Why should companies and marketers care about brand positioning? Positioning is one of those “marketing buzzwords” that gets tossed around a lot. But if you dig into what the term really means, it’s about making your company occupy a distinct place in people’s minds. After analyzing 1,200 case studies, Ulli Appelbaum identified 26 types of brand positioning you can use to stand out.
My guest in episode 70 is Ulli Appelbaum. He’s lead the strategy departments for some of the world’s biggest marketing agencies over the last 20 years and has created a brilliant method for determining your positioning: Positioning-Roulette.
Listen to this Episode:
- Why brand positioning is more important than ever today
- How analyzing 1,200 case studies led Ulli to a unique positioning method
- What three key categories build the foundation of every positioning statement
- Why the way people behave (or don’t behave) is your starting point
- The easiest solution for satisfying your customers’ needs
- How to determine what really differentiates your product or services
- The importance of barriers and why people wouldn’t use your category
- How to use the five senses and brand rituals to create an experience
- How Smart Positioning Can Make Your Marketing 10x Better
- Positioning-Roulette Method Cards
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
- Effie Worldwide
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- 4 Steps to Creating a Rock-Solid Marketing Strategy With Mark Ritson
- First The Trousers Then The Shoes
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com. The marketing podcast for marketers, founders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
In this episode, we are going to talk about brand positioning. In fact, we talked about positioning with Philip Morgan in one of my past episodes, but it was more around smaller consulting firms or freelancers or one-man or one-woman shops.
In this episode, we’re going to dig more into brand positioning even if you’re a bigger company or work for a bigger company. We’ll talk about why brand positioning is important, because I’m throwing this term away right now as a buzzword, but it’s not really if you explain what it is: How to occupy a distinct place in people’s mind, how to make sure this is unique in the marketplace, and why it’s so important for your marketing.
My guest today has a very original idea to this concept of brand positioning that he calls The Positioning-Roulette with 26 different cards and options to pick from. We’ll dig into that in more detail.
My guest is based in Minneapolis in the U.S. He has 20 years of experience building brands in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and for the last 15 years in the U.S. He’s led the strategy departments of some of the biggest agencies worldwide which is pretty impressive.
He is also the author and the creator of the best-selling Positioning-Roulette flashcards that I just mentioned. He also created a family game which is called the 26 Popular Children’s Games from Around The World. The number 26 seems to be something that he’s quite a big fan of.
Finally, he’s a blogger for the Huffington Post, a contributor to various trade publications in the U.S. and Europe, as well as a regular speaker at conferences. As you can hear, my guest knows a thing or two about what we’re going to talk about today which is brand positioning. Ulli Appelbaum, welcome aboard.
Ulli: Thank you so much for having me, Louis, a pleasure to be on your show. I loved the introduction by the way. I think I’m going to use that in the future for my potential clients.
Louis: Yeah, you’re welcome. You can use that for free.
Louis: Why do companies and marketers need brand positioning? What does it mean?
Ulli: Well, it basically guides all your activities from the product development to distribution strategy to communication to marketing. It aligns the whole company behind an objective of what you want a brand to be. I think it’s becoming even more important in today’s world.
We all know social media has exploded. I hate this statement that consumers own the brand. I think that’s the worst thing a marketer can do. I think if you don’t have a clear sense of who you are, what your position is in the market–which you described well at the beginning of this interview–and you have consumers starting to provide their own interpretation or critique or criticize you, then you are basically just letting them fully determine and define what you are and what you should stand for.
That’s not a good business proposition. Positioning helps you guide yourself through these turbulent times, social media, and the culture we live in right now.
Louis: Yeah, there is this saying … I’ve heard that many times. It’s like at this stage in this day and age, it’s not about who you think you are, it’s about who you think … Who your customers think you are, how people think you are.
Which I don’t disagree with though, because brand is a perception. It doesn’t exist. In this great book called Sapiens, the author, forgot the name but very good guy, talk about this principle of brands that are just imaginary things that we all agree upon, very much like money. That has a value because we all agree that is has value, but there is nothing else. It does though mean that for a successful brand positioning, people in their head must agree with it, right, in a sense?
Ulli: I 200% agree. I think that’s the difference. Brand positioning it’s an internal navigation tool. What the brand perception is what you hope consumers will make out of it. What you think consumers would make out of it, which is …
I think Jeff Bezos said that your brand position is what people say about you when you leave the room. Your position is almost who you are, your character, how you come across while you are in the room, and your brand perception is what happens and what people say when you leave the room basically. But to be able to create that impression, you need to know who you are, what you stand for, what you’ll agree to do, what you will not agree to do and these kinds of things.
The quote I was referring to is simply this other quote that is very much used in marketing over the last few years which I hate completely which is this notion of, companies don’t own their brand, consumers do. That’s basically the … That started with this whole co-creation stuff and stuff like that. But it’s very misleading. There’s some truth to it, but it’s also very misleading.
Louis: Correct me if I’m wrong. Let’s make sure that we are setting the record straight here because you’re saying brand positioning is an internal tool. But then you’re also saying that this is used to help people perceive your company, your products, your brand in a certain way. It’s not really internal, it’s maybe the compass to go somewhere. It feels like positioning and the perception are the same thing. They need to be aligned almost.
Because you can … I can come up with any shitty positioning, but if people don’t agree with it, or don’t feel like this is the right thing, then it fails, right?
Ulli: 200%. It needs to provide an inherent value that people want to engage with your brand. It needs to deliver something that people are actually looking for. There needs to be a certain consistency between who you want to be and how consumers see you, obviously. That’s the whole game of marketing, trying to manage this consistency.
What I mean with that is, is it goes beyond communication. When you take the customer perspective for a second, and you think about how a brand’s being perceived, how does someone form an opinion or a perception about something, it’s the personal experience with the brand or an objective.
You tell me there’s this great brand of yogurts. I try it. It tastes like shit. I’m not going to buy it again. 20 people can tell me it’s the greatest product out there, I’m still not going to buy it. It’s personal experience.
It’s shared experiences which is what is it my friends, my neighbor, my colleagues tell me I should buy as a camera as a lawnmower as a new snack, whatever it is. Then there is the marketing activities that are created by the brand, the website, the brand experiences created, the online experience, and all these kind of things.
All these elements help shape the perception a customer or consumer has about a brand, a product, or a service. But what you can influence as the brand is what this experience is going to be like. What hopefully people will say about you, and what your marketing and look and feel will look like. That is the part that is driven by the positioning statement.
It’s the sender vs. the receiver. I can say something and hope that you understand what I meant. The worst thing that can happen is that you misunderstand what I’m trying to say, and then you have a different brand perception than how I tried to position my brand if that makes sense.
Louis: It feels like it’s the intersection of those three things that you said. My own personal experiences, what others are saying about it and the way they experience it, and the actual way these companies market it, and the experiences are crafted. Because if I felt, I suppose, if two of the three things are there but not the third, it would fail in a sense.
Let’s say, this brand of yogurt, I find it very good, but all of my friends and colleagues and family say that it is shit. I could change my mind. I could almost be influenced by them and say, “Oh yeah, actually they all think it’s shit, why am I eating it? Everybody’s mocking me,” or whatever. Even if the marketing of the company says, “It’s the best yogurt in the world. It tastes great,” maybe your positioning will fail.
Ulli: I agree, yup, to some extent yes. I think the next dimension which you are adding here is the social component, right?
Ulli: What kind of yogurt I have in my fridge, I don’t really care what my friends think about it. Now if I go to a bar and drink a certain brand of liquor that everyone thinks is a liquor for grandmas, and you just like the flavor, then you are probably more likely going to step back and go back to a safer choice. There’s also this social component obviously about that.
Louis: In one sentence, because we are … I think we are throwing a lot of keywords, buzzwords right now. In one sentence, if you have to really put it simply, why does everyone listening to this podcast should care about brand positioning? Why does it matter so much?
Ulli: Because it’s really the North Star I think that is going to guide all of a company’s activities to appeal to a specific consumer segment, that’s why. It drives the initiative. It needs to be appealing, obviously. It needs to resonate with a specific consumer segment. But again, the part that we often tend to forget is that it drives everything the company does.
Louis: Last question before we dive into a step-by-step process to use your Positioning-Roulette, which I really love as a concept. We’re going to pick an actual example of a company and try to position this company using the 26 cards that you have.
The last question is, what you just said sounds like what a good marketing strategy is. What is the difference between a marketing strategy which is about picking your North Star where you want to go, where you don’t want to go and brand positioning?
Ulli: Well, I think a positioning statement summarizes a good marketing strategy. But a marketing strategy, basically, you would start with, what are the key issues? What are the key problems you are trying to solve? The marketing strategy takes it then a step further in implementing it, in bringing it to life. It’s really the what do we stand for, and how are we going to bring it to life in the marketplace and with what specific consumers. It is a core element of the marketing strategy.
Louis: Okay, great. Thanks for simplifying that.
Louis: Now, let’s get into the step-by-step. Our listeners really love this step. Love the practicality of each episode and this is what we’re going to try to get into together. Briefly, if you have to talk about your solution which is quite original the Positioning-Roulette, what is it again?
Ulli: The observation … It’s based on an observation. At the time, I was working in Europe for a big international advertising agency for a couple of international clients, and I was working in different countries on different product categories. What I realized, what I stumbled upon was there are some mechanisms that seem to pop up on a regular basis.
I’d say one of these mechanisms could be a brand in the U.S. uses a country of origin positioning platform to differentiate its brand in the U.S. But another brand in a completely different category, let’s say in the U.K., uses a similar country of origin, territory to differentiate itself, different category, different time zone, different geography.
I started to see some of these patterns emerge, and I asked myself the question, well, how many of these patterns can I actually identify? I started to look at hundreds and hundreds of case studies. I literally … I’m not an academic. I’m not a theoretical person, so I was literally reading the case study and say, “Ooh, they’re highlighting the ingredients to differentiate the position of their brand,” or, “Oh, look at that, they’re tapping into a consumer ritual.” Basically cataloged all these territories until I got tired of going through 1,200 case studies, and, basically, until I started to realize that I was always coming back to those same areas.
Louis: Let me interrupt you right there because it’s interesting the story before we dive into … Where did you find the case studies, those case studies? Did you just Google them?
Ulli: No, there are some resources like warc.com, W-A-R-C.com, which is basically a content provider to the marketing and advertising industry. There are some other organizations like global Effie organization which every year award the most effective marketing campaigns in different countries around the world. The cool thing about them is there are case studies around that. It’s all case studies that felt like, well, they helped build a business over a period of time.
Louis: How long did it take you to compile all of that?
Ulli: Well, the insight I came across literally before moving to the U.S. I moved in 2002, so we’re talking … What is it? 16 years, so 17 years. Then I got married, got children, all that stuff, but I started … I’ve always been a collector of case studies, and it literally maybe took me 10 years on and off to do that.
