Building a strong brand is not easy. Few do it. It takes the right strategy for differentiation plus factors of focus and commitment as measured by time and money. Sometimes, repositioning is needed. Conventional positioning wisdom contends that getting to the top is harder than staying on top. But in a world where the cycle from champ to chump is shorter and shorter, I wonder. Have the dynamics changed? Perhaps. Brand relevance is key.

In positioning we preach that relevance must come before differentiation, otherwise what you have is a meaningless difference. Logically, if relevance is the first step in positioning, it is also the first thing that when lost, can signal big trouble for a brand. The question is how do you keep your brand position relevant in an era of hyper-change? In this PositionistView, we cover a few brands that have chosen the repositioning route and hit the reset button on relevance.

1. Nike®: Neon Green Steals Gold at the Olympics.
Did you notice the neon at the Olympic Games? If not, you weren't watching. Without being an official sponsor, Nike's bright neon-yellow/green shoes repositioning tactic worn by athletes flashed spectacular against the red track at London, stealing the show at field events, tennis matches and on medals podiums. In 2008, Nike matched the color of the shoe to the individual athlete's uniforms. To stand out in London, a repositioning play was in order. Nike Global Creative Director Martin Lotti decided to go "uniform" with a "team Nike" look. "The Volt is our signature color for Nike," said Lotti. "It's our Tiffany Blue." In positioning lingo, we call this a strong 'visual hammer.' The repositioning stir created by Nike neon has resulted in robust sales and deepened consumer engagements. Does renewed relevance have a color? Yes it does. And it appears to be NEON for brilliant. (See to create or choose your favorite name for the Nike green).

2. Oil of Olay®: Repositioning Rejuvenates a Tired Brand.
Oil of Olay has historically been a small, down-market brand with an aging consumer base. A recent case study in the Harvard Business Review ("Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy," September 2012) enumerates four strategic possibilities considered by Procter & Gamble for rejuvenation of the brand. Two of these possibilities are:

    1. Keeping Oil of Olay positioned where it was, as an entry-priced, mass-market brand, strengthening its appeal to current older consumers by focusing on new wrinkle-reducing formulas.
    2. Repositioning the brand for younger demographics as a prestige-like brand with the promise to "fight the seven signs of aging." This repositioning strategy would depend on partnering with retailers interested in creating a "masstige" (mass-luxury) experience, appealing to consumers who would be willing to buy a prestige-like brand in the mass channel -- discount, drug and grocery stores.

P&G chose the repositioning strategy.

Pricing would be integral to attracting consumers willing to cross over from department and specialty stores to purchase an upscale product in the mass channel. ?At which price point would younger buyers be willing to cross over from prestige department and specialty stores to buy Oil of Olay in drug, discount and grocery stores? As Positionists®, we know that price credentials the brand position. If a luxury brand is priced too low, people will not believe the luxury position. If a mass brand is priced too high, it will not sell in sufficient quantity.

P&G's research showed:

    • At $12.99, the buyers who most signaled they would buy the repositioned
      brand were loyal mass-market (discount) shoppers. Few department store buyers expressed interest at this price.
    • At $15.99 purchase intent from both mass-market and department store buyers dropped dramatically. The neither-fish-nor-fowl price signaled confusion about the clear brand position.
    • Surprisingly, at $18.99, purchase intent not only went back up, but went way up! At this price point, consumers were crossing over from prestige specialty and department stores to buy Oil of Olay in discount, drug and grocery stores.

How did P&G's mass-luxury repositioning work? It succeeded beyond P&G's expectations, exceeding the company's goal of $1 billion in sales by a factor of 2.5. What's more, the Oil of Olay experiment led to the successful introduction of other "boutique" product lines such as Regenerist, Definity and ProX. Olay for Olay!

3. GM: Loss of Relevance = Loss of Market Share.
Two years ago almost to the month, Joel Ewanick, General Motors' new marketing chief, crossed the Rubicon when he announced in Advertising Age:

"We've got to get back to telling our story...The GM name is being erased from ads and marketing to allow each of the four brands -- Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac -- to shine...Consumers don't buy General Motors. General Motors sells nothing."

