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Seeds of hope

Even under pressure to position and launch new brands successfully, marketers can bloom with the help of research

The seeds of a flowerDifferentiating your brand from the crowd has always been a challenge. It requires deep insight and understanding of your potential customers and the changing dynamics of the marketplace, now and in the future. Integrating internal and external viewpoints — those of your company, agencies and customers — helps to create a complementary positioning that best reflects both product benefits and market needs. Many companies may miss potential opportunities to differentiate their brands by failing to integrate these viewpoints.

The many faces of positioning
Positioning has many definitions, but in essence it is the core intellectual foundation upon which marketing strategy is built. It is the single, central idea that will become the foundation upon which customers will choose whether or not to use your brand. However, positioning is neither messaging nor branding — these are simply the external expressions of your brand's positioning.

When developing your brand's positioning, one complexity that needs to be considered is the global nature of the market. Each local market has its own pricing, competitive products and market access issues, along with a unique culture, which makes it difficult to develop a unified global positioning. It is important to coordinate between your company's headquarters and local affiliates to drive a consistent global point of view that can be adapted to fit the intricacies of each local market.

Developing a global positioning requires an iterative research approach that builds from an internal view to a customer perspective of the compound in a series of stages, culminating in the final execution of the marketing materials. This is a necessary journey during which internal views should be challenged by listening to the voice of the marketplace.

Getting everyone on board
The first important step in developing any positioning is getting everyone on board to agree to the objectives. It is also crucial to review the current and future landscape of the marketplace. Deconstruction and reconstruction of competitors' positionings are a necessary step to help understand drivers in each marketplace in which you are planning to launch your product. This preparation can then be used as a backdrop for brainstorming and hypothesising how the benefits and drawbacks of the new compound might best fit within the evolving global market landscape.

The initial internal development workshop should comprise as many of the different stakeholders of the brand as possible, including representatives both from internal departments (marketing, market research, R&D, clinical and regulatory) and from external agencies (advertising, PR and market research). In addition to stakeholders from your company's headquarters, your local affiliates should also be represented in this initial workshop to ensure that each region's unique culture and issues are addressed. This collaboration will help incorporate a wide variety of viewpoints. It will also gain buy-in to the processes and encourage involvement of all interested parties.

The purpose of this phase is to create a "Positioning Playbook", a "living, evolving" document that is built as the research progresses through the positioning framework and related testing activities. The playbook is designed to create clarity, yield priorities and drive collaboration. This disciplined approach helps reflect your understanding of the market from the "outside in" and your collective values and strategy from the "inside out."

The playbook also helps guide and inform follow-on stages of research and, in the end, shapes the process, as well as the thinking and collective output of the team's inspiration and creation of the optimal brand positioning. Going forward, the document will also serve as a reminder to address the interests of each local market.

The internal discipline and effort of the first stage afford critical, strategic thinking, consensus and a well-thought-out path forward. However, nothing replaces the deep insight uncovered by understanding the perspective of the target customer.

Toe in the water
The second step in the process represents the first foray into the marketplace to examine the global and local landscapes. This can be done by collecting external views on the market, your product and the competition.

The objectives of this stage are to explore and scrutinize the internal hypotheses outlined in the Positioning Playbook. This process helps to confirm and clarify the context of the competitive marketplace with respect to the functional and emotional needs and unmet needs in the therapeutic area and competitor positionings as perceived by target customers.

By taking a structured, hypothesis-driven approach to positioning development, we are able to understand clearly all of the elements that drive a positioning—from frame of references to differentiating benefits to the target audience. The discipline of tying your positioning to a conceptual framework cannot be overestimated—without it you are at the whim of whatever sentiment was most prevalent in the most recent meeting. For this reason, we use what we call a Positioning Wheel, but you can use whatever framework drives consistency in your process. The key is to use the structure to build various high-potential positioning opportunities at the global level, which can then be tested and refined locally.

The most appropriate approach at this stage is to conduct focus group discussions with consumers, as these discussions provide the best atmosphere for creative input. In addition, it is desirable to use an iterative approach, in which the findings of initial groups are fed into subsequent groups as ideas progress. This flexible approach helps refine thinking in the light of customer feedback, and the iterative approach can be either ongoing or undertaken as a series of stages if there is a need to reflect on the initial views.

