What’s Your Brand’s Positioning DNA?

By Ginger Conlon

In the rush for growth, too many companies try to be all things to all prospective customers. Instead, these companies often cause confusion in the market that hurts, rather than helps, sales.


That’s where the marketing fundamental of positioning comes in. It may be an

age-old practice, but it’s more relevant than ever in today’s environment, where credibility is tantamount to success and channels of customer communication

are innumerable.

of the original Macintosh, she also helped introduce a bevy of new categories, including video games, software as a service, and digital imaging.


Positioning has long been a marketing staple. Why is it important for marketers to understand and use it today?


The reason positioning is so important is that enables you to identify the white space in the market that you and only you can fill with your product or service in a unique and compelling way. It's critical and should be the very first thing that anyone does before they do any marketing at all.


What’s positioning DNA, and why do marketers need to understand

their brand’s?


Today you have to be extremely authentic in your communication. Everybody's messages are subject to so much criticism that authenticity and credibility are probably the number one and number two most important things that you can have as a company. It's super important to market yourself as you are.


And just like humans, companies have a DNA structure that expresses their essence. You have to figure out who you are as a company, so all your marketing can reflect that positioning.


The phrase that I like to use is, “Know what you're made of, so you can make something of it.” Knowing your positioning DNA enables you to do much more authentic and credible marketing.


In the book you cite the three types of positioning DNA: Mothers, who are customers oriented; Mechanics, who are product oriented; and, Missionaries, who are concept oriented. Can companies be more than one?


Think of it this way: If you happen to have green eyes like I do, you've got blue eyes and brown eyes in the background, in your DNA, but the expression is green. It’s the same with companies. The expressing part of a company is either Mother, Mechanic, or Missionary. But, of course, it’s supported by the other two.


The problem comes when marketers try to think that their companies are two things at once. It creates confusion in the marketplace when you try to be more than one thing.


Instead, understand what the expressing DNA is, and go with that. And then let the other two things support it. If you happen to be a Mechanic — focused on product — you'll structure your company, measure success, and hire people differently than Mothers or Missionaries. But underneath that, you can’t ignore your customers, and you can't ignore redefining your product as time goes on. Those just play secondary roles to who you are; the primary role should be played by the expressing DNA.


That must take a lot of discipline.


Yes — especially today. There is a fad going around that you have to be very customer centric; I call it the customer-centric conundrum. You have to delight your customers, you have to think about the customer first in every interaction; it's all about the customer, the customer, the customer. That's great if you happen to be a customer-focused company. But if you happen to be a “next big thing” company or a product-oriented company, that should not be your primary focus.


You can actually make up for it by building a great product, or by coming up with a very big next thing. You don't have to spend every minute delighting your customer if you happen to be a product company or a next big thing company.


Your approach comprises the six Cs of positioning: core, category, community, competition, context, and criteria. Is there one that's

more important than the rest?


Yes, the core; understanding who you are at your core, first and foremost, before you can do any of the rest of it. All of the rest is in context of who you are.


That means focus on your strengths. You should get better, and better, and better at what you're good at. As I said, know what you're made of, so you can make something of it.


How long does it generally take for marketers to follow this six-Cs framework to discover their company's true positioning DNA?


You need to conduct a thorough study of your company to really understand who you are, your market, and what the white spaces might possibly be. And then look at all the Cs — at the community you’re serving, the people who influence the purchase of your products. Look at the competition, customers, the context in which you’re launching this product or service. It usually takes about three months, but you could probably do it in about a month.


The next step you advise is position activation. What do marketers need to do differently in today's business environment to activate their brand's positioning in the market?


That is the secret to getting your story out there. What you need to do is to create a message architecture and a narrative. It should contain a series of memes, little phrases that help articulate your story. You need a library of those, at least 10 or 15. And you embed them into your narrative.


Then take that narrative and put it in every single form of communication that your company does — whether it's a 140-character Tweet or a 60,000-page book. Those memes need to show up everywhere. What they do is help to build the digital footprint for your story.


What's so awesome about today versus 10 or 15 years ago, is now we have control over so many of our own channels of distribution for messaging. We have our website, blogs, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram; we have the traditional print stuff, recruiting materials, sales materials; we have so much that we have control over that can all go onto the Internet and help build our digital footprint. Each one of those things must contain snippets of your narrative, or you will miss the opportunity to build that digital footprint around your narrative.


What you really want is to create a sound wave that amplifies itself over, and over, and over again with all of the content that you're putting out in the marketplace.


How can marketers better balance positioning and branding with lead-gen and demand-gen activities?


The first thing is that lead gen and demand gen should contain the narrative or snippets of the narrative that is developed in the positioning, so it's not like a completely separate function. It's just another way of expressing your story; another one of those channels of distribution, if you will, that you can stick your messaging into.

In a recent conversation with MKTGinsight, Andy Cunningham shared her expertise and advice on the topic. Cunningham, founder and president of Cunningham Collective, is author of Get to Aha! Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition. She not only played a key role in the launch

Get to Aha! book on positioning

Your book is called Get to Aha! Share a story of one company that had an aha moment around its positioning.


My favorite one, which is the one in the book, is from a company called Building Connected, a bid management software tool for the construction industry. The founders are ex-construction guys. They're very macho, testosterone-laced males. We were talking with them about their positioning DNA, and of course they all thought they were either a product or next big thing company.

 In the middle of the meeting one of them got a text message from an assistant who said there was a customer on the line who was having an issue with their product. He

whispers to the guy next to him about it, who whispers it to the guy next to him, who whispers it to the guy next to him. All at once, all four of these guys stood up, and said, "Excuse us, we have to leave the room." They all went to deal with this customer problem.


About 20 minutes later they came back ready to resume the discussion. And we said, "We're not sure we have to resume the conversation, because we're pretty sure you're a Mother." At first, they all said, “That can't be true." And we said, “Did you see what just happened? All four of you went to deal with your customer’s problem. That sounds like a Mother to me.” They came around, and said, "You know, I think you're absolutely right."


And that has changed everything they do now as a company. They focus everything on the relationship they have with their customers. That was a big

aha for them.


What’s the first step that marketers need to take on their positioning journey, to get to their own aha moment?


Examine whether you're a Mother, a Mechanic, or a Missionary. There's a test in the book to tell you that. But, basically, it's easy to know because you behave differently. Mother companies behave differently from product companies, and they behave differently from concept companies. As I said before, they hire different kinds of people, they measure success differently, they talk about different things in meetings.


Once you do that exercise and you understand what you are, life becomes a lot easier. You become much more comfortable in your own skin — just like the guys at Building Connected. Now to them it's OK to pay so much attention to their customers, and to reach out and think of new ways to delight their customers.


Understanding your positioning DNA makes companies feel a lot more aligned, whole, and at peace with who they are. Then they can focus their efforts on marketing that positioning to the outside world, instead of trying to be all three at the same time and please everybody.

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.