28 May 2020

To be – but what to be?

by Ben Saunders

A clear brand proposition sits at the heart of an effective marketing strategy. It is the articulation of what you want your brand to stand for, from which you can build out the rest of your marketing activity.

But despite (or perhaps because of) its importance, there’s precious little consensus in the marketing community when it comes to terminology and approach. Some marketers like to talk about a brand essence. Others emphasise purpose, or positioning, or attributes, or vision, or DNA. Some talk of a CVP – which is not the same as an EVP (keep up at the back). It’s based on your brand personality – or is it your values? No, it’s your archetypes, or fascination triggers. Some follow Simon Sinek to the centre of his golden circle and start with why. Others regard Jim Stengel as the ideal role model, consider Adam Morgan a worthy challenger, or applaud Rosser Reeves’ unique approach. And that’s before we get to whether Byron Sharp has debunked everything we thought we knew. 

Each approach has its advocates, its acolytes, and its high-profile success stories. And each has its merits. In fact, a familiarity with multiple approaches is a good thing. There is evidently no single, completely reliable solution – or we would all be using it. Horses for courses. In this, as in so much else, I agree with Ritson (yes, I’m recycling a 10-year-old political meme. Simpler times…). To paraphrase the erstwhile professor, call it magic moonbeams for all that terminology matters. Just get clear on what you want your brand to stand for, and then choose the best way to express it to have the most impact. 

So, there are many routes up the propositional mountain. Nevertheless, when working out what your brand stands for in the market, it helps to keep three fundamental questions in mind. 

Is it authentic? 

That is, is it true of your brand? As my boss is fond of saying, it’s no good claiming to be a blue square if you’re actually a green triangle. A bit of aspiration is fine, but positioning on something you can’t actually deliver against is a sure-fire way to disappoint your audience. 

Is it relevant? 

Does your target audience care? There’s a temptation to borrow from the Field of Dreams playbook and assume that if you build it they will come, but Hollywood and reality rarely occupy the same space and it’s wise not to bet the farm on that approach. Far better to get to know your audience – their attitudes, needs and aspirations, what they’re looking for from your product, their decision-making process and purchase journey – and address your brand proposition accordingly. 

Is it different? 

Does it set you apart from your competition? Does it really? Or are you claiming as a point of difference that which is really a point of parity? There’s a debate around the relative advantages of differentiation and distinctiveness, but whether you’re convinced that people don’t buy what you do but why you do it (Sinek) or you think salience in a buying situation is more important (Sharp), whether it’s in your attitude or your assets, something needs to be identifiably different.  


Authentic, Relevant, Different. Company, Consumer, Competition. It might be old, but the 3Cs model still has enormous merit. Get clear on what you can do, that your consumer wants, and your competition can’t deliver, and you’ll have something powerful to talk about. 

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