Aristotle, Brand Guru: Part 2

In my last post on Aristotle, I touched on his role as an analytical thinker.  So let’s go deeper into that area.  

One of Aristotle’s great discoveries is what we now call deductive reasoning. It is Aristotelean logic that provided the first formal model for deductive reasoning.  A not too technical discussion of the model is available from Stanford University.  It is important for our conversation because deductive analysis is the approach taken in brand positioning.

For our purposes we’ll use the following definition for deductive analytics or deductive reasoning:  It is about looking at the entire data set and then drawing conclusions about a particular point in that data.

Here’s a more concrete example:  A leading company in laptop computers decides they need some market research to better differentiate their brand.  So they conduct a quantitative study of laptop computers that rates the importance of a long list of attributes and the performance of the top 6 brands on those same attributes.  In theory, this would represent all of the attributes that are important to laptop computer buyers.  From that you can see how the existing brands map on this universe of attributes.  Where there are no laptop brands on the map, you identified “white space” — a small number of attributes that are important to buyers but not strongly associated with any particular brand.

This “white space” is the focal point of your efforts to create differentiation for you laptop brand.  In “re-positioning” your brand these are the attributes that you want to associate with your brand.

When I was learning market research techniques, this was the approach that I was taught.  We did these large scale category studies and then sophisticated statistical tools to pinpoint precisely how strongly an attribute correlated with a specific brand.  We then used correspondence mapping to visually display the data so that we could make sense of it.  No doubt you’ve come across these studies over the years.

They are very powerful studies for understanding the world as it is in the minds of your audience today.  

They can tell you the existing strengths and weaknesses of your brand relative to the competition and relative to what is important to your customers.  

So far, so good for Aristotle!

Continuing with our example, it is reasonable to assume that all or most of the the other major companies are doing the same kinds of studies to assess their laptop brands.  This will help them find new ways of differentiating from the other laptop brands.

Soon we have a situation where many companies are now trying to re-positioning their laptop brands at the same time.  The universe is in motion.  Everyone is trying to differentiate their brands by moving to a new spot on the map.

Now a clever company comes up with an entirely new way of thinking about laptop computers.   The founders believe there is another way entirely of making and selling laptops.  They disregard the framework of the existing brands.  If their new laptop brand catches on in the marketplace, they have disrupted the universe of the existing brands.  (And if it fails, that will reconfirm the beliefs of the existing laptop companies).

This happens more often than you might expect.  Which calls into question the usefulness of deductive analytics.   Or limits deductive analysis to very slow moving, static, categories.  

Therein lies a problem with brand positioning.  It is based on a deductive analysis of the marketplace to identify the differentiating attributes.  It assumes an inflexibility in a world that is highly dynamic.  

So we need to revise our view of Aristotle as Brand Guru.  His “guru-ness” comes primarily from this work in Poetics.  His analytics, while important, are secondary in his claim to being the world’s first Brand Guru.

Still, not bad for a guy who has been dead for more than 2,000 years before the internet was developed.

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