Nearly a generation ago, as omnipresent advertising was making it harder and harder to win consumers’ attention, the seminal Positioning forever changed the shape of marketing. Today, another seismic shift is reshaping marketers’ work. Early adopters will have a massive advantage in the next economy.
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind was written as a guide “to be seen and heard in the overcrowded marketplace.” Co-written by two of the world’s leading marketing strategists, Al Ries and Jack Trout, Positioning presented a revolutionary new way of thinking about the role of marketing. Until then, the famed ‘Four Ps’ ruled marketing dogma: product, price, place, and promotion.
Recalling the Fundamentals
Product has always been at the heart of marketing. Whether your ‘product’ is a good, a service, or an experience, product remains the fundamental first building block of marketing. In the consumer sphere, think about Starbucks’s cup, or Apple’s sleek devices. In the B2B world, think about putting ‘Intel Inside.’ These celebrated products practically sell themselves, such is their ubiquity.
Next comes price—which isn’t really about dollar figures, but about products’ perceived value. They used to say, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Their incredible reliability through the 1980s earned them an enviable price elasticity (not to mention record profits). Buyers were happy to pay more, because they knew they could trust IBM. Apple seems to have taken their place for this generation.
Third is place. It’s a no-brainer in consumer marketing: think the old retail adage, “location, location, location.” But it’s equally true in B2B sales: conferences and trade shows are essential places for brands to ‘show up.’
And then finally there’s promotion—the fourth P, and the one we most frequently associate with marketing. Advertising, discounts, sponsorships, social media, and so on.
The Insight of Positioning
The singular, powerful insight of Positioning was to articulate that the competitive context always gives shape to our campaigns, our outreach, our engagement of potential and current customers, donors, and supporters. Yet Ries and Trout were the first to ask out loud, “What is the one thing around which you should shape your brand’s ‘position’ in prospective customers’ minds?”
Positioning put marketing into the competitive context. The classic example of the day was the Avis car rental campaign, which they established to compete effectively against market-leading Hertz. “We’re Number Two” they said. “We try harder.” They took ownership of their underdog position—a position American consumers love to support. They didn’t remain ‘Number Two’ for long.
Positioning is now known as ‘The Fifth P.’ It’s become absolutely fundamental to our understanding of marketing.
So what’s this generation’s seismic shift?
The Sixth P has emerged in the last two or three years as the new imperative in marketing, in business strategy and planning—even in capitalism as a whole. It encourages us to make the problem of marketing even bigger. I’m talking of course about purpose.
Purpose asks a new, fundamental question: Why does your enterprise exist at all?!?
Purpose puts marketing in its societal context.
Driving shareholder value is no longer a sufficient answer. We expect companies to be corporate citizens—to take responsibility for their impacts on the environment, their customers, their staff, and their communities. We expect them to be governed ethically, openly, transparently.
In fact, we expect the business sector to contribute solutions to the enormous, complex problems we face. The climate emergency. Overconsumption. The wealth gap.
If positioning was about the competitive context, purpose is about the societal context.
So should every business become an environmental NGO? Of course not. But much of this work falls on the desks of marketers—who may call themselves ‘fundraisers,’ ‘communicators,’ ‘storytellers,’ or any number of other names.
Here are three things you can do to infuse purpose into your marketing….
Tie Your Marketing to Society: Consider the risks to your business—and the opportunities—associated with its various economic, environmental, and social impacts. Now think about which of those issues has the greatest impact on stakeholders’ assessments and decision-making. Plot those on a graph, and you’ve just completed a rudimentary ‘materiality analysis,’ an essential approach in corporate social responsibility.
Now look again at your list and assess which of those issues are within your control. Where can you make a real difference? And how can that difference-making drive your storytelling? Your stakeholder engagement? Your marketing?
Connect Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service: Marketing has always been attention-focused—about getting on the shopping lists of potential customers. Sales, on the other hand, has been transaction focused. The tension between marketing and sales has always been longer term brand-building versus shorter term revenue generation. Then there’s customer service, which has always been efficiency focused. The tension between sales and customer service is overpromising versus underdelivering. When these activities are siloed, the tensions only deepen. But fundamentally, this is all marketing.
Shared values are the building blocks of healthy societies.
Looked at another way, marketing is about inspiring customers, sales is about informing them (answering their questions and asking smart and supportive ones back), and customer service today is about engaging them (building relationships). At every point on that continuum, customers are confirming that your company aligns with their values. So this is the realm of authenticity—the consistent, unwavering adherence to stated values in messaging and behaviour. Enduring values are the building blocks of community, of culture, of society. That’s the stuff of enduring marketing strategy. And the source of your ‘Why.’
When your ‘house is on fire,’ you don’t get proprietary about the fire hose!
Lift Your Sector with Your Learning: Breakthroughs for one organization can often be shared by others. In the context of major societal challenges, why would you be proprietary about your breakthroughs?! Lead your sector by exchanging information or designing sector-wide actions. This doesn’t mean forgetting about customers! In fact, it’s totally compatible with brand development—long term reputation building. Do the work both because it’s good for people and planet and because it drives your brand.
Do your part to create connections, trust and shared meaning with people, groups, and companies in your sector, and you’ll create an outsized impact and build a powerful leadership brand.
Are you responsible for your organization’s marketing? Are you embedding purpose in your plans? Are you ready to make a real impact—in your work and in your community?
Let’s Be Audacious Together….
Mike Rowlands is Junxion’s President & CEO. He started his marketing career in the Four Ps era, and has helped hundreds of organizations ‘position’ for success. This post is adapted from a presentation he gave to the GLOBE Forum in Vancouver. Reach him via [email protected]