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This chapter is from the book

Key Principles Behind a Successful Ad-Free Brand Positioning Project

Now that you have a taste of some of the most important brand positioning concepts, you are probably eager to get started working on positioning for your brand.

To design the best possible brand positioning project for your organization with the best chance for success, you'll need to recognize that, while the fundamental building blocks may stay the same, every positioning project will be a little different.

I've helped people with a wide variety of brand positioning projects in all sorts of organizations including large corporations, small businesses, non-profits, start-ups, websites, events, musical groups, and government agencies. I've even helped people position themselves.

In some organizations, I've run very formal positioning projects involving input from dozens of people and expensive research that took many months to complete. I've also done mini-positioning projects that were completed at no cost over a weekend.

When making a decision about how to set up your positioning project, I'd suggest you take the following principles into account:

Cast Your Net as Wide as Possible

Two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling once said, "The best way to get a good idea is to generate a lot of ideas." And I've already mentioned, Linus's Law, named for Linux founder Linus Torvalds, which states, "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."

Can two Linuses be wrong? Contrary to what you'll hear from many branding experts—who like to run positioning projects behind closed doors and involve only agency types, marketing executives, or management committees—great positioning projects can be run out in the open.

My experience in the open source world has taught me that the more people you can involve in the positioning project, the more great ideas you'll uncover and the more flaws you'll reveal. Where traditional positioning projects are often very secretive projects run by a select few, I believe great modern positioning projects can be run as powerful meritocracies where the best ideas can come from anywhere, and often do.

Also recognize that, especially if you are a small organization or an organization of one, you can get even more ideas if you cast your net beyond the walls of your organization. Consider whether getting your customers, partners, friends, or even neighbors involved in your positioning project might give you ideas you could never get on your own. I cover this subject in more detail in Chapter 4.

Powerful brand positioning doesn't have to be the work of a lone genius and usually isn't. My goal is to break the (misleading) stereotype of the ad agency creative director who stumbles upon the perfect positioning while scribbling on a napkin and sipping a martini at an outdoor brasserie in Manhattan.

Great brand positioning is the result of collaboration between people who are passionate about a brand and is led by people who cast their net widely for the best ideas on how to position that brand.

The Best Ideas Should Win

When I talk about soliciting ideas from a large group of people for a positioning project, many people immediately assume I mean turning the project into a democracy where every person gets a vote and majority rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. Positioning by popular vote can be ugly, painful, and ineffective and is a great way to achieve a lowest common denominator of bland and mediocre ideas.

While I like to involve as many people as possible in the positioning project to ensure their ideas are captured, I also make sure the rules of the game are very clear. In a positioning project run the ad-free brand way, we create a meritocracy where the best ideas will win, not necessarily the most popular ideas (although in many cases both can happen at once, which I love to see).

So we consult as many people as possible throughout the course of the project, communicate regularly, and keep them involved through the process, but never promise them they will get a vote. Does the fact that they don't get to vote make people less apt to contribute?

Believe it or not, I've never seen this happen. In my experience, people aren't used to being asked what they think. Usually they are thrilled to be asked, excited to even have the opportunity to contribute.

The People Who Care the Most Make the Decision

So, who chooses which ideas are the best ideas? I recommend you put together a small leadership group of people to make the final brand positioning decisions and recommendations (between 5 and 15, depending on your project size). These people are not always the most senior people in your organization, although some of them might be. They are the people with the deepest understanding of and most experience with the brand. Eventually, many of these people may become part of the long-term "command center" of your in command, out of control brand.

What should you look for? Good candidates could include employees who have been with the organization for many years. They may be people whose daily job is to manage the brand or brand-related assets. They might be people who are most passionate about the brand and culture of the organization. These will also be the people who will be your strongest advocates internally for socializing the brand.

Depending on how your organization is set up, this group may make the final brand positioning decisions (my preference) or decide on the final recommendation to take to the executive team for blessing (more dangerous).

But I believe the worst way to make decisions on a brand positioning project is to put a team of just executives or just marketing people in charge. For me, no job title should be a guarantee of a vote during a brand positioning project (although executive support is a must). If you want to achieve brand positioning that truly reflects your brand in an authentic way, put the people who care the most in charge. They will almost never let you down.

Value Diversity

The best positioning projects involve people looking at the brand from as many angles as possible. For example, groups that talk to customers or community members every day, like sales, support, and customer service, often have more expertise on the actual brand experience than marketing folks. There are all sorts of people both inside and outside the organization who can bring points of view to the project that might never have been evident to those whose day job is to manage the brand.

What is the best way to ensure you get the best ideas? Don't just get a lot of people involved, but get lots of different types of people involved. Don't stop at collecting ideas from this diverse group; consider including some of the best and brightest people as part of the decision-making team.

Begin Your Positioning Rollout on Day 1

When you bring a diverse group of people into your project, in my experience you will not only get a more diverse set of ideas, but will also pave the way for the future success of the brand positioning.

John Lilly, former CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, has a saying: "Surprise is the opposite of engagement." I've used this statement as a guide over and over during positioning projects.

Involving people in the creation of positioning early in the process will give you a head start on rolling it out because you'll be building a strong set of advocates inside and outside the organization starting on day one. These are the people who, because they're involved, will help ensure your project's success. But by not involving people in the project who care passionately about the brand, you are taking dangerous chances that can actually lead to failure.

Building brand positioning in secret and then unveiling it as a dramatic surprise (the traditional favorite approach of advertising agencies, "Look, a spiffy new slogan!") is a horrible strategy in a world where the Internet and social media have given every individual powerful tools to publicly destroy your team's hard work.

I look to involve people early and often who I believe will play key roles during the brand positioning rollout. When properly engaged, these passionate brand advocates will work tirelessly for the brand. But when spurned, they can do more damage than your worst enemies.

The Size of the Project Should Be Proportional to the Value of the Brand

If you are running a website that does $100,000 a year in revenues, should you go out and invest $40,000 doing research for your positioning project? Absolutely not. If you are positioning a brand responsible for millions of dollars of revenue, should you change your brand strategy based on a mini-positioning project you ran in your basement with the help of your dog over a long weekend? I wouldn't.

If the risks are small, keep the investment small. If the risks are larger, consider making a larger investment and potentially consider bringing in a professional branding firm to help facilitate the project.

Positioning projects usually involve an investment in both time and money. For many small organizations, time is easier to part with than money. For many large organizations, money is easier to part with than time. So if your money is short and your time is plenty, use this book and do most of the work yourself.

But if you have a budget, yet are pressed for the time or people required to do things right and the stakes are high, consider bringing in a professional partner to help you through the process. Sometimes an outside facilitator can also be an objective voice of reason and experience when things get emotional or next steps are unclear.

In some ways, you should consider your time/budget investment in much the same way you'd consider budgeting for a home improvement project. Could you put up your own drywall in the new guest room? Yes. Should you? Well, that depends on your experience, time, and patience.

The same concept applies here. While this book is designed around the idea that you can "do it yourself" in most cases, there are certain projects where you can achieve better results if you enlist professional assistance. I'll point these places out as we cover them.

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