Highs & lows - positioning #fails and how to avoid them


Alex Franco

5 min read

Brand positioning highs & lows - mass #fails (& how to avoid them)

No such thing as bad publicity right? Wrong. That saying was coined long before digital, social media and massive shifts in consumer behaviour and expectations. Brand fails happen, but there's some good ways to pivot from the bad vibes or avoid them altogether.

Brand positioning #fails

Brand positioning is delicate dance, a tight rope you balance on. Brands are likely to fall off every once in a while or not even make it on the tight rope initially.

Even big names such as Coca-Cola have had their fair share of branding fails. Back in the 80s Coke branched out into apparel. Yep, an upmarket fashion line called Fizzazz targeted towards high-end New Yorkers. This pivot was well out of line and obviously not adopted by their consumers. Only 6 of the aspirational 650 fashion stores were actually opened.

Colgate also came out with a range of nutritional, frozen meals in an attempt to broaden their reach. Eat your Colgate dinner then brush your teeth with their toothpaste? Weird right. There's a reason you haven't seen these meals on shelves.


So where does brand positioning go pear shaped?

No why statement

For starters you need to have a why statement. Why are you in business? Good brand positions are in business for genuine reasons. No money making schemes please. Bad joo joo like that trickles down into your entire business narrative - company culture, service or product output, customer treatment.

A clearly defined why statement should be revisited every time you consider a new addition or layer to your brand - whether that be a simple social post or your annual marketing strategy.

Take your time early on

Think about positioning as early as you possibly can and do it properly. No cutting corners here.

Cutting corners leads to a shift in your position. Huge sigh! Shifting positions is a drain on time and resources, plus you're admitting to customers you got it wrong. Sure you'll gain the right customers with your new pivot (if you do it right), but you also loose customer trust on the way. It gets a bit messy and confusing really.

A point of differentiation

Perhaps you don't have something unique about your business? Then you've probably failed in the early stages of launch. Always have a unique service proposition that ties back to your why statement.

Even if you uncover only one unique point of differentiation - own that little patch of grass and the grass will grow.

If you misstep, try pivoting your brand

So let's say things aren't working out. You're not getting the right customers. You definitely don't want to keep doing the same thing. You're not a money pit.

A brand pivot is your emergency hammer.

You know the ones you see in buses on the glass 'break in case of emergency'. It should be a deliverable and well-considered plan of attack when things aren't going to plan.

Brand pivots generally arise due to new findings, something you've uncovered or realised part way through your process. As your business develops you're likely to have insightful realisations on new value points or problems you solve. These often naturally arise through customer feedback, personal experience, product feature requests.

This is an indication that it's the right time to pivot your position and better meet customer demands or expectations. It adds something to your business that enhances your position but (in most cases) should tie back to your core purpose or 'why' statement. Consistency should shine through in why you're offering this product or service, and how this slight pivot adds to that core mission.

How 'SnowDevil' became 'Shopify'

A cool example of an insightful pivot is Shopify's origins. Founders initially started an online snowboard equipment store but were dissatisfied with eCommerce products on the market. They built their own platform to fuel their primary business plans. The products themselves failed to generate revenue however the experience revealed an opening in the eCommerce CMS market. Selling the eCommerce platform they built to other businesses has now positioned Shopify as an industry leader in the eCommerce software space. In this scenario they don't necessary have the same 'why' statement - they're not selling snowgear, but their goal of delivering a clean, easy and usable online experience for eCommerce products shines through.


What we've learnt

I guess a key takeaway here is that brand fails aren't always bad. It shouldn't be seen as a negative thing if you learn from the mistakes and adapt your position to better meet customer expectations or market opportunities. Sure it takes a bit of extra time and money, but at the end of the day you're here to please your customers and your brand position should constantly look to meet that goal.