The End of Brand Positioning?


As marketers we have been trained on developing brand positioning - the classic statement that describes a brand’s unique value to an audience in relation to the competition. In the past, no marketing plan was considered complete without it.

But it’s quickly becoming obsolete, for a number of reasons:

  • Target markets are contextual and fluid. It’s hard to define a specific target anymore because generations are increasingly diverse in almost every way.
  • Technology has changed how we relate, so our needs and wants can change depending on the situation and information we have.
  • We are mostly an experience society, meaning it’s less about the brand as a badge and more about the brand as a facilitator.

If not brand positioning, then what? We need to think about cultural positioning - figuring out how a brand fits into the day-to-day lives and relationships of a community. A move away from describing gender, age or ethnicity and a move toward understanding a shared interest and how that manifests across relationships, language and environments. 

This requires a different way of thinking. In addition to understanding an individual’s wants and needs, it demands an analysis of the role cultural and cognitive systems have on the decisions a person makes. Cultural systems are what have shaped us over the course of our life - how we learn, family structure, peer influence and language, to name a few. Cognitive systems are how we process and make meaning of the stimuli we face every day, focusing our attention on what’s important to us in that moment. These insights can teach a brand how to be relevant.

A lot of marketing pundits are claiming brand loyalty is dead. Perhaps not. Maybe it’s that brands are simply being “positioned” in an obsolete way. By expanding classic brand positioning to be more around a role in a community with common interests, brands can continue to be relevant and irreplaceable in people’s lives.