It’s not that I sat down on Monday morning and said I want to read all the case studies until I get the model. It’s just over time and what I started to do is I started to prototype the approach in my work. When I had client workshops I started to use it without calling it that way, but just to facilitate workshops and see what works and what doesn’t.
Five years ago, I decided to start my own business here in Minneapolis, and then it was this moment of, “Okay, I have this half-baked cake. Either I’m leaving it behind and forget about it.” But there was always this belief of, “Okay, I don’t want to know what would happen if I didn’t do it.” I decided, “Okay, now it’s my chance, let’s do it.” Then it took me, I think, three, four weeks to systemize everything, to get it done.
Louis: There you have it, folks. You can hear from my guest today how long it takes from creating a unique work of value, something that is truly remarkable, 10 years in the making really. That’s a good case study as well. To show people that you need to show up every day, do something, test it in the field, as you probably have done in your various agencies you work for, improved it over time. Now, what you are going to share together … What you’re going to share with us is really the result of those 10 years of,
even more, of sweat and effort.
Let’s go about it. I think people can’t wait to hear all of those 26 cards. I’m going to ask you to actually go through those 26 cards. Basically, the 26 options that companies can pick, and correct me if I’m wrong, the concept of your roulette is basically that you pick two or three to have strong–
Louis: –positioning, right?
Ulli: The idea is to go through the whole set, and we can walk through them. The way you go through them is you go through them either randomly just to keep your brain on its toes and be less predictable, or what you can do is you take two or three of the cards and try to create forced connections. If that makes sense?
Louis: What do you mean? No, it doesn’t.
Ulli: Let me step back for a second. Indeed there are 26 cards, but they’re organized into three different categories. The three categories represent the key cornerstone of every positioning statement.
Ulli: It assumes that you know your consumer base and you have defined consumers, but once you have that you basically need to look at three things. One is, what’s the frame of reference in which you position your brand for a consumer.
You have a soft drink. What is it? Is it a soft drink? Is it an energy drink? Is it a sports drink? Is it a juice if it has fruits in it and stuff like that? Is it a thirst quencher? Those are all different categories in which you can frame it in a sense. That’s number one.
Number two is what I call the product story itself. There’s this agency, advertising agency that has this claim, “Truth well told,” and, basically, it’s the belief that every brand, every product, every service has an inherent story that differentiates it, and that gives it it’s reason for being. That’s the part about the product or the brand itself.
The third pillar is really how do I decide to engage and connect with consumers. Do I want to focus on my hardcore functional benefits? Do I want to connect with them emotionally? Do I want to tap into their deeper needs and emphasize the archetype the type of relationship I’m trying to create with them, or do I go more lofty and speak about a brand purpose and these kinds of things.
You have these three elements, context, product, and type of connections you want to have with your consumers, and that’s how the 26 cards are divided. When I say you pick two or three cards, I mean you basically pick one card in each territory and try to combine them.
Ulli: We can go through that. We can play around with that.
Louis: Right, so let’s pick the example of this shitty yogurt company, actually, just as a random example. Let’s not name any company, but it’s … Let’s say they are selling yogurt, and it’s their product is good. They know it’s good, but they struggle to position themselves in the market. They don’t … Nobody really knows them, or, at least, people can’t really define who they are. They don’t really occupy a distinct place in people’s mind. They want to sell to specific people. This is the situation. We are talking to you to understand how we can position ourself better.
What do you do as the very first step? What is … When do you introduce this roulette? Do you do any prep work before?
Ulli: You do a series of prep work up front. The way I usually work is you try to identify the key customer segments, who would be the best target audience for this yogurt? There will be resyndicated data you can use to do that if you don’t have the resources and the time to do your own segmentation study. You can look at the data that is available with the yogurt manufacturer, and, usually, they have a lot of data already available, so I’d start there.
Just try to understand, who are the heavy users? Who are the light users? Are there segments out there that buy yogurts or products similar to yogurts that we are not tapping into? Whether that’s like substitute behaviors I may want to tap into. But then I also look into more global trends or category and global trends. What are the big trends we see in yogurts? Is it exotic flavors coming out?
When you look at Chobani that has completely overhauled the U.S. yogurt market in like what? Less than 10 years or something like that. They came all of sudden with this weird concept of Greek yogurt which frankly what it is, it’s probiotic-based yogurts.
I worked 10 years ago with a big food manufacturer, and they were trying to introduce probiotics. The interesting thing is people rejected the notion of active bacteria that I put in my stomach. I thought it was brilliant to position that as Greek yogurt with a different texture as a way to get that proposition across.
Those are the type of things I do. But then I’d also have a series of stakeholder interviews with the key players within the organization. That’s obviously the marketing directors, the market research folks, the product innovation folks who understand, are there yogurt innovations in the pipeline we need to take into account when positioning the brand? Because positioning is supposed to be valid for five, 10 years. I would talk to the sales force and what the feedback from the trade, for example, is in these kinds of
I’d do this, I don’t want to say 360, I’d do an exhaustive discovery phase to try to understand what the key issues are.
Louis: It’s tough to avoid buzzwords, isn’t it?
Ulli: I know, I know, and I hate buzzwords. I hate buzzwords.
Louis: I can’t believe we are talking about the yogurt industry in this episode.
Ulli: I know.
Louis: That’s how … I love to improvise those subject, because usually we come up with the shittiest example possible. I think a few episodes ago, we picked croissant, how to say croissant to people, so yeah.
