them come to my message. So I think these are the kind of...

That's why I think media needs to be upfront in the creative process, be thought about upfront. Too often we just default to the kind of ordinary and miss these really fantastic opportunities.

Mark Vandegrift
Yeah, one of my favorite and you know, media can be your own service vehicles, right? Any, anything that can hold a message. And I'll never forget being in New York, it was for one of our industry association meetings and a sewer truck drives by and the line on the, on the side of the sewer truck was ‘we're number one at picking up your number two.’ It was great.

Lorraine Kessler
Yeah, that's pretty, uh, I have another good one. I have another good one. That was actually bad. My former boss, Bill market, Bill market, and I, and Bill market was a Clio award winner writer. We were taking a subway in New York and, um, you know how they have the ads, like the little, I don't know what you call this, this little inside transit ads. And it said ‘Illiterate? Call 1-800-55…’

And he turned to me and he said, he turned to me and he said, I want the account person who sold that.

Mark Vandegrift
Oh, that's hilarious. Oh my goodness. Okay. Well, hopefully our listeners got that. I'm not going to explain that, but it's very funny. Well, let's, let's go to the fringe of something. You know, we have a few clients that are publicly traded and, it's fringe for, for that reason, but investor relations.

I love this one personally, but it just doesn't impact a lot of our clients. To me, it's probably one of the most important platforms to have impacted by positioning because what am I buying? I am buying the company and the company that is most differentiated in my mind is the one where I want to put my investment dollars. I think Warren Buffett said that at one point in time. Lorraine, how should positioning impact investor relations?

Lorraine Kessler
Well, investor relations, if we go back to the top of our discussion, is really a subset, right, specialty of PR. It is a type of PR. So again, your story should always begin with the positioning idea, which is the main thesis, the uniqueness and importance of the proposition, and how the product or service is meeting either an unmet need that's never been satisfied or has never been addressed in any other way, or is meeting a need differently than competitors. And that's the nut of the story that your investors have to believe in it. And very often, you also have to tie into that the idea of how your idea will change either the lives of people or even the world, right? It has to have some aspirational element. And of course, then you have to be able to quantify that how you think there's a total customer market lucrative enough to support this idea who would want it when they hear about it and how it's promoted. 

So I guess what I would say is, investor relations, one of the best ways to test an idea, right, is to do a really good pitch deck for investors because if they buy, they're writing big checks, you know, they're not just, you know, writing $50 checks and this isn't just a donation to a family fund.

They're putting their companies at risk because they're investor companies often because they believe in this idea. So when they pony up, I think that your chance of marketing success is great. Plus, you get an opportunity because most of the investor relation, the selling to investors is one-to-one. It's kind of a roadshow one-to-one. I've seen people use advertising, but moreover, it's one-to-one.

And so what you can also do is learn what's working in your pitch deck and what didn't work. Right. And so it can help you tailor your message before you spread it out to a large audience. And I think one of the things too is never forget that investors, and I think sometimes people make this mistake, they think investors are all rational, you know, and they're making all these decisions on facts. Well, it's, yeah. Hey, all I have to say is...think Theranos,folks. These investors made very bad decisions based on emotions. And what's the emotion that really drives them? Ego. Ego of finding the next Apple or finding the next Uber, the next, what do they call those things that are billion companies that get to a billion… unicorns. So they have this right. And so it overrides better judgment.

So but still I think investor relations and then ongoing relations with that audience is just simply understanding what it is They need to continue to value what you've been doing with that brand.

Mark Vandegrift
Good, excellent examples. Well, we could probably continue this and discuss event marketing, social marketing, and a whole host of tactics, but I think the point has been made. Positioning is a business strategy that impacts the entire organization. Therefore, it should impact anything we do with our marketing. But for now, let's close up for the week. Thank you to our audience for viewing and listening. 

Next week, special announcement. Hopefully, if things play out as already scheduled, we'll have Roy Williams for you to hear. And Lorraine and I will be interviewing him directly from his place in Texas. And hopefully we'll have some really neat thoughts that he's sharing with us. You can count on it. So in the meantime, please like, share, comment, tell your best friend, tell your spouse, and subscribe. Then join us for our next episode of Brand Shorthand as we discuss the core concepts of positioning. Until then, have an amazing day.

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