Why Today’s Companies Must Position — and Brand — for Change

August 21, 2017

By Hugh Kennedy, EVP, Planning & Partner, PJA Advertising + Marketing

A recent story on Adobe's CMO site strongly resonated with me. The gist was that brands have to give up ever-greater measures of control in order to engage today's frustrated, customization-obsessed customers. The call was for CMOs to stop navel-gazing when it came to their brands, and I couldn't agree more.

In the same way that many large companies have outgrown their web content management platforms and still use outdated analytics set-ups, I continue to see brands stuck in identity-centric views and expressions of their brand that date from ten or 15 years ago.

To truly connect and build loyalty, brands must inspire their audiences. And the best form of that is inspiring change. Of course, the kind of change brands should inspire is something which helps them achieve their marketing and business objectives as well. But it cannot be a transparent play to these ends. This is where a modern brand needs to look beyond itself and determine where it can really make a difference.

So what do today's brands need to do?

  1. Position for best value. That means defining positioning that is grounded in the highest-value opportunities that exist within your market realities, and identifying the market gaps your brand can address better than anyone else.

    For a client in the cotton industry, our agency connected the company's uncompromising approach to (and DNA testing for) cotton purity with market confusion at the store level about what thread count and different cotton weaves really mean. We were also able to position the client as the best suited to balance the luxurious quality customers want for their families with the environmental stewardship they are concerned about in our fast-fashion age.
  2. Brand for best change. Companies that succeed today are able to create an enhanced positioning platform that aligns brand behavior with the most impactful change. In short, a successful brand needs to build a role — a relevant, higher-level mission for the brand rooted in uniqueness.

    For a client that works in the highly competitive pharmaceutical services space, where cutting-edge innovation fetches a high premium in theory but is often underwhelming in practice, we defined a role of Pragmatic Visionary. This role helped us to lay out a marketing program built on helping all prospective customers in the space define what the model for faster, more predictable outcomes might look like, and how their current approach benchmarked itself against that model. To us, this was much more useful than another set of messages about whose innovation was more advanced. In many cases, the customer wasn't looking for bleeding-edge innovation at all.
  3. Align for best impact. To really bring about change, we believe you should find the market "crazies" with outsized passion for your brand or category. These need not be customers, however. Crazies are people who advocate for a vision of the market that is consistent with what you do.

    For a long-time client, we helped to position the company as a credible candidate for infrastructure software based on its ability to host thought leadership conversations with some of the world's leading technology executives. Even though it was not a marketing program per se, our client bumped into a lead executive at a Fortune 10 company and was told, "That program is the best marketing you guys have ever done." Why? Because it was changing opinions among change-makers.

So ask yourself: what change can your brand drive that helps achieve your marketing and business objectives? Can you look at your brand through a lens that is all about change?

A recent position piece from HBR puts it beautifully: "If marketing is not driving the change agenda then either the agenda is wrong or marketing is not being effective."

Driving a change agenda really is the only way to stand out today, and that change starts with a position that is about making things happen.


"Why Today's Companies Must Position — and Brand — for Change." Hugh Kennedy, EVP, Planning & Partner at PJA Advertising + Marketing, October 2016.

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