But this is good. You are mentioning the steps very like almost nonchalantly, in a very easy way. Because it’s obvious to you, because you are an expert. I do want to spend more time on the roulette itself because I think this is … The 26 elements is very interesting, but please repeat the steps that you just mentioned, so number one, number two, number three, number four.
Ulli: Yeah, if I may go down one level, because it’s true it is confusing. There’s a lot of things. But there’s always one guiding principle for me in everything I do which is the way people behave or don’t behave. That’s really the starting point of everything.
How do people behave in a specific category, in a specific market? What that means is, do they buy your product? Do they buy a substitute product? Do they buy less of the same product? Those are all the guiding elements you focus on.
Then you ask why that is. Why do the buy less of this type of yogurts in this case and more of this type of yogurts?
To simplify it, it’s really you look at the category itself. What are the competitors doing? How is my brand performance? Do I have a distribution issue, or is there a new distribution channel that helps competitors?
You start with the category, then you look at the broader category set which is substitute products. Are there things I eat instead of yogurt?
If you want to go a step above that you look at the need states. What need state do I try to satisfy? I want to indulge. Well, you might as well indulge with a piece of ice cream. Maybe a yogurt is a great way to get the ice cream indulgence at a lower calorie. I’m making shit up here. But again–
Louis: Me too.
Ulli: Laughs. You just change your frame of reference. Then you understand, you go one level higher which is basically the overall trends is like how is our society and culture evolving over time, and what kind of implication does that have for the product category?
Louis: Okay, so if you are listening to this podcast, let’s imagine a magnifying glass where the very first thing you look at is your own category. An example of a category, let’s step away from the product, the yogurt example just briefly. Just briefly, can you explain, let’s say, my understanding’s right maybe in the software industry a CRM, the CRM would be a category in software?
Louis: CRM, customer relationship management, another category could be email marketing software?
Louis: Alright. You look at how people behave and don’t behave in this category. What is the number one in term of market share, number two, number three, and what are the trends within this market? Is there one–
Ulli: Is the category growing or not, or is it shifting to a different platform? Etcetera, etcetera, yes.
Louis: Exactly. A few years ago, we used to buy softwares using CDs. After that, it switched to online softwares and software as a service, and that shifted pretty fast. That’s what you mean by shift as well.
You’re looking at category, and then you understand … What do you understand actually from this? Looking at this particular thing, you just understand how people behave and don’t behave, right?
Ulli: Well, what you understand is what is successful, and what isn’t? What is … Where’s the energy in the category? Who are the–
Louis: I love that.
Ulli: –players? What is working, and what is not working? That’s what you–
Louis: Where is the energy? I like that.
Ulli: That’s right.
Louis: What is the energy in the category? That’s a good way to put it. Then when you zoom out a bit, then you talk about the entire software industry or the entire yogurt industry, and you look at where it’s going.
Ulli: Correct, and you would look at it and say, “Okay, big trends out there is artificial intelligence. How would that impact my CRM service and offering? Is that something I need to take into account, or can I put that behind?” All these kind of things.
Louis: Then you talked about a very interesting concept which is the substitute or alternatives to something. This is also critical. I think a lot of marketers and people who want to do marketing don’t get this concept very easily because it takes a while to get used to.
It’s your competitors are not necessarily people, companies sitting in the same category. In fact, it could be something completely different. You might be competing against … The alternative could be doing nothing.
Louis: You might be competing against … If you’re trying to sell Excel as a software, you might be competing against pen and paper. You might be competing against a whiteboard. That you find out by interviewing people. How do you find that out yourself?
Ulli: Well, you find that out … At the core, you look at what need are people trying to satisfy. If you take CRM software this is probably a company or an organization that wants to communicate with a customer base that they have in their mailing list and stuff like that, and interact with them on a regular basis at a low cost so to say. The reason is they’re trying obviously to build their business.
What other solutions enable you to satisfy a similar need? In today’s world, you can do it online. You can do it through social channels. You can do it through Twitter etcetera, etcetera. You start to have different channels that accommodate a similar need. But focusing on the need is what’s going to help you look for a substitute or lack of substitute or no behavior whatsoever.
Louis: In this example of this Greek yogurt, I actually … I like this idea of talking about this. Let’s say our company, our category is actually in the probiotic type of yogurt. We sell a yogurt that actually makes you feel better. It helps your digestive system a bit, and it’s actually helping your digestion. But it’s also good. One of the needs is the need to be healthy or try to fix your maybe digestive problems, could be a very urgent problem that people will be seeking.
But, on the other hand, you don’t want to eat a shitty product that tastes awful. A secondary need would be I want to be healthy, I don’t want to have a lot of calories into it. I want my digestive system to feel good about it, but I also want to enjoy the experience.
Ulli: Just to add one layer to that is you want your digestive system to feel good. Why is that? Because it strengthens your immune system. That’s what the core of your digestive … That’s what drives your immune system. You want to have a strong immune system. Why? Because I don’t want to get sick. You can ladder up all the way up until you find something that is really interesting.
Louis: What I tend to do when I do this exercise is that I tend to fall into a rabbit hole of I don’t know where to stop in the why. Because exactly as you said, why are using probiotics? To help your digestive system. Why? Because it helps your immune system. Why? Because I want to feel better with myself. Then you just end up to the same thing. Why? Just because I want to be alive, or I just … I want to–
Ulli: I want to be happy.
