• Transform magazine
  • July 18, 2018

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Brand positioning and its impact on corporate and societal change

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Building a brand – either in terms of awareness or business growth – requires, among other things, a fastidious approach to brand collaborations and a keen understanding of brand positioning. At Cannes Lions, some of the biggest brands in the world gathered in the south of France to discuss the challenges and successes they’ve faced in building their brands.

Rebecca Minkoff, fashion designer, co-founder and CEO of her eponymous brand spoke about the brand’s adaptability in terms of its brand positioning. She said being open to engaging with her audiences in a different manner from what was typical in the luxury goods sector allowed for the Rebecca Minkoff brand to develop its own identity. “We were able to bypass the old guard that had blocked designers from talking to their customers,” Minkoff said. “You need to talk to people about what they feel is important, not what the brand feels is important.”

Through that approach to dialogue, listening and social engagement, the brand has become successful on a global basis. “We have to continue to disrupt this industry before someone else gets here and disrupts it for us,” she added. The way that positioning developed was not through a conscious effort, but through understanding it’s clientele, being open-minded and pushing for change in a traditional industry.

Similarly in the film industry, a more open-minded approach to brand collaboration has contributed to the most successful Finnish film of all time – a new issuing of The Unknown Soldier, a classic Finnish story. But, in order to film, finance and promote the movie, director Aku Louhimies worked with Eka Ruola from communications consultancy hasan & partners to engage brands in a new way. Instead of the traditional approach of product placement and promotion, the team focused on making brands part of the production. This included giving brands unique content for their own marketing purposes, asking brands like Veikkaus, the Finnish national lottery, to help with casting calls for extras and benefitting from Land Rover’s contribution of production vehicles.

The result was a film marketed not by the producer, on a tight budget, but by the brands themselves, leading to a successful launch and incredible reach. It helped that the film tapped into a collective national identity, though, said Veikkaus CEO Olli Sarekoski. “It’s difficult to find content that is talking to everybody, so I am 100% sure that this gave us brand value and engagement.”

Ruola added that others hoping to work with brands in a similar way should avoid “just putting the brand next to the piece of art. Turn it into something truly authentic for the brand.”

A company that has done that successfully for over three decades is Visa. One of the premier sponsors of the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and the Paralympics, Visa has worked to change the way event sponsorship functions. In the past, sponsors simply slapped their logo next to their partners, said Adrian Farina, senior VP of marketing for Europe at Visa. But, through a more contextual approach Visa has found a unique tone of voice and content area for it to inhabit through its partnerships. That has benefitted the brand’s growth as it is able to promote its products, but it also has helped reposition Visa as an experiential brand that is, almost literally, everywhere.

In a similar move, outdoor retailer Patagonia has repositioned its brand over the years as one that is inextricably linked with a single idea: environmental responsibility.

When the company was founded, Alex Weller, European marketing director at Patagonia, said it didn’t immediately have a purpose beyond making good quality kit. Soon, the founders discovered their passion for better manufacturing, better environmental policy and better caretaking of the natural world. It has since used its environmental contributions, collaborations and ideology as a means of communicating about the brand and its positioning.

It too has promoted change in the outdoor industry and in manufacturing more generally. “I think this should be the way business is done,” Weller said. “I think [environmentalism] should go from being the side dish to the main meal.” But, he says, despite the change that has taken place in companies around the world to be better citizens of the world, a big barrier remains: will.

Yet, for Patagonia and beauty brand Covergirl, changing their approach and working toward a specific cause has helped fuel business growth too. Patagonia far outstrips competitors’ yearly growth of 2-4% by recording around 15% annual growth. Covergirl too, is prompting a change in the conversation around beauty, femininity and masculinity.

“Covergirl is an icon and any statement we make on beauty is a statement on culture and what beauty looks like,” said Ukonwa Ojo, senior vice president at Covergirl. Because of that responsibility, it has shifted the narrative around cosmetics to embrace more diversity and to provide more context for the use of cosmetics and what they mean to their users’ lives.

That required a shift in the conversation and tone around the marketing of Covergirl and its products, allowing the brand to reposition itself as one that embraces all expressions of beauty. “Makeup gives women superpowers. By making it seem like its frivolous, it’s like telling women they can’t enjoy that power,” Ojo said.

For the brands presenting at Cannes, repositioning and collaboration have been key to embracing brand growth, increased awareness and prompting sectoral change more broadly. They prove that those brands that take the risk to make change can truly make a difference to their audience, their community or the world.