“Just as Coke needs Pepsi, just as Audi needs BMW, we all need a bit of 'other' to define us. In order to know what we are, it helps wonderfully if you know what you are not.”

Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman, Ogilvy Group UK

Decoding Modern Marketing


Reis & Trout wrote a seminal book back in 1981 called “Positioning, the battle for your mind” The premise was that consumers had limited space in their consciousness for brands, so for each category there would be brands that owned the key slots. Brands would therefore have to position themselves vs. their competitors in order to get a spot in a consumer’s mind. Radio stations in the U.S. took this idea and ran with it. Stations were “Soft hits, without the hard rock” or “Rock without the sleepy stuff.” It seemed that companies were forever finding narrower and narrower slices of the pie to own.

The idea of positioning today is similar in that laying claim to a slice of the market helps the consumer understand what you do, and positioning that claim versus your competitors makes it easier for consumers to understand your claim. Zipcar sees it’s competition as owning a car: “To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers, when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car, you save money while reducing your carbon footprint.”

Your positioning doesn’t have to be a separate consumer facing statement, but should inform your general brand promise, for your internal team, by clarifying your key differentiation vs. your competitors.


Target: Style on a budget.

Volvo: For upscale American families, Volvo is the family automobile that offers maximum safety.

Home Depot: The hardware department store for do‑it‑yourselfers.

Your Brand Promise is a synthesis of all the information that your consumer wants to know, not only about your product, but about your character as a company. There are many permutations. Some are more positioning statements, some more of a value proposition, and some are simple taglines. There are no hard and fast rules, except that what you say and how you behave with consumers should reflect all the choices you’ve made.

A good brand promise, however, is still not enough. While the facts are important to all of us, in this intensely competitive world, they are not, in most cases, compelling enough on their own.