Louis: Yeah, so where do you stop? Because let’s take this example of this yogurt company that we have. Where do we stop in the layers?
Ulli: Well, you stop in a position which appeals to customers the most, and that differentiates you from your competitor. That’s really where you stop. You’re looking for … Everyone speaks about I have fruit flavors, they’re delicious, strawberry, blueberry, yadda yadda yadda. It’s a great little indulgence. Then a health message is already differentiating per se if there is a segment of consumers out there that cares for that. If no one gives a shit about health, no need to stop there either.
Ulli: That’s really as simple as that. That’s why I come back to the three pillars.
Ulli: The frame of reference, the relevance to the consumers and how you engage with them, and then what do you say about your product or your brand to stand out in that context with those people.
Louis: Let’s do it right now, because we’ve been talking about it for 30 minutes, and our listeners are waiting for those 26 cards. Let’s take this example, we’re selling probiotic yogurt. Let’s talk through this roulette.
Ulli: You can start wherever. You can start with the context, the consumers, or the product or the brand itself. Let’s start maybe with the product itself. I do that on purpose because most marketing agencies hate to speak about the product, and I love to speak about the product. They think that no one is interested, but I believe people are interested.
For example, in the offering, you could romance the origin, where the brand or the product comes from. Where do people associate with that? How could that be used to differentiate yourself?
Louis: That would be like founded in 1829 by two French people blah, blah, blah. That would be a story.
Ulli: That would be the creation story. What I’m talking about is … The origin would be, it’s part of … Olive oil, it’s part of the Italian lifestyle and diet. Hey, how come Italians are so much healthier and have so much less cholesterol than everyone else?
But country of origin could also be … You know this campaign for Foster’s, the Foster’s beer, this “Australian for beer”? What they did is they tapped into this whole culture of Australia and help shape it to differentiate the brand. These are like olive oil, Italy, lifestyle, and beer from Australia with the nephews of Crocodile Dundee cracking jokes. Country of origin two very different positionings based on the same principle. That would be one.
The second one is the one you just mentioned which is the creation story. How did it all start? Why did it start? What’s interesting is, especially with companies that have been established for a long time, people even at the organization tend to forget why this company was initially started. But going back to the origin and trying to understand how do I translate that in a modern way.
Romance the way the product works is a third way to speak about it. Is, what makes my product different from any other out there? Maybe it’s the way it works.
I remember ketchup, I had a long time ago this campaign on why the pour of the ketchup is so slow when you try to pour it out of the bottle, why is it so slow? That taps into another thing which is the weakness of the product. It’s because it’s made with real tomatoes as opposed to fake shit.
Celebrate the ingredients, that’s another big one. But that could also be an ingredient could be an engine. Whether it’s the HEMI from Dodge that could be an ingredient within the brand.
It could be specific defining attributes, and that could be anything from an old campaign the brand had from the ’60s to the latch on how the package opens. Anything that makes the brand stand out, or it’s the brand that is strongly associated with American 4th of July barbecue. I don’t know, I’m making–
Louis: Right, so maybe Coca-Cola and Fanta.
Ulli: Correct. That’s exactly right. Yeah, or it could also simply be what Coca-Cola … What McDonald’s did recently, the arches, the M in itself has become an attribute of the brand that you recognize immediately.
It could be what I said earlier, the example with the ketchup, give a meaning to a brand’s weakness. This could be a medicine tastes so crappy, because that’s a … Those are all things you can do.
Or you create a sense of scarcity or exclusivity. Ferrero Mon Cheri in Europe does that which is a chocolate with a cherry inside. They only use Piemont cherries. I don’t know if they still do that, but at the time, they literally stopped distribution in the summer, and they twisted the story saying that we cannot guarantee the quality of our products, so we’re not going to sell it to you. What this creates is a sense of, “Oh my god, it’s so special. I’m sure going to go and buy some when they’re back in stores.”
Louis: Have you gone through the full … all the product attributes yet or not? No, no, because I have a … I just want to make sure I’m asking the question at the right time?
Ulli: I have two more to go.
Louis: Two more to go, let’s go.
Ulli: One is the torture test situation. What is the most extreme situation in which your product could be used? Or who is the most extreme person to use your product? As a way to demonstrate how good it is.
The last one is simply let experts tell your story. If I as a manufacturer can get independent research, independent experts tell you about the … That’s the old from the ’60s, a dentist recommended, now everyone laughs about this, but the concept is still the same. The experts have changed, and the mechanism is still valid, but maybe it’s not going to be a dentist any longer.
Louis: But you live in … Sorry, to cut you, but you live in the U.S., so you understand how shitty
Ulli: Oh, yeah.
Louis: –right there in terms of the TV ads for medicines and stuff. Those companies, pharma companies use that extensively to say that your doctor recommends it or whatever, whoever recommends it. It’s the shittiest thing. One of the shittiest marketing moves I’ve ever seen, because it really tricks people to use medicine they don’t need.
But so going back to one thing, I found it fascinating, because you’re able to summarize very interesting things. I think if you’re listening to this podcast right now, you’re picturing in your head every time Ulli mentioned one attribute, you can think of an example straight away that comes to mind. But the thing that I know people tend to do then is they look at all of those options, and they feel like, “I think we should use all of them. They’re all so interesting.”
How do you convince people to say, as a yogurt company you cannot pick more than one, or else your message is going to be diluted?
Ulli: The way I do it is usually through workshops. If you use the cards, which you can buy on my website, what I would do is go through all these. We just went through the 10 product-related and write down only what I call hypotheses. What are the ideas that come to mind?
