Back in the 1970s, my dad Al Ries, along with Jack Trout, created a concept called “Positioning.”
Don Schultz, the founder of Integrated Marketing Communications and a long-time AMA member recently called positioning “…perhaps the most important marketing concept of the 20th century.”
The positioning concept, he added, “…is probably no longer relevant.”
I agree with him.
What I don’t agree with, however, is the replacement Don Schultz is suggesting. “Marketers don’t control enough of the brand communication to develop a market position. Today, customers do that through social networks, blogs and Twittering.”
There’s no question social media is important. But can any medium, be it television, radio, print or the social medium, replace the need for a coherent marketing strategy?
Every marketing program needs both: A good strategy and good tactics.
Social media has revolutionized the tactics of marketing, but there’s also a revolution developing on the strategy side of marketing.
The Visual Hammer.
Consider a cheap, working-class beer with a painted label imported from Mexico. What made Corona Extra the largest-selling imported beer in the U.S. (outselling Heineken by 50 percent) and, according to Interbrand, the 85th most valuable brand in the world? A lime.
Consider a nonprofit organization with a long, complicated name and a relatively recent start (1982). What made Susan G. Komen for the Cure, according to a recent Harris poll, the charity consumers were “Most likely to donate to?” (Ahead of such organizations as the American Cancer Society, St. Jude’s Research Hospital, Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army.) A pink ribbon.
The lime, the pink ribbon and the duck are what I call Visual Hammers. Their function is to hammer verbal nails into consumers’ minds. It’s the combination, a visual hammer and a verbal nail, that accounts for the success of these and other brands.
(Don’t confuse a trademark with a visual hammer. Many brands have trademarks; few brands have hammermarks.)
Consider the Coca-Cola bottle, one of the world’s most-effective visual hammers, an iconic image that communicates the authenticity of the brand. The real thing, if you will. Coke’s competitor, Pepsi-Cola, keeps changing its trademark in a futile effort to keep up with Coke. What does Pepsi’s latest smiley-face trademark say? Pepsi’s latest trademark says “Pepsi.” It’s a rebus, a picture that suggests a name. Most trademarks are nothing but rebuses. They don’t add anything to the name itself.
A visual hammer is different. It says something about your brand. The cowboy is a visual hammer that says that Marlboro is a “masculine” cigarette. (The cowboy made Marlboro the world’s best-selling cigarette brand.)
A company makes a major mistake when it develops a verbal strategy without considering what visual hammer might help hammer that idea into consumers’ minds.
Most advertising slogans are abstractions impossible to visualize. To turn them into “nails,” they need to be brought down to earth.
Years ago, BMW could have used “performance,” a typical automotive theme, to position its brand. Instead, it called its brand, “The ultimate driving machine.” “Performance” can’t be visualized, but “driving” can. So BMW ran television commercials with happy owners driving their BMWs over winding roads. A great hammer and a great marketing success. Today, BMW is the world’s best-selling luxury vehicle brand, outselling Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus.
Look at the problems Brand Atlanta has had in trying to create a memorable slogan for the city. Created by Mayor Shirley Franklin in 2005, Brand Atlanta has the task of trying to make the city more of a visitor and business destination. (Trying to do both was its first mistake.)
“Every day is an opening day” was the first slogan that quickly ran out of steam. My complaint, where’s the visual that could reinforce an opening day idea?
“City lights, Southern nights” fared no better. (It was another slogan that couldn’t be visualized.) At the launch of this backup campaign, the executive director of Brand Atlanta said, “I went to New York last weekend and it wasn’t because of I love New York.” Maybe she should have paid attention to the best-known city slogan in the world.
It’s the “heart” hammer that makes all the difference. Ironically, Atlanta also has two well-known verbal ideas that do suggest visual hammers. Atlanta is a fast-growing community because it’s the transportation hub of the Southeast and home of the world’s largest airport. Locals often call their city “Hotlanta,” a verbal idea that suggests many possible visual hammers.
The second idea has to do the environment. Compare Dallas, the city’s only serious competitor in the South, with Atlanta. Compared to Atlanta, Dallas looks like a desert and Atlanta is loaded with trees. “City in a forest” is what people often say about Atlanta.
If there is one case history that demonstrates the power of a visual hammer, it can be found just 145 miles east of the city.
The first three are hosted by major golf organizations, but the Masters is hosted by a private club, the Augusta National Golf Club. Guess which tournament draws the most attention? The Masters, of course. If you want to make your brand famous, give your brand a green jacket.
Along with her partner and father Al Ries, the legendary Positioning pioneer, Ries & Ries consults with many Fortune 500 companies on brand strategy. Laura and Al have written five books including: The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR.