Words May Reposition a Brand. But They Must Also Define the Task.

December 18th, 2008 Posted by Positioning 0 thoughts

We who’ve been in the marketing communications business for years have certainly been exposed to a myriad of brand repositionings in our professional careers…and most likely participated in more than a few as well.  Some simple and easy, some incredibly complex, but all with the intention of moving the perception of the brand closer to what the prospective customer wants to buy (even if requiring change in what the marketer has to “sell”).

An important conveyer of a new brand positioning is the words used to assert that new closeness.  One notable example going back to the ‘80s was Ford Motor Company, whose tag line “Quality is Job One” launched a new corporate commitment to provide what reams of research had determined could be a leveragable competitive discriminator and driver of favorable purchase decisions.

In the ‘90s, research conducted by Square D confirmed that its commercial publics considered the company slow, bureaucratic, and relative to existing and emerging competitors (primarily from Europe), non-responsive.  With VARS as large as Graybar Electric parroting those same experiences in working with Square D, the company’s new CEO decided it was time to take action to remediate both the perception and the reality. A new corporate tagline, “We Respond” was developed, and a comprehensive communications program developed to pound home that positioning to all audiences.

What both of these firms had in common is that they each repositioned to meet specific customer needs and therefore gain competitive advantage.  They also had something else in common, however. They each understood that the first audience that had to understand and embrace the repositioning was their own employees. Because only the employees could make the repositioning more than just a tag or theme line.  For “Quality to be Job One”, that commitment had to be honored not just throughout the Renaissance Center but in every factory and for every sub-brand that Ford built. Only the employees could make that happen.  They did.  For Square D to live up to “We Respond”, the occupant of the corner office in Palatine couldn’t make that happen alone. Instead, it had to be the mission for every Square D employee who had direct OR indirect contact with a customer or prospect.  It was.

Taking it further, I know from first hand experience that the factory floor employees at a former client, Deere & Co., understand that “Nothing Runs Like a Deere” is a promise of quality for which they are directly responsible. Which means that if a Deere combine or excavator or ATV or riding mower or truck engine doesn’t run “Like a Deere”, it’s not just a machine failure…it’s personal. And when Federal Express positioned themselves against the USPS and UPS by claiming that “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”, there was no competitive option, they weren’t relying just on planes and trucks to make that happen. Because just planes and trucks couldn’t.

Point being, when repositioning a brand, the right words can be extremely important in conveying the message. But in terms of conveying the brand forward, it’s what those words mean to the employees that really counts. Because after all the talking’s done they’re the ones who must deliver on the promise made.

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