I was recently reminded of a powerful tool for positioning: the “unlike” statement. A TV spot for Pradaxa, an anticoagulant drug, deliberately highlights that it reduces stroke risk and unlike Warfarin, “there’s no need for those regular blood tests.” This a niche example of direct competitive differentiation but others, like Southwest Airlines’ crusade against bag fees, have been much more visible example of the unlike positioning.

As marketers we are the beneficiaries of the fundamental tools of marketing pioneered years ago by the titans of modern marketing from professors like Kotler to organizations such as P&G and The Coca-Cola Company. The classic positioning statement handed to us from these pioneers includes very specific identification of the target, competitive frame, benefits and evidence.  It is this deliberately concise yet deliberate statement that guides and coordinates internal decisions and external execution from brand strategy to pricing to advertising, packaging and service delivery. The gold standard of positioning is to articulate the value of the brand or offering in a way that is feasible for the business to deliver, valuable for the target and, at the same time, clearly differentiated in the market. It is on this last point that our classic statement sometimes fails.

A good positioning statement includes a clear distinction of both points of parity and points of difference among the benefits. But in today’s  hypercompetitive and cluttered markets, this distinction is sometimes not enough to clearly define differentiation enough for it to effectively guide decisions. In a world where we have increasingly less time to choose from among 8 whitening toothpastes, 10 anti-dandruff shampoos and 125 drink choices from a single machine, how can people truly understand nuanced or, worse, undifferentiated benefits without comparisons?

Moreover, how will our organizations be able to provide these comparisons unless we’ve clearly identified how our brand or business is different? In Organizing Genus, Warren Bennis highlights that “virtually every great group defines itself in terms of an enemy.”  He goes on to describe how at Apple, “IBM functioned as the Great Satan… big inelegant symbols of a reactionary corporate culture that Apple despised” and that Steve Jobs led “pirates” and “resistance fighters” against the “Orwellian zombies” at IBM. Even Roberto Goizueta, the legendary CEO of The Coca-Cola Company,  said that “organizations who don’t have an enemy need to create one.”

This is the power of the unlike statement. It can clearly define how a brand or product or business is different for your target who lives in a cluttered, fast-paced world. And it can more clearly define and “enemy” for internal stakeholders who need to make decisions everyday about what is and what is not consistent with the positioning. So, unlike the classic positioning statement, let’s make sure to define our enemy in our positioning from now (see what I did there?).

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