At this stage we recommend a high level of company involvement, viewing the focus groups either directly (through two-way mirrors) or remotely (using web-streaming). Web-streaming is a good option, as it allows your global internal stakeholders to participate in and contribute to this early round of research. Either way, viewing the focus groups can allow "back-room brainstorming", in which all parties involved can assess and re-evaluate initial hypotheses as the research progresses, making the process more dynamic and engaging.

Re-grouping forces
After the initial foray into the marketplace, it is good practice to take a step back and review the findings, summarise work to date and update the Positioning Playbook. This paves the way for all the parties involved to develop high-potential positioning opportunities for testing.

This third stage again involves a high level of involvement from all of the key stakeholders and, as in the first stage, takes the form of a creative work session lasting at least a day.

During the work session the exploratory qualitative research results are reviewed and the extent to which they can be reconciled with internal thinking and evolving brand strategy is assessed. This in turn is used to review the positioning statement framework.

After this process has been undertaken, a summary of the key insights can be integrated into the Positioning Playbook. This forms the basis of key positioning themes that the agency will develop into positioning statements (generally five to six distinct positionings) for the next round of testing. These positioning statements should not only resonate within the headquarters; they should also be usable across all affiliate countries. A positioning statement is useable if it can be adapted across all markets without losing the consistent branding of the product.

Back to the future
The next stage in the process involves going back to the marketplace to assess the newly developed future positionings. This research requires rational, cognitive and emotional assessments, all of which are critical to building a meaningful connection with your target audience.

Again, the nature of this research requires an iterative approach to refine and re-test the five to six different positioning statements. Individual depth interviews (IDIs) with consumers are the best forum to capture this information. It is also advisable to employ some form of analytical framework for positioning evaluation, as this provides a more objective assessment of key parameters, such as credibility, relevance, uniqueness, differentiation, appeal and motivation to prescribe.

Finding the X Factor
The final phase in the research process is to determine which of the final positionings appeals most to the target audience. This ensures that when the final positioning is presented to upper management there are sufficiently robust data and rationale supporting the final choice.

Determining the appeal of the final positionings can readily be done through some short quantitative research. Sample sizes should be sufficiently large to help show clear differentiation. Again, an analytical framework and the key assessment parameters should be employed for an objective evaluation to provide more than just a winning statement.

Moving to creative branding
Great creative branding comes from great positioning: it does not work in reverse. The creative branding represents the visual metaphor of your positioning. Again, this involves working closely with your creative and research agencies to provide a creative, flexible and insightful research design to test and refine their work.

This final stage brings everything together. This allows you to test and identify the optimal creative concept that best supports and represents the brand positioning and drives creative strategy, incorporating the brand hallmarks, such as logos, taglines, colours, typeface, visuals, graphics and so on.

This approach utilises both emotional response modelling and projective techniques to assess concepts in terms of stopping power, motivation, credibility, uniqueness and degree of differentiation. At this stage it is important to involve the local affiliates. This allows their input into each country's cultural matters to be considered. The creative concepts for each market may differ considerably, as something that has stopping power in one market may be considered inappropriate or even offensive in another.

As in the previous stages, an iterative developmental approach is required so that the optimal branding evolves from a process of (re-)assessment and refinement. The research approach can be in the form of focus groups or IDIs, depending on the degree to which the materials have been developed. As ever, it is important to conduct the research across the local affiliates, to ensure the appropriateness of each concept. The best positioning can be undone by a culturally misunderstood creative concept.

Putting it into practice
The basic positioning framework is extremely flexible, and the principles can be incorporated readily into either domestic or global research. While flexible enough to be customised to your product, the process provides a rigorous and logical methodology that involves all interested parties. Involving stakeholders not only from headquarters but also the local affiliates can ensure the development of a consistent positioning that can be tailored to each market. The increased credibility aids endorsement of the findings by senior management.

This results in a win/win situation, in which management buy-in as well as optimal local concepts can be achieved.

The Authors
David Hanlon is head of research, UK and John Tapper, PhD is president, marketing insights at Kantar Health

To comment on this article, email

4th August 2010


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