The perils of positioning – or – Verizon is reliable, reliable, reliable

Verizon is an excellent example of a company that has been following the brand positioning method very consistently.  For years now they have been very focused on a single attribute: reliable.  They’ve coined their wireless network as “America’s most reliable network.”  

In fact, Nielsen has recently published a study which commends Verizon for this single-minded approach of differentiation through a single attribute.


A testament to the success of its consistent advertising message, the number of

consumers who perceive Verizon Wireless as having the best mobile network has shot up over the last

two years and it leads its closest competitor now by an almost 2:1 margin.


And what is the benefit to Verizon of this singular focus on reliability?  Well, having a reliable network fell from being the second most important factor to 7th place.  The more Verizon has been focusing on reliable, the more they have been missing out on the biggest shift in the market to the “unlimited” brands such as MetroPCS.

When Choosing a Carrier, Does “Reliability” Really Matter?

This raises the wisdom of the narrow positioning model for brand marketing — at least for major brands who are trying to reach multiple audiences.  

On the other side is AT&T.  They are having a tremendous boost from the exclusive arrangement to carry the Apple iPhone.  This has become more important on an absolute level — although not by rank.  More importantly is that iPhone users tend to use more services and driver higher ARPU (which is industry slang for Average Revenues Per Unit).  That means the new people AT&T attracts will be generally more profitable.

It is ironic that the actual article appears to argue that the iPhone doesn’t really matter.  It does matter, to one small but very influential audience.  For a brand to become mass, it needs to appeal to multiple audiences with different aspects of their narrative.  All these aspects of the narrative need to come together into a coherent whole.  But they  are not narrow, rigid and repetitive attributes.

If the brand positioning model is right, then Verizon will become strongly associated with the attribute “reliable”, an attribute which is falling in importance.  Fortunately for Verizon, there are other models for branding that recognize the reality that people do change their minds about brands.  The challenge will be for Verizon to drop the traditional brand positioning approach and move to a more effective branding model.  It is hard to shake a brand model that has been dominant for decades — it becomes ingrained.   That leaves the door open to newer companies looking for breakthrough approaches to compensate for lower budgets.  And also for AT&T which has a lifetime of brand associations.


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