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Too TIGHT, too LOOSE




If you’re working on a brand strategy, there’s always a point where you have to cut to the chase.

 

It’s generally when you get to the positioning. There has to be a simple thought at its heart. A promise to be kept. Something tight.

 

But increasingly people are saying this tightness is the problem. Brands need to be looser.

 

The challenge to single-mindedness has come from multiple directions.

 

For some time, it’s been popular to describe a brand as a set of associations people have in their minds. Mark Ritson teaches positioning like this and he recommends choosing 3-4 associations.

 

A brand is also a number of assets that trigger the desired associations. Ehrenberg-Bass say building up these assets is the key to making a brand come to mind in buying situations. It’s more about the link than the meaning.

 

And Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk are no fans of positioning. In How Brands Grow Part 2, they suggested a brand’s positioning is its advertised messages, which is at best a circular argument.

 

More recently, the thinking has moved on again, as it always does. Zoe Scaman writes about how everything’s fragmented now, so brands need to be fluid and flexible, not singular and static.

 

As ever, there’s a poster child for this approach, like Patagonia was for brand purpose. In this case it’s Liquid Death, the heavy metal water brand.

 

This is how Andy Pearson, their Creative Director, described their approach: “There can’t be a single idea. Every day we’re evolving it and building new things. That’s how we learn. Not by being super-constipated about the strategy. Agencies need to unclench themselves, we’re all over-thinking it. Open up and have this freedom to see what works and then try something new.”

 

Zoe also introduced me (she’s good like this) to the idea of dialectic and dialogic conversations. Dialectic conversation is about an exchange in views and ideas that resolves itself in consensus. There’s a ‘right’ answer. Like a proposition.

 

Dialogic conversation is an exchange between multiple positions without trying to force them together. There are many answers, none of them right or wrong, and you follow whichever idea is most suitable at the time. Like a series of stories.

 

I suppose tight thinking can lead to oversimplification. That might even be true of the idea of an emotional connection. Maybe it does reduce positioning to a two-body problem, the moon orbiting the earth.

 

Except both of them orbit the sun. Which orbits the Milky Way. Which has a black hole at its centre spinning so fast it warps space and time.

 

But careful, everyone. Before ditching the idea of a single-minded positioning, think where your network of associations could lead you.

 

After all, there are many possible associations with a brand. Products, attributes, values, benefits, users, places, occasions, moods, images.

 

That’s because brands are complex and it’s good to stay loose when exploring the options.

 

But the skill is in making them simple to buy. So the space-time will come when you have to tighten up your thinking.

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by RICHARD BROWN

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