Posts Tagged 'Trout and Ries'



What are advertisers reading?

We hope that they are reading the views and opinions of other advertisers which are included in our article just published by the ANA.  You can find it at the ANA’s online publication, TheAdvertiserMagazine.com.

Increasing numbers of marketers are ready to move beyond the traditional brand positioning model.  They recognize that it doesn’t work for them any longer.  They are gravitating toward compelling narratives with strong metaphors as a better method for branding.  

This sea-change in branding is being led by CMOs.  Agencies, in general, are lagging behind clients in this instance.  You need only look at the websites of the major agencies to see the prevalence of “brand positioning” — in its many flavors — to recognize gap between what clients actually desire and what agencies think clients desire.

By the way, in this context ANA refers to the Association of National Advertisers.  

The confusions caused by abbreviations of associations are quite common.  Imagine you are working in pharmaceutical marketing. The AMA could refer to: The American Medical Association or The American Marketing Association or even The American Management Association.  One could write an entire doctoral thesis around the need for humans to turn everything into an acronym or acrostic.

Can a marketing book be fiction?

Mike Prentice sent along an AdAge article about the Top 10 Marketing and Media Books of All Time. There was that moment of anticipation while I waited for the page to load, sort of like when waiting for Tom Hanks to open the envelope at the Oscars.

Right up there in the #4 slot was the novel “e” by Mark Beaumont.  That’s right, a novel.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love novels.  I even have my graduate degree in Creative Writing. But does one belong in a list of Top 10 Marketing Books?

It worries me when a profession needs to look to fiction for guidance.  

It also worries me that the number 1 book is Positioning by Mr. Trout and Mr. Ries.  But it does not surprise me.  The Positioning method is so widely adopted that it’s validity is not even questioned.  Or is it?  

Truth is that the majority of marketers are looking for a breakthrough method that is more effective than brand positioning.  That is what we heard in our survey of over CMOs at over 100 corporations.  

The alternative methods of marketing are not well known, which explains why brand positioning continues to be so dominant.  This blog is one way of contributing to the marketing conversation by sharing how Narrative Branding is one of those alternative methods of marketing. Marc Gobe’s Emotional Branding and Doug Holt’s Iconic Branding are also well thought through alternatives to brand positioning.

Now back to that AdAge list…Can we at least substitute “Waiting for Godot” in place of “e”?  Or the brilliant movie “Putney Swope”?  I know, I know, a play and a movie ain’t a book…

Aristotle Brand Guru, Part III

In an earlier post I nominated Aristotle as the first Brand Guru because of his ground-breaking analysis of what goes into making a superior drama.  All of his observations have analogies in creating a compelling and engaging narrative for your brand.  The following are three observations on how to apply Aristotle’s framework to the business of branding (and marketing, really)

So, a quick summary of the 6 elements identified by Aristotle:

Plot: what happens during the play

Characters: who are the characters in the play, their roles and relationships

Thought or Message: what is the underlying moral or political message of the drama

Spectacle or staging: the scenery, sets, props and stagecraft 

Diction or poetic language:  the verbal style, the spoken words of the characters.  Aristotle addresses the importance of metaphor and metaphorical language in particular.

Song or music:  how the harmonies, rhythm, instruments and voice all appeal to our emotions through our ears

Observation #1:

Appeal to all senses.  Aristotle recognized the power of engaging all of our senses, not just the words or images.  In the very definition of a brand that means building in the sensory or experiential elements.  The typical Brand Positioning approach does not even touch on the sensory elements.  All too often they are left to be defined by the online group, the customer service group, the advertising agency and others.  Aristotle grasped the importance of the completeness of the experience, the spectacle.  In Narrative Branding we have sought to do the same.

Here is an example.  Try to imagine the Star Wars movies without the musical score.  George Lucas credits the music as among the most important emotionally resonant factors that contributed to the movies’ success.

Observation #2

Characters have roles and relationships.  They are not simply a list of adjectives.  Defining these roles and relationships is often overlooked in branding.  Or it is defined internally by the company and not by their customers.  We worked with one well-known brand that defined themselves as “an indispensable partner” to customers.  The only problem is that customers completely rejected the idea of partnership because it implied a deeper financial relationship than actually existed.  To compound it, the internal legal group decreed that the word “partner” could never appear in marketing materials for similar reasons that customers rejected it.  Through co-creation research we were able to bring the customer’s desired relationship to light. As a result the brand gained both credibility and relevance — along with a jump in sales and margins.

Observation #3

Aristotle understood the importance of time.  Plot is all about how events unfold over time.  It means that there is a past, a present and a future — although not always presented in a chronological order.  Just think of movies that are told through flash-backs.  In Narrative Branding we have baked in the unfolding of the narrative arc over time.  There is a dynamism in this movement through time that matches the dynamism of changes in the marketplace.  

This is the very opposite of  brand positioning, which is a static approach to marketing. In the positioning model a company holds and defends a single position.  It is meant to last for years and years and years.  “Immutable” is how Trout and Ries phrase it.  consider the practicality of that for a moment.  Is your business immutable?  Or is your business dynamic, changing and adapting to a dynamic marketplace?

