Month: December 2015

The First Law of Marketing

When companies talk about positioning, whether it’s a product, service, or the company itself, it’s often done from a faulty perspective. Many marketers think that their job is to convince the market that their company’s product or service is better than the competition.

This type of thinking can only lead to one result: failure. You can only hope that this failure happens sooner than later, because you’ll waste more money on a strategy that die a slow death if you keep forging ahead against the conventional wisdom of the marketplace by throwing money and time at the problem.

This type of brute force marketing is an example of how many companies violate the first law of marketing, which is: If you can’t be first in a category, find a category you can be first in. Because in almost every market or product category, the leader in the category is the leader by a large margin. The gauge of this leadership position is often referred to as “share of mind.”

The First Step in Successful Marketing

The first step in successful positioning is to find a category, or in more mature markets, a better term might be “sub-category,” that you can be first in. This is also known as the Law of Leadership, which says, “It’s better to be first than it is to be better.

This law is based on a simple principle: It’s much easier to become first in the mind of the customer than it is to convince that customer that you are better than the perceived leader.

Here’s an example of the law of leadership using a historical example: What’s the name of the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Charles Lindbergh, right?

Now, ask yourself this question: Who is the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Much harder to answer, right?

The second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo is Bert Hinkler, a name forever burned in the footnotes of American History. And that’s too bad, because Bert Hinkler was actually a more successful pilot than Charles Lindbergh. He flew across the Atlantic faster than Lindbergh, and he used less fuel. But because he wasn’t first, his name is not well known.

How to Gain Share of Mind

To put this in perspective, note that most companies use the Bert Hinkler method of marketing to try to gain marketshare. They wait until a market has developed. Then they jump into the market and try to convince the public that they are better than the leader. And it hardly ever works, and in those cases where some market share is gained, it’s generally at great expense.

The reality for marketers is that, once consumers have made up their mind about a product or service, it’s almost impossible to get them to change their opinion. But you can get them to consider you if they don’t perceive your product or brand is competing for that top spot in their share of mind space.

Think about it. Are you happy with your current share of market? Do you feel you’re wasting precious budget with a wing and a prayer growth strategy?

If so, take some time to analyze the market characteristics (probably based on the leader’s value proposition), then look at your brand characteristics. Find a functional, emotional or self-expressive benefit you offer that the competition doesn’t. Then define a market category based on the value proposition your product or service offers and promote that sub-category. The one in which you are the leader (and hopefully the only brand in the consideration set).

With time, and focus, there’s a good chance you will see positive results over time as long as you stay the course.

Bill Threlkeld
Bill Threlkeld

Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at

Putting A Brand Vision To Work

Threlkeld Communications

In a recent post, we covered six steps to creating a powerful brand vision. But before getting ahead of yourself in following these steps, we want to  explain why a brand vision is even necessary.

A brand vision model provides ongoing direction, inspiration and justification for the brand-building process. It should be multidimensional, with core and extended elements, an optional essence. It should be aligned with the brand’s purpose, have aspirational components and be flexible enough to be able to adapt to discrete markets and regions.

In creating a brand vision, the aspirational component is critical. In the planning stage, brand aspirations can and should be clustered in affinity groups and labeled accordingly. As part of the process, it’s important to clarify the distinction between “wishful thinking” and realistic aspirations. Building a brand vision around wishful thinking (i.e. “be the world leader in our category in one year,” for a new brand) will quickly suck the life out of the brand vision process, alienating key stakeholders in the process.

Developing a brand vision starts with a baseline of context and strategy. This should include an in-depth analysis of customer segments, competitors, market trends, environmental forces, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), and the business strategy, which should include a marcom plan, value proposition(s) and the key support stakeholders.

Next, it’s important to identify all aspirational associations. These should be aggregated into like groups (i.e. customer service leader, responsible corporate citizen, etc) and all grouped together. Be patient! This process can take some time, and remember, to keep your team engaged and progressing — there are no bad ideas! These aspirations should reflect reality for the brand — even if the brand’s current status doesn’t match, there should be a good chance that the new components can be filled without a change in the business environment.

Associations can be in the form of attributes, functional benefits, applications, brand personality, social benefits and more. Associations should support the value proposition by reinforcing a point of differentiation based on the marketplace. Sometimes, in crowded or mature markets, a clear point of differentiation is not realistic or achievable, so aspiring for a parity match to a competitor’s key dimension is acceptable. The goal in the associations planning process is to make sure your brand is in the consideration set for the market segment.

