Good brand positioning should be easy to talk about, especially since word of mouth remains the most effective marketing principle.
Many of these brand positionings exist and don’t need to be overly “created” — just ask a couple of straightforward questions and tune into what people knowledgeable about the brand say. Yet many marketers ignore these conversational jewels, instead creating starched, politically correct and bland positioning statements that people rarely use in conversations.
Here are a couple of good examples.
Before a recent talk at Fisher College I asked an instructor two simple questions: “Why do people come here? What’s the appeal?”
He didn’t even have to pause before answering: “It’s like a good community college but the students get much more attention and hand holding here.” How interesting.
I asked similar questions at University of Massachusetts and got great though “off the record” answers that I use in explaining the university when the topic of colleges comes up with friends. (Talk about colleges dominates the conversations of parents of teenagers at social gatherings.)
University of Massachusetts Lowell is like a MIT-light, a great science and technology education with very successful alumni but at a state school’s lower tuition. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is like a small, private New England liberal arts college. Good programs, lovely campus by the sea.
What I especially liked was that the explanations were grounded in meaning making: they explained the brand in context of the category and then said what’s different and relevant. Meaning sticks, where buzz and traditional marketing materials usually do not.
Over at the School of Thought blog Andrea Jarrell explains that the best school marketing publications “intrigue, inform, and entertain.” Amen. And the best positioning statements do the same — and are “talkable.”
1. All organizations need guts, passion and a vision so exciting that people want to be part of the story.
2. Successful marketing is built around a literary narrative:
Identify a character so powerful that it invites others in. (Dickinson tapped into the schoolâ€™s founder Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the first free public clinic for psychiatry, believer that American needed a new form of learning for America.)
The narrative should have goals and a foil that the organization is fighting against
The themes in the story need to connect people with big ideas; people want to be pride that theyâ€™re connected with stories much bigger than themselves.
The storyâ€™s key themes have to be repeated over and over again; leaders must be passionate about the story and overcome boredom in telling the story. It takes quite a while before the story seeps into all an organizationâ€™s constituents
Narratives need a vocabulary book. As part of its narrative, Dickinson developed a vocabulary book with words that the college uses over and over in telling its story. Words steeped in passion and a clear vision like outrageous, unapologetically committed to liberal arts, petulant brat.
3. The other ingredient for success? No doubt itâ€™s having an academic entrepreneur like Durden leading the organization, instilling the type of aspirations, fierce pride and passion that get people from alumni to incoming students to believe and invest.
In 1998 Dickinsonâ€™s endowment was $151 million; today itâ€™s $336 million. The story must be working. For more on this success story, check out this chapter of the book Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Ed.
To get a sense of just how interesting Durden is, check out his YouTube â€œbow tieâ€ video.