• Julie Swartzlander

Four Things Successful Companies Do First

If you don’t know who you really are — positioning — and how to articulate it — branding — you won’t last long


Quick test. What’s the difference between branding and positioning? Or are they the same?

Many people think—incorrectly—that positioning and branding are interchangeable terms. But, in reality, positioning is something you should nail down well before you start looking for the best graphic designer to create your perfect, one of a kind, makes you go “wow”kind of logo.

Before you can tell the world who your company is through flashy logos, colors and fonts you’ve got to know deep down exactly who you are as a company. That place you occupy in the minds and hearts of your customers, prospects, employees, and everybody else.

Aristotle once said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” If it worked for him, it’ll work for your company too.

In her phenomenal book, “Getting to Aha!,” Andy Cunningham calls this your corporate DNA. Cunningham, a marketing and positioning pioneer who helped Steve Jobs launch the original Apple Macintosh, says all companies should take “an authentic look at who you are as company and why you matter.” She believes that positioning is a “rational expression of the unique role and relevance of your company” and must be determined before you can turn to its flashier and more emotive sibling, branding.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Nothing worth pursuing is ever simple. But, trust me. If you do the work on the front end and find your company’s real position in the world, the rest will be so much easier.

But how do you do that effectively? Well, it starts with 360 degree research. A deep dive look into your organization, its publics, competitors, environment and issues it’s facing. Cunningham has a very specific methodology to help you figure this out (which I will cover in more detail in my next post).

But, before we go into that, we need an overview of how to conduct a positioning audit. How to get the data you need to create a true positioning statement. And how to ask the right questions to the right people to get to the truth. Not what you want to be in the future or hope you are right now as a company, but how you are truly perceived and why you matter.

There are four basic steps a successful company needs to get to the truth.

Step 1 Identify your organization’s key publics both external and interna, and then go even deeper by stratifying into subgroups. The deeper you can go identifying each subgroup the more likely you will be to uncover specific needs and perceptions in the research step (Step 2).

Step 2 Conduct qualitative & quantitative research with customers, prospects, employees and any other public /influencer groups that interact with your company. This can take the form of focus groups, in-depth one on one interviews, surveys, questionnaires, real time observations and case study research. Drill down with questions about each group’s wants, needs and expectations. Then, focus on their observations of your company’s reputation, performance and resources.

Step 3 Conduct competitive research. After analyzing yourself, it’s time to turn the same lens on your competitors. Just as with the research of your own company, this step requires asking candid questions and hearing frank answers. It’s time to face the good, the bad and the ugly.

Step 4 Develop your strategy. Using all of the data you’ve acquired should give you a comprehensive view of your company and allow you to develop a positioning statement.This statement communicates your company’s unique value to customers and articulates a compelling reason(s) to choose your product or services over your competitors’. Again, this is not aspirational. For that you’ll use a vision statement.

Now, you can begin to develop your branding strategy to communicate your position and establish marketing goals and objectives.

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