Third, it’s important to prioritize the brand vision elements, especially the core vision elements. These will become the primary drivers of the brand-building strategy and programs. What are the most important brand tenants?

The next step is to create a brand essence. This is a singular thought that reflects the core meaning of the brand vision. For example, Panasonic’s “Ideas for Life.” Or Apple’s “Think Different.” This will become the centerpiece of your overall brand vision framework.

Finally, you have reached the point where you articulate the brand vision. This is often best represented by a visual, showing all of the Extended Identity and Core Identity components together, with the Brand Essence statement pictured in the middle.

This visual, once all of the components are shown together should snap the brand framework into view. If it doesn’t you should go back and work more on the Extended Identity and Core Identity elements, and make sure those elements support the Brand Essence statement.

A successful Brand Vision acts as a compass and reality check in the messy world of day-to-day and competitive marketing. It’s a stress reliever in the sense that, even though market conditions may get tough, you can rest assured knowing that you’ve got a roadmap and framework to steer you. And that, chances are, a great percentage of your competitors have not prepared in this way, resorting to luck and favorable winds to get them through tough times.

Bill Threlkeld
Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at

Six Steps to a Powerful Brand Vision

A brand vision is an articulated description of the aspirational image for the brand. The brand vision, sometimes called brand identity, should reflect what you want your brand to stand for in the eyes of your targeted audience. This includes customers, employees and partners.

Many companies skip the process of establishing a brand vision because it can seem unwieldy and the ROI fuzzy. But skip this step at your own risk. It’s the brand vision that ultimately drives the ability to create a foundation for establishing the brand as a leader.

What is a Brand Vision?

A successful brand vision will support your overall business strategy, while helping differentiate your brand from competitors. This helps you establish a brand relevance market position, rather than a brand preference position in the market (read this blog post for more on brand relevance versus brand preference).

The brand vision model is a framework for establishing a unique position in the market. This helps you distinguish your brand from others in six ways.

First, a brand is more than a snappy or memorable tagline. Most brands cannot be defined in a single thought or phrase. The process of trying to find one tagline that encompasses the essence of your brand can lead you down a fruitless search for meaning that could leave the brand with missing elements or a lacking vision. A brand’s vision elements should be prioritized into between two and five that are the most compelling and differentiating (called the “core vision elements”). Others are labeled as “extended vision elements.” Core vision elements will set the course for determining a brand’s value propositions and programs.

Second, a brand’s extended vision elements add texture to a brand vision. This can lead to teams making better decisions about whether or not a campaign or program is “on brand.” Extended band elements help set the foundation for important aspects of a brand such as brand personality and quality; components that may not be part of the core vision elements, but important nonetheless.

Third, the brand vision model is flexible in its structural framework, avoiding a one size fits all mentality. Contexts for brand vision components vary according to the brands customer segments and environments. For example, organizational values and programs are likely to be important for service and BtoB firms but not for consumer package goods brands. Personality is often more important for durables and less so for corporate brands.

Fourth, a brand vision is aspirational and can differ from the current image. A brand vision reflects the associations that a brand needs to have moving forward based on the business strategy, not necessarily the current existing image. Brand planners should feel comfortable expanding the horizons of a brand’s current image, especially if the longer term strategy is to advance the brand into new markets or segments.

Fifth, the brand essence represents a central theme of the brand vision and is optional. That said, when the right brand essence is found, it can be magic in its communication capabilities to all stakeholders. Consider “Transforming Futures,” the brand essence of the London School of Business. Or “Ideas for Life” for Panasonic. Or “Family Magic” for Disneyland. The brand essence provides an umbrella over what the brand aspires to do and become.

Sixth, the brand position is a short-term communication guide that often expresses what will be communicated to what target audience, with what logic. A brand’s current positioning should emphasize the brand vision elements that are credible and deliverable in the current context. As the market matures or changes, the brand positioning message may need to change with it.

We’ll cover the process of creating and establishing a brand vision in another blog post. For now, remember that the key takeaway is that, while skipping the process of establishing a brand vision might be tempting due to perceived time constraints, the consequences in the longer term could be higher marketing costs and diminished market presence and impact.

Bill Threlkeld

Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at