Marketing’s Triple Crown: Positioning, branding, messaging

In early May, horse racing season officially kicks off with the Kentucky Derby, the first race of the Triple Crown.

In our business; however, the Triple Crown has another meaning–Positioning, Branding and Messaging.  Many marketers see little difference among the three.  Grab a mint julep and let’s review why each is unique and necessary.

Positioning identifies the benefit of your product or service and how it is unique in the market.  This is important because most industries are crowded with competitors.  In racing language, positioning is similar to handicapping a horse.  You can tell a lot about a horse by looking at his racing history.  The horse may be quick out of the gate, and therefore better at winning shorter races.  Perhaps the horse doesn’t like to run on a wet track.  Similarly, an understanding of what makes a company different from its competitors enables marketers to develop programs designed to create a certain impression in customers’ minds.

Branding includes two aspects: the identity and the promise.  The identity consists of a combination of the name, symbol, tag line and design that helps to differentiate the company or product.  Equally important is the promise made to your customers in every interaction with your brand.  For example, your product may look cool, come in the latest colors and with keepsake packaging, but if the user experience is poor, the brand will suffer.  As consultant and author Kristin Zhivago puts it: “Branding is the promise you make; your brand comes from the promises you keep.”  So branding is like the jockey–everyone likes to look at the jockey’s colorful silks, but it’s how the jockey maneuvers the horse that delivers the win.

Finally, messaging is how you tell the story of your company’s position and brand.  It conveys the unique benefits identified in positioning and the promise made through the brand.  Messaging must be compelling to make the company stand out among competitors and defensible in order to be believable.  Messaging is akin to the horse’s gait, where training and natural ability come together to make fans out of spectators.

Messaging often is lumped in with positioning and branding, but ignoring this step can keep you out of the winner’s circle.  Carefully crafted messaging defines your company, helps marketers to control the image and encourages others to repeat it.

An article written about the success of a company illustrates the need for messaging.  In describing the company, the CEO was quoted as saying, “We know how to rock it.”  It wasn’t until well into the article that the reader learned the company is a marketing agency, not a band or a guitar manufacturer.  In other words, the company didn’t eat its own hay.

The winning trifecta in today’s race to marketing success: positioning, branding and messaging.

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