Brand positioning tip #12: don't get hung up on the words

When it comes to positioning terminology, I sometimes get questions like “what is the difference between a brand mantra and a brand essence?” or “is a point of difference the same thing as a key differentiator?”

My answer? Don’t get hung up on the words… it’s the concepts that matter.

I have standard terminology I use for brand positioning projects, which you can read more about in my Brand Positioning Tips. I picked up most of these terms from Dr. Kevin Keller, one of the world’s foremost brand positioning experts, and the brand positioning guru we used for a lot of our Red Hat positioning work.

Kevin uses terms like point of parity, point of difference, competitive frame of reference, and brand mantra to describe his positioning process. I like these terms and they have become comfortable for me to use in my positioning work.

But often, I’ll be working with a client who approaches positioning from a slightly different point of view. Perhaps they’ll talk about what I call a brand audit as a brand diagnostic or they’ll refer to the brand mantra as the brand essence.

When working with clients on positioning projects, I operate using the when in Rome principle. I use their words instead of mine. Why? Because they are just words, after all.

What really matters is whether we agree on what the heart and soul of the brand is and what makes it different from other similar brands.

Using Kevin Keller’s terminology to describe your brand positioning won’t automatically make it good brand positioning, and some of the best-positioned brands I have ever seen were probably developed by people who had never heard of a point of parity.

So use whatever words you like as long as you understand the concepts.

Beyond the broad concepts, the same principle applies to the words you choose during a brand positioning project. I’ve been in several conversations over the years where executives were hung up on a word being used to describe a point of difference. This is usually a quick path to a derailed positioning project.

Because of this, I typically avoid jumping to THE word that describes the point of difference too soon. Instead, I create clusters of words that articulate the concept, try to get agreement on the cluster, and only then begin to narrow down the list to the words that describe the concept best.

For example, you might develop a cluster of words that describes one of your brand’s points of difference like this:

empowering
user in control
freedom
user-driven
customer-centric
no handcuffs
no limitations
controlling your own destiny

You’d want to ensure that people agreed that the concept these words illustrate was in fact a point of difference before you even began the conversation about which word or phrase was best for describing the point of difference.

When you get hung up on words, you often blind yourself to possibilities and also limit the language you have available to communicate with others (who may process information in different ways than you do).

So don’t do it. When you are perfecting your brand positioning, stay intensely focused on the concepts— not the words you use to describe them.

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