What you’ll do typically is you’ll easily come up with 40, 50, 60 ideas. Then you go through them the next day again, and you’ll realize that half of them are crap. If you do that in the workshop, you start to group them by themes.
You look at all the 60 ideas you had, and you create two or three or four buckets that all tap into a similar territory, or where the different elements work well together. Then the way even large organizations do it is they develop a positioning statement and then test them with consumers or test boards.
But what I’ve learned is the level of energy in the group when discussing the ideas tells you … is a great indicator on how excited people are about it. Even if they get scared a little bit or get nervous, their level of energy goes up as opposed to, “Oh, yeah that yogurt tastes great, and it’s made with good ingredients.” Oh, that’s a safe position. No one is going to get excited by that.
Louis: In my experience … I love that you’re mentioning energy again. But in my experience, the other thing that you just mentioned that seems to work is, as soon as you feel people getting a bit nervous about certain ideas, I think this is an indicator that this needs to be pursued. Because it means that if you feel nervous about it, probably all the other market is feeling nervous about it. You might want to give it a try then because it’s an opportunity to get outside of this comfort zone that is maybe too small.
Ulli: Absolutely, it’s when they get nervous about it, or when they start to argue. When you start to have your group dividing into two or three sections, “Yeah, we should do it,” “No, we can’t do this.” Tension that is created, and you know something is happening here.
If everyone agrees, “Yeah, it tastes great, and it’s cheap.” We all agree, high five. You know it’s not going to get traction in the market either.
Louis: We have this yogurt company. Let’s pick the creation story because I started to talk about it. Let’s say that it was founded by two French guys in 1829. They just created this weird milk that was a bit denser than milk, and they get eating this. They were so fucking healthy, and their entire village was really healthy. Yeah, this is the exact recipe that they came up with 150 or whatever years before. Let’s use that as a product. I think it’s pretty cool.
Louis: Now, let’s go to the next one.
Ulli: The next one would then be let’s take … Where is it? Let’s take the context, the frame of reference which I mentioned earlier. As we talked about earlier, start immediately with your competitive set.
But then you can look at the usage context, when and where do people eat your specific category or indulge in your specific category? Is it when coming home after a day of work, or is it a little snack during the day, or is it for breakfast? Whatever. What situation or usage occasion is your brand used? Is there a meaning associated with this usage occasion, or can you associate a meaning with that? That would be one.
Another one which is close to that is tap into existing consumer rituals. We are full of rituals. When we get ready in the morning, take our shower, brush our teeth, comb our hair … I don’t have any, but if I weren’t …
It’s more than simply going through a physical process. It’s getting mentally ready for the day. It’s organizing your thoughts, or when you come home at night you kick your shoes off.
A consumer ritual with yogurts, for example, and I know that for a fact is that people tend to take a smaller spoon to enjoy their yogurt longer. They do that with mousse au chocolat. They do that with any kind of treat is reduce the size of your spoon, so you get more out of it.
Louis: Did you test yourself?
Ulli: No, I don’t do that. I lick the pot. I don’t do that. But a lot of people do that, and it’s a cue for, “Ooh, that must be particularly good if the person goes to the trouble of doing that.” Can I associate that with my brand?
Another bigger part which is very popular right now, it’s important, but I hate how it’s basically used for everything. It’s to be part of culture. What are the big cultural trends that allow me to tap into to position my brand?
Louis: Pepsi fucked up recently about this, right? They tried to run into this the Black Lives Matter movement and all of that.
Ulli: That’s exactly right. Drink my sugared sparkling soda to promote global diversity and racial understanding. It’s like what the fuck? It’s … But everyone tends to gravitate towards that. It’s the easy short way. But in some cases it can be an extremely powerful positioning device.
It can be claiming the gold standard. What I mean with that is every category has the ideal aspiration. What is the perfect pasta brand or pasta dish? It’s probably the one made by a grandma somewhere in Tuscany on a farm. Everything has an ideal situation people associate with it.
Or it can be simply a disrupt of the category convention. What you do is you literally look at your category and look at the packaging convention, the messaging conventions, the distribution conventions, the consumer segment conventions. You list them all, and then you literally go and say, “How can I tap into a different category? How can I do things differently to stand out and differentiate myself?”
Sometimes you can resolve a category paradox. What I mean with that is many categories like electric vehicles, what was it the “Yaris”? Is it the “Yaris”? No, I’m forgetting the …
Louis: Oh, fuck … Toyota
Louis: I know which one you’re … Everyone knows. It’s fine. I’ll find it in 10 seconds.
Ulli: Yes, oh, that’s so embarrassing.
Ulli: Prius, thank you. A brilliant electric vehicle looks like shit. There’s this basic paradox of, yeah, you can be environmentally conscious, but you’ll have to drive a shitty car and not get laid in the process or not impress your neighbor.
Comes Tesla, resolves the car paradox. All of a sudden, an electric car can compete with the biggest sports cars out there in terms of performance and speed and looks sexy as hell. There’s a car paradox that can be resolved.
Are there specific barriers? Do people maybe not using your category for very simple, obvious reasons? But if you don’t ask the questions, you’re not going to find it out. I don’t think I can find it in my neighborhood, or I don’t think it’s going to address my specific problem, even though it does, so understanding barriers.
Then another thing is simply identify a brand enemy. What is it … Is there an enemy out there? That can be a belief. That can be a cause. That can be a contrarian attitude that I can take a stand against.
