The Art of Repositioning

Few things in the world of marketing are tougher to concept and successfully execute than repositioning a brand or product. The strategic graveyard is lined with the tombstones of well-intentioned repositioning gone wrong (cough – Club Med) .

Even still, there are bright spots like Target, Mountain Dew (Thanks for the reminder Dr. C!) and Abercrombie & Fitch, to name a few, that have been massive boons for their companies.

Part of the reason it’s so hard to reposition is it’s not all about the brand or organization. There are almost always external contributing factors making it a need as opposed to a want. Some of the major ones are:

  • Emerging technologies
  • Changing customer/audience needs
  • Growing market competition
  • Flatlined benefits

It’s good to keep an eye out for these threats lest they sneak up on you, cough – Blackberry. But missing out isn’t usually the killer for failed repositioning efforts.

Want to know what it is?

Old mindset.

The new position of your brand or idea can’t live in an old mindset. Your audiences and customers must have a new story to tell about the product. The new position has to make (and keep) a different promise.

And it’s hard work to alter perceptions.

A person convinced against her will, is still a person unconvinced.

Changing what your brand means to your customer has to happen first or all the other seeds you plant to successfully reposition (we’ll discuss later) will fall on infertile or hazardous soil. Like the good book says, you can’t put new wine in old wineskins.

The –easier– way to do this is to use new customers who don’t have a preconception of your product’s legacy. Mountain Dew was able to take advantage of this. When they rebranded and went to market with a new position, their ideal customers didn’t know them as a “hillbilly” beverage. Abercrombie & Fitch also used this strategy. I’m sure the college kids today can’t even imagine A&F as an L.L. Bean or Orvis competitor.

But what if you don’t have that luxury and you’re trying to reposition to an existing market audience?

You need to “burst the bubble,” as Jack Trout would say.

I think in movie and music analogies and metaphors, so I call it “Brand Shakubuku.”

Ultimately, this means knocking out the old mindset and replacing it with the new. It’s the less sci-fi version of Inception (see, told you, movies and music)

The most famous example of this, and one Trout and Reis used in their book, Positioning, is not a brand or product at all.

Christopher Columbus popped “the world is flat bubble”. Then he went and sailed the ocean blue. The masses couldn’t even consider seeing the world as “round” until he knocked out the “flat” mindset.

A more recent example of this is the successful repositioning of Reebok from jazzercise and aerobics to urban fitness brand (Crossfit anyone?) They’ve done a smashing job of bursting the fitness bubble.

Once the old mindset is out, now you can begin the hard work of making new promises and telling new stories.

Let’s dive in to the four step repositioning process.

Congratulations, you’ve made it through the biggest reason most fail on this quest. Now to get to where you want to go, there are four strategic elements to implement.

1. Differentiate
Just like the famous examples of 7up as the “uncola” or something more recent like DuckDuckGo, the anti-Google search engine, the goal here is to zero in on how and why you’re different. Tip: Make sure it’s something your customer cares about.

2. Increase the Value
Look for ways to make your product more valuable to the customer and industry. When Target repositioned, they improved customer benefits as well as put nicer products on the shelves. Tip: Start with product benefits and customer experience.

3. Top-Down Vision
Don’t forget your employees, tribes and other internal customers. They will need to buy in to the new positioning for it to be successful in the market. This works best when the vision is cast by someone in a high-leadership role. This could be a CEO or founder, spokesperson or influencer. Richard Branson is a master at this. Check out his book, Business Stripped Bare.

4. Standout
There are too many messages competing for our time and attention not make your efforts remarkable. Keep in mind this is different from differentiation. When The Cure was repositioning themselves as a band in the early eighties, Robert Smith took to wearing black and putting on makeup. It worked because it aligned with their new story. Think less about standing out with gimmicks and more about doing so through innovation or brand voice and tone.

Successful repositioning is a planned event. Start by bursting the bubble. Follow it up with differentiation, value addition, vision casting and standing out. This is the art of repositioning. Good luck!