But the execution of Ewanick's strategy, the "Chevy Runs Deep" campaign, failed to catch on. As reported in a recent USA Today story ("GM Ads Bring Lackluster Results," August 6, 2012), the number of people looking into buying Chevrolets on the automotive site actually fell from the campaign's start in October 2010 to June of this year. Despite spending $4 billion a year on marketing, GM sales rose just 4 percent in the first half of this year, lagging behind the 15 percent gain for the industry. July's sales were stagnant and GM's share of the U.S. market dropped almost two points in the past year to 18 percent.

What gives?

It's a case of what we call right strategy, wrong execution.

Sentimental flashbacks to why people bought Chevys in the past have little relevance to new audiences the brand desperately needs to attract. The ads should have emphasized GM's new improved cars and trucks, not nostalgia. Compare GM's "Chevy Runs Deep" campaign with Chrysler's, "Imported from Detroit." Unlike GM, the Chrysler ad drove cars, both literally and figuratively, out of the past into the future, and off show room floors. Chrysler, in fact, led the pack of all major OEMs in terms of percentage gains in sales compared with a year earlier.

The difference?
Chrysler's campaign hit the "reset button."
GM's campaign hit the "return button."

As summed up by Charles R. Taylor, marketing professor at Villanova University, "The idea that many consumers are going to buy it simply based on the heritage is misguided," he said. "You really need to give the consumer a reason to buy the product beyond just long-term brand loyalty." Stranger than fiction, Ewanick is out, the campaign is still in.

GM -- please -- hit the reset button!

4. Wendy's®: Freshening Up Fresh with Favorite Facts.

Gone are the TV ads featuring creepy young men in red pigtail wigs leading a fresh-not-frozen revolution. Wendy's new campaign, That's Wendy's Way, (featuring Wendy herself) is solid food that gets back to the basics of positioning, respecting the intelligence of its audience. The new ads are credible and follow an earnest talk formula proven to work for the fast-food chain, as the 60-second script from the Wendy's Way TV ad attests:

"Some places like to talk about billions served. At Wendy's, we never gave much thought to the billions. We've always focused more on the one. The one who's next in line, because everyone deserves our best. Like Dad said, 'Quality is our recipe.' And that's why we still make our hamburgers with fresh, 100 percent North American beef (never frozen shown in visual), and make yours right when you order it, because we believe it tastes better that way. It's not about how many we serve. It's about how well we serve each one. That's Wendy's Way."

The friendly persuasion of Wendy is both sassy and smart. It accentuates the positioning differential between Wendy's made fresh, real ingredients story and McDonald's McFactory approach. And, it reminds consumers that fresh, never frozen meat, may be square, but is never out of style. Kudos to Wendy's for abandoning grandiose advertising chicanery for good old-fashioned salesmanship and positioning.

Where's the beef? Wendy's same-store sales are up 3.2 percent, the fifth consecutive quarter of same-store sales improvement posted by the company.

5. Nationwide® Insurance: Members not Shareholders, Filling in the Crime of Omission.
I've always been fond of Nationwide's campaign jingle "Nationwide is on your side." It's catchy and feels good. But I also thought it was flabby. How exactly is Nationwide on my side? Moreover, how is Nationwide on my side more than say Allstate, State Farm or Progressive? Do they save me money? Show up in court? Keep my premiums low? Pay my rent? Nationwide's first bold move to give substance to the "on your side" idea was a product innovation: the "Vanishing Deductible." Products that demonstrate a differentiated idea are always a good idea. But beyond product, the question still looms, how is Nationwide (the company) on my side? The company's newest advertising campaign answers with clarity: Nationwide doesn't have shareholders; it has members. This structural difference credentials a perception of being "member focused." Membership is a great position to have in the age of shareholder greed and Wall Street scandals. Hopefully, Nationwide will be able to innovate more ways to make this distinction payoff for consumers. (See the Vanishing Deductible TV spot. Tell me what you think.

Do you need to hit the reset button on relevance on your brand position? If so, let these examples show the way.

Lorraine Kessler is Innis Maggiore's Principal Client Services & Positioning Strategist.