I can say the standards of beauty are defined by others. No, they’re defined by myself. My enemy is the stereotypes in media and advertising and the culture of it. Those are, for example, the contextual trigger points that you can focus on.
Louis: How do you pick them? Do you pick them the same way than the previous category?
Ulli: Yeah, you’d go through them and basically identify what are the … What ideas come to mind on how to position to these brands. This leads again to these ideas that then you mix together.
Or what you can do is you can say, “You know what, Louis? Let’s take … tap into a consumer ritual, and let’s romance the way the product works. Let’s force those two together and try to see what ideas we can come up with.”
Louis: I’m speechless. It’s pretty good. It’s really in-depth, and I’m trying my hardest to find other potential angles that you haven’t mentioned. But, obviously, you’ve gone through 1,300 case studies. It’s unlikely that I’m going to find anything.
But what springs to mind again is you mentioned two things that to me I like to do in parallel for products. I have a tendency to, as you might have noticed from this podcast, to pick an enemy. I love to do that really early on. Pick an enemy and go against it, and then easier to find a purpose then, a vision for the brand.
But then I also like to go over barriers and identify key barriers and say, “Well, this is also what you have. The reason why you might not buy from us or consider us but here is the objection to those concerns or those barriers.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this exercise doesn’t mean that you can’t use all … some of them or more than one particular take away. It only means that the way you will communicate that to your specific target market needs to be very simple. You can’t really–
Louis: –go about communicating too many messages at once.
Ulli: No. It’s not a messaging platform per se. It can lead to a messaging platform, but the benefit of it is when you think about every single idea that I mentioned in the two categories we talked about, none of them is like the magic lantern. They are all basic, tried-and-true, success strategies.
The difference is that you all have them in front of you, and you can go through them way quicker. You hear them, and you say, “Oh yeah, brand barrier is a great way to approach this,” or finding an enemy.
If I ask you, “Louis, what are the … all the positioning angles you can use to position a brand?” You will probably be able to come up with seven, eight, nine, ten as an experienced marketer. If you’re inexperienced you will come up with maybe two or three.
This allows you to look at it literally from 26 … It really jogs your mind and your memory and allows you to go through the process quicker. It’s not magic. It’s just sound, tried-and-true jogging for your brain basically.
Louis: Right. Let’s go through the last category. I know it’s a difficult exercise. I know it’s not easy too, because there’s 26 steps. But it needs to be done. You started, you need to finish.
Ulli: Yeah, no, I love it. I love it. The last one is the rules of engagement. I call it the rule of engagement because it’s really, how do I connect with my customers?
The most obvious one, which is like the old CPG thinking is, what’s your benefit? Why should I buy your brand or use your service? What’s the benefit you provide? That can be a functional benefit, an emotional benefit, a social benefit, a psychological benefit.
The next level which is something that appeared in the marketing culture a few years back, but that has been relevant for a long time is, how does your brand or your service or your product appeal to the senses, and what does that trigger? It’s a pure sensory description of your experience basically.
Another one can be to purposefully dramatize the reward. You’re going to be successful if you use my product. But to dramatize it in an exaggerated way, so that it becomes appealing.
Louis: I’m thinking of … or Lynx or what’s the name, this deodorant?
Ulli: Yeah, Axe.
Louis: Axe, yeah.
Ulli: Or Lynx, yeah.
Louis: Yeah, and they dramatize the outcome by making you feel, which is a very sexist way to put it, but as a man you put on this deodorant, you’ll have a sea of women coming to you, because you smell nice, right?
Ulli: Yeah, and the need state for this horny teenagers is to be appealing for the ladies. In a completely over-the-top way, they dramatize that.
Then we talked earlier about a consumer ritual, but you can also create a brand ritual. Which is if you eat this product or drink this drink in this fashion, it’s going to taste better. There are studies that basically show that if you ritualize an experience, you enhance the benefit of it.
That can be anything from like the Oreo cookie, you know how you twist it open, do you bite into it, do you lick the side? It can be Stella Artois, the way you pour your beer. You know–
Louis: Or Guinness.
Ulli: Or Guinness, and all these kind of things. They ritualize the experience and instead of saying, “Shit, I have to wait seven minutes for my beer, why are they so slow?” It’s like, “No, they’re preparing the greatest beer experience for you through this ritual.” It’s brilliant.
But then you can go up a little bit and focus on shared values. What are the values your brand has and your consumer have that allow you to bring together … That you can bring together through your offering.
Then we have the one that is the other big buzzword in the category which is the brand purpose. What’s my purpose? I think it’s a really valuable angle. But when you look at my methodology, it’s only one of 26 ways to look at it.
The point you made earlier is very relevant too is, when you do a brand purpose exercise, you basically ladder up to the emotional benefits you provide. You always end up with happiness. Ultimately, that’s the … The quest of happiness is …
Whether it’s toilet paper, yogurt or whatever product you want to choose, if you use a brand purpose approach, you’re always going to end up with happiness. Which is ridiculous.
When you see a brand advertising out there that speaks about how I don’t know, an electric screwdriver is going to make you happy, you know where that comes from. It’s just bullshit. I think there are better ways to do that.
The third one is simply to take an archetype approach. An archetype is simply this construct, these types that tap into specific needs.
This could be people in a category they have an explorer mindset, always discovering new things. Or people in a category might need a brand they can go to for information, guidance, and these kinds of things. That would be like a sage archetype.
