Mind the Gap: How to Ensure Your Brand is Not Just Positioned, But Mobilized for Action

April 23, 2012

by Helen Firth

Why is it that even some of the best brand strategies don’t make it off the page?

All too often, we hear from clients that the execution of their positioning bears very little resemblance to the carefully crafted version in the positioning model.

Having invested precious time and dollars in developing a strategy that’s spot-on for the brand, the most frustrating outcome is when the positioning is brought to life in a way that seems to emphasize a completely different facet of the brand.

Why does this happen?

Most approaches to brand positioning are not designed to address the transition from strategy to execution. They may culminate in the creation of a well-defined model, but fail to anticipate the need for a clear method to bring it to life.

Tempting as it is to believe that a great positioning will simply communicate itself, it’s vitally important to put in place a process to share and embed the new strategy with those responsible for carrying it through to execution.

That process should not only engage, but inspire, revealing the potential for fresh and relevant brand expression, now and in the future.

And it’s not just clients who find the current situation frustrating. Agencies tell us frequently that brand positioning models can be fraught with insight-obscuring jargon, preventing any chance of gaining a visceral feel for the brand and – crucially – what is or isn’t on-brand in terms of communications.

As Justin Tindall, Group Executive Creative Director of Leo Burnett confirms: “Creative agencies are inspired by genuine insights, real human truths, expressed in consumer language. Positioning strategies often feel concocted or contrived, written in language that is opaque or over-intellectualized.”

We also hear from agency partners that sometimes there is little attempt to share brand strategy in an engaging manner. Not the best recipe for creating buy-in:  the resulting sense of ‘not invented here’ carries with it the temptation to indulge in a little rework to make sense of what has been handed over.

Angela Johnson, EVP, Managing Director at Ogilvy Chicago comments, “If we’re not involved in strategy development upstream, it can be very difficult to get a real sense of the brand off the page. We’re hungry for richer and more illuminating brand immersion that comes from an understanding of what creative agencies do, and which really seeks to engage and inspire.”

The trick is to engage all key partners in brand strategy development as early as possible in the process.  And in turn, the strategy itself needs to move beyond a typical two dimensional brand key (or wheel, or onion) to offer real clarity of brand expression, with a strong focus on a vivid and fully-defined brand character.

This expression should also include a view of the future – how brand expression is likely to evolve.  We call it the ‘cultural springboard’: a launch-pad of ideas drawn from analysis of emergent cultural trends, that provides the kind of inspiration needed to keep a brand’s positioning fresh, relevant and one step ahead.

When involving agency partners upstream isn’t possible, or when there’s need to create more profound internalization of the strategy in some quarters, we recommend a session for key internal and external partners that combines full brand immersion with co-creation of the brief or action plan.  This enables partners to pressure-test strategy to ensure actionability, creating greater alignment around the positioning, core task, and implications for how the brand talks, acts and expresses itself – whether through communications, activation or internally.

The bottom line: for positioning strategy to have the best possible chance of making it off the page, ensure your brand is not just positioned, but mobilized.

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Written by Helen Firth, Added Value North America.

To find out more BriefLive, our approach to stewarding strategy into execution, watch the video below or email info@added-value.com.

Paul McGowan, Added Value’s CMO, on making the brief work (Part 3 of Re-thinking Brand Positioning)

Part 1: Building brands of character

Part 2:  Mining Culture for Creative Inspiration

Part 4:  How We Do It

Thumbnail image created and owned by Added Value

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  • Ezra Nanes

    Helen, this article is right on. Thank you! It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and focus within a company to get down to the essence and answer the tough questions, such as: Why should or would anyone choose our brand over another? And I agree, if the agency is going to be executing on the brief, then the agency should be partners in its creation. In that way it becomes a shared expression of values owned on both sides.

  • Helen Firth

    @Ezra Nanes
    Thanks Ezra. We passionately believe that strategy must be actionable and inspiring, for whoever is executing it – whether comms, brand activation or indeed internally.
    And the more the team that executes is involved in the transition from strategy to briefing, the more ownership they’re likely to feel, and the better placed they are to execute on-brand.