Most categories operate based on specific assumptions (fast food advertising always needs to show the food, one can only buy a new car at a dealership, banking must be a stodgy experience) and follow a certain set of conventions that have usually proven successful in the past and that are generally followed by all the competitors in the category.
While some conventions are immutable, others are not and are often a relic of the past and an out-of-date context. Times change, and with it so do cultural conventions, perspectives, and the way consumers use products. Identifying and changing the latter while preserving the former can uncover new and interesting positioning territories and growth opportunities for your brand.
The conventions can literally cover every single element of the business strategy, the marketing strategy as well as the communication mix. It can include:
- Your approach to targeting – using women to sell razors to men as Gillette did
- The media channels used – placing ads for a vacuum cleaner in design and architectural magazines rather than general interest magazines like Dyson did when it launched in the US
- The distribution channels used – the rise of Direct-To-Consumer brands skipping the traditional retail channels altogether
- The pricing model and strategy – from selling products to selling memberships or subscription services, e.g. trend towards Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Your communication conventions – type of people featured, type of language used, imagery used, etc.
How broadly or narrowly you define the frame of reference for the conventions you want to question is up to you, your project, and your ambition.
Three Thought Starters
1. List, alone or in a group, all the conventions you can identify in your category. This can include business conventions, marketing conventions or more narrowly, communication conventions. (It helps to define the territory upfront, i.e. “nothing in how we do business is off limits” or “we’re only going to focus on the marketing or communication conventions”).
2. Going through your list, list all the ways your brand could challenge these conventions.
3. Capture and write down how this list of challenges could translate into a positioning territory.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Ulli Appelbaum, excerpted from his book The Brand Positioning Workbook
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