Those are just 3 observations of how Aristotle has much to teach us.  Wouldn’t it be swell if everyone rushed over to their bookcase to pull down the copy of Aristotle’s Poetics?  Okay, perhaps not.  Much of this is really based on common sense and taking a really observant, non-judgmental look at human behavior.  It’s enough to think of your brand as a hit Broadway musical or the most incredible attraction at Disneyworld.

Zeitgeist and McDonald’s

Some words are just fun to say. Zeitgeist is one of them. It is also a wonderful word to use when talking about the mood of a particular time.  You buy your first MacBook and suddenly you notice all of these other people are carrying them around too.  There is something in the air. There was something magical about that place and time when several people in different places had the same idea.  It was uncanny.  It was the Zeitgeist!

Looking back to when Michael Thibodeau and I developed Narrative Branding, I can trace a couple of other people who were independently developing their own similar ideas about branding at that very same moment in time.  It was uncanny.  It was the Zeitgeist!

So I imagine that by now you are saying to yourself, what the heck does this have to do with McDonald’s?  

At the beginning of this decade McDonald’s was in very sorry shape.  Their business was falling apart and their brand was sliding down the slippery slope to irrelevance.  A few years later a remarkable turnaround had taken place.  Suddenly McDonald’s was a vigorous and profitable company with a strong brand.

We didn’t take much notice of it while it was happening.  Looking back I realize that about eight months after we publicly launched our Narrative Branding method to marketing, McDonald’s was making headlines by publicly launching their bold new approach to marketing which they called Brand Journalism.  It was uncanny.  It was the Zeitgeist!

Larry Light, who was the CMO of McDonald’s at the time, was the first chief marketing officer of a major corporation to publicly renounce the brand positioning approach to marketing. In the words of Larry Light and Joan Kiddon:

The “positionistas,” as I like to call them, are glued to the glory of an immutable, narrow, unidimensional view of a brand.  They believe that brands are simple, single-word ideas.  And once this idea is established, they believe that you cannot change people’s minds. This is wrong.  Brands are complex, multidimensional ideas, and you can change people’s minds.  McDonald’s is a good example.

This quote is taken from the new book that Light and Kiddon have written, “Six Rules for Brand Revitalization”.  It has just been published by Wharton School Publishing. It is essentially a book length case study of the McDonald’s story from the inside. And it is also persuasive evidence that companies can abandon brand positioning and actually perform much better.

Of course, it doesn’t take much detective work to see that Light and Kiddon are tweaking Trout and Ries by labeling them positionistas.  All I can say is that I wish I had come up with that word!

So there you have it.  Zeitgeist and McDonald’s.

The 4 methodologies of branding

Sometimes an idea becomes so well-known and widely held that people don’t even consciously recognize it as an idea but simply take it for granted.  The underlying assumptions are no longer questioned.  The idea passes from theory to law.  Consider gravity.  Before Sir Isaac Newton, people accepted that pendulums slow down and that two objects may bounce off of each other.  They were facts, nothing more.  Newton saw a set of fundamental principles behind those facts.

Over time, Newton’s theory became “laws”.  They were seen as sufficient to explain the world around us.  And for many centuries the underlying assumptions were no longer questioned.  Eventually physicists identified some special situations in which Newton’s laws could not explain the observable phenomena.  New theories of physics were developed, several of which are competing with each other.  Space-time physics, string theory, big-bang — all are theories that are vying for our attention and elevation into laws.

The same is true for branding.  For many years, brand positioning was the preeminent theory of branding.  From this theory grew a method for defining, creating and managing brands.   It has several different labels such as Mind Share or USP but those are fundamentally the same method built on the same theory.  It was popularized by Mr. Trout and Mr. Ries in articles and books.  It was widely adopted in academia, ad agencies and corporations.  At least two generations of marketers have known of almost nothing else.

Along the way the way special situations cropped up in which the brand positioning method was not sufficient to explain the success or failure of a particular brand.   So there was tinkering with the brand positioning method, adding a new twist here and there along the way.  But the underlying theory was no longer in question.  And the underlying assumptions were unquestioned, too.  Perhaps the best know superstructure — and most complex — was developed by David Aaker and his co-authors in a number of books such as Building Strong Brands.

Beginning in the mid-1990s several academics and consultants started to recognize more and more situations in which brand positioning was not working as it was meant to.  Instead of adding more complexity to the brand positioning method, they decided to opt out.  They began to question the theory itself.

Today there are 3 additional methods for defining, creating and managing brands, along with brand positioning  The first  method is Emotional Branding, popularized by the wonderfully brilliant Marc Gobe.  The second is Iconic Branding, which was formalized by Professor Douglas Holt formerly of Harvard and current at Oxford.  And the third is Narrative Branding (which is, by the way, also our trademark term) that was developed by me and Michael Thibodeau.

(In this list of the 4 methods of branding I am deliberately excluding some highly specialized methods created by individual companies for their own purposes.  The most famous of these is Brand Journalism, created by Larry Light when he was the CMO of McDonald’s.  Because this is proprietary to McDonald’s, it is not available to other companies.   It is like a hothouse plant, known to survive in the special environment but not tested out in the greater world.)

The questions about brand positioning have only grown over time.  Today the method and theory of brand positioning are being challenged by marketers at major corporations around the world.  In our recent study we found that  nearly 2/3rds of senior marketers are looking for breakthrough methods that are more effective than brand positioning (source: JupiterResearch/Verse Group study 11/08).


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