If you identify an archetype that is relevant in your category, then you can align your marketing activities and the way you position your brand with an archetype.
Louis: Wow, so–
Ulli: We did the rules of engagement.
Louis: –a lot of value. Thanks for doing this exercise, 26 ideas. It’s true, as you said, that it definitely springs a lot of ideas in my head right now. I’m thinking of many ways I could use this. It’s brilliant.
It feels like those different elements could be tried and played together to do test campaigns as well. What if we do those three together, how do people react? And all of that. That’s really strong.
I hope if you’re listening to this episode right now that you got a lot of value out of this episode. Thank you so much once again for going through this step-by-step with me.
Ulli: My pleasure.
Louis: The last few questions I have for you, are always the same, as you know. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Ulli: I think that’s what you see in Positioning-Roulette, it’s not rocket science, it’s a return to the basics. That’s what I said earlier is we live, and it’s amplified in the marketing industry itself, is we tend to be distracted by the newest shiny object. We tend to run after it.
What I’ve learned in my 20 plus years is go back to people, their behavior, and why they do it. Then try to understand how does the technology add value or doesn’t add value. Come back to the core or to the essence which is here is a person you want to win over, convince that your brand and product is the shit. That’s the thing you need to have. How are you going to do that?
One thing I have learned is … I talked recently to a younger marketeer who had never heard of the concept of net promoting score. It’s like telling me you’ve never heard of the concept of brand positioning, and, yet, you’re in marketing for like 10 years. There is a very basic set of tools and understanding and learnings that gets lost. It’s more my hope for the marketing industry that we come back to that.
Louis: Maybe the answer to the next question will be related. What are the top three resources you recommend listeners to read, to listen to, to watch? Outside of your book, The Positioning-Roulette that people can find on Amazon and all of that, right?
Ulli: Yup, on Amazon and on my website. One book that was influential for me is by a gentleman called Robert, I think it’s Cialdini or Cialdini.
Louis: Cialdini, yeah.
Ulli: Cialdini, and he wrote Influence: The Psychology of Influence. Brilliant application of psychological learnings out of psychological research on how we get influence, very basic, very fundamental. That’s one thing.
The second thing, it might be very surprising is, fucking talk to people. I am the type of guy who … I always chat up my taxi drivers or my Uber drivers or when I’m in the playground watching my kids play I talk to others. It’s like talk to people.
Especially for strategies, it’s so easy and convenient to look at existing reports, do a Google search, do all these kind of things. No, talk to your neighbor and spend the time to listen. You learn so much, it’s mind-blowing.
The second, it’s more a gentleman … It’s a guy called Mark Ritson. Mark is … Do you know him?
Louis: Yeah, he’s actually … This episode will be published after his episode will be published. He’s a brilliant, brilliant marketer. But, please, talk about him, yeah?
Ulli: What I like about him is … Actually, I thought I’d recommend him to you, but you are two steps ahead of me, of course, is he’s a no-bullshit contrarian, right?
Louis: Yeah, love him.
Ulli: That’s why I love about it. It keeps you real. It keeps you fresh, and if you research him, even on YouTube he has made a couple of speeches that I’ve gone there like sort of like, rubs your ego if you’re all into this whole trendy marketing bullshit, but it’s a nice call to reality. Mark is someone I discovered several months back, and I’m just following him because it’s a breath of fresh air.
Louis: Yeah, and he has his way to talk about contrarian ideas that are quite like the big picture, but when you ask him and drill into specific step-by-steps, he has no problem going into it.
The Mark Ritson episode is already live, and I’m going to do a bad job at remembering exactly what we talked about, but I remember him going through a very detailed way to pick exactly where your company should be in the marketplace based on a very simple set of questions and surveys, detailed surveys sent to a broad spectrum of people.
Oh, it was an amazing interview as well. Thanks for mentioning him. I feel you have a few similar attributes, should I say.
Ulli: I wish.
Louis: Where can listeners connect with you, learn more from you?
Ulli: The best way is really through my website, Louis. It’s first-the-trousers.com, so First The Trousers Then The Shoes is my company, but that was a little long as a URL, so I cut it down to First The Trousers, but there is a minus sign or a dash in between each word, so first-the-trousers.com.
You can also get the list I just wrote, you have a free download of that list with those 26 questions. I encourage you, obviously, to go for the cards, but there you get a first look at those 26 territories where … and learn a lot from those.
Louis: Yeah, sorry to cut you, but yes, I think as good, as good people … I know that my listeners are … They are fantastic always sending me a lot of emails and feedback and stuff. It’s always so interesting to hear from them.
I think a good thing to do is when you have someone like Ulli just going through his entire product or his entire book in front of us almost without any expectation in return, obviously expecting to sell a bit of … to sell his book which is normal, but I think if you got value out of this episode right now, it’s only fair to give value back by getting the cards if you think that they would be useful to your company, and I mean that. Because it’s been an hour that we talked, and I quizzed you on everything I could, and you’ve been great. Once again–
Ulli: I appreciate that. I look at it really … I appreciate you saying that. But I look at it as really … It’s like cookbooks. It’s the recipe. If Paul Bocuse makes an omelette, I trust that it’s going to be 10 times better than if I make an omelette using his recipe.
Ulli: I think experience helps make the tool better, but the tool is already … It’s going to take you three steps ahead of where you are today, even the free list that you can download on my site is going to take you way further than where you are as a marketer today.
Louis: Once again, thank you so much for your time.
Ulli: My pleasure, thanks for having me, Louis.
How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers
Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.