*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.
Arek Dvornechuck: What's up branding experts? Arek here at Ebaqdesign and welcome to On Branding Podcast. And my guest today is Kimberly A. Whitler. Kimberly is the Associate Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. And she also worked for Procter & Gable among other companies as general manager and chief marketing officer. Kimberly is an expert when it comes to strategic positioning. She has published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and number of academic journals on the subject of brand value and positioning. And she also published this new book —“Positioning for Advantage“. and this is the book talk about on today's podcast. Hello, Kimberly, thanks for taking the time to join us today on our podcast.
Kimberly A. Whitler: Oh, thank you so much. I'm the glad to be here.
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you. So basically in your book, you present us with a lot of tools that marketers can use to position a brand, right? And your book is quite different in the sense that it's very practical. So the problem is that many books and courses out there, they tend to talk about the theory of law. They are theory based at you took a different approach. So you actually provide us with some specific tools and examples in your book so that we can put it into practice. Right? So we are gonna talk about those examples and those to in a second. But first I just wanted to start with a simple question. So if you could explain to our audience, how do you, what is strategic positioning? And maybe you can give us some examples.
1. What is strategic positioning?
Kimberly A. Whitler: Yeah. You know, it sounds like an easy concept, right? We talk about it a lot. If you're in business, you think about it. How do you define it? It really is the space in the marketplace that you want your brand to occupy in the minds and hearts of consumers. And so I spend a minute in the military. I'm gonna give you a couple of different ways of thinking about this to try to make it more vivid. Did you, are you familiar with the game battleship? Did you ever play this game as a kid?
Arek Dvornechuck: I'm not sure. Not really. I'm from Poland originally. I'm not sure if we have the same game, but yeah, let's continue talking about, and them, and then I'm gonna try to call.
Kimberly A. Whitler: So it's actually a lot of the games that we play as kids. It's about what position do we wanna occupy on the board? Battleship was a game where you played against an opponent. It was kind of an L-shaped view. And you have a territory where you have to position your battleships and you're play against an opponent. And the goal is, is that they try to fire and hit your battleship. But what your objective is, is to position it on the map in a way that your competitor can't hit. And so battleship, that's a way of thinking about positioning. How do I wanna position my fleet of ships so that I end up surviving the war now in business, what we think about is how do I wanna position. Cress or Google or Facebook or salesforce.com? How do I wanna position the companies and the brands that they sell so that they end up earning market share leadership and so strategic positioning. And when I say position position is relative to your competitors and it's occupied in the heart of minds of consumers. So consumers tell you what your positioning is. Kmart may Kmart, which went bankrupt in the us. They may have thought that they occupied a certain position, but that position was not relevant for consumers in the marketplace. And that's partly why they ended up, you know, ultimately going bankrupt because they didn't occupy a unique, relevant, superior position, different from competitors that was meaningful. They therefore over, even though they've been around for decades, they ended up going bankrupt. So what this book is about is really trying to think about how do you identify the superior position in the market that you want to own? And then what are the tools that help you kind of build that brand to earn a strong position.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right? That's a great example. I can actually relate to that. So you gave us this example of Kmart, right? And another brand would be for example, Amazon or Walmart, that they also, you know, the retailers and they sell lots of different stuff, but they attain some kind of a position right. In consumers' minds and Kmart wasn't able to do that. So that's a great example also in your book to,
Kimberly A. Whitler: Arek, I was gonna say, just to build on what you're suggesting, that is a great example. If you go back in the nineties, in the us, we had brands like Venture and Zara and Target and Kmart and Walmart, and they all were trying to occupy the mass discount space. They all were trying to stand for discount, you know, discount, basically a price based position. What happened was one was going to win that position. And Walmart ended up being the brand that won zero went away, venture went away, target, repositioned themselves. They had to be, cause they could not beat Walmart on low price. What they started shifting toward is kind of discounted department store type quality items. So they went the designer discount route. That's a shift in positioning away from Walmart. And Walmart probably sat there in the early two thousands thinking we have won. And what happened is Amazon came in and what's their position. It's not necessarily low price is the biggest assortment available on everything you need in its convenience. Right? Right. And so now both Amazon and Walmart, because they kind of serve slightly different, you know, needs. Um, but they both exist, but you can see how Amazon position themselves a little bit differently from Walmart, even though they are competing and they overlap, they're obviously competing head to head, but they do occupy different territories. If you think about most convenient solution, who would that be shopping from your home, ordering it and having it delivered in the hour. That would be Amazon. Yeah. And so, but you see how, and now what is Walmart trying to do? Walmart realizes that that is an important area and need for consumers and they don't own it. Amazon owns it. And so Walmart Walmart's been trying to over the last several years, figure out how to compete effectively with Amazon. So we're watching the positioning more occurring in real time.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right? That's a great example. You know, this is your big brands and people, some other examples you give us in your book is for example, tide, you know, why does Tide have superior brand image as compared to Wisk? Or why does Nike brand dominated, you know, many categories in which it competes with also other brands, you know, Adidas, Puma, and so on. And you gave us this example with Amazon and Walmart, of course, and we have targeting Kmart in that space as well. So basically strategic positioning, just like a summary for our listeners is using some strategic tools, which, you know, present us with those tools in your book in order to create certain positions, certain brand image. Right. And so was that is to occupy a place in the hearts and minds of the target audience, right? So when they think about Amazon, they think about convenience being customer centric, you know, and things like that. When you think about Walmart is all about lowest prices. So they occupy a certain position in your mind. So these are deliberate choices that brands make businesses make, they use these tools to create that. Okay. So in the first part of your book, you actually present us with marketing strategy tools, right? So these tools basically help us to find a position that is unique and relevant to our target. So, and here you introduce us to three tools, which is the first one is positioning concept brand S and statement and the strategy map types. So I just wanted to, if you could talk to us a bit about each of those and perhaps give us some examples, like Papa John's example, as you give us in the book.
2. Marketing Strategy Tools
Kimberly A. Whitler: Let me, if I can, let me kind of expand a little bit on what you set up. The reason that I actually wrote this book, it was to create content for executive audiences and my MBA students at Darden, and what I realized, and let me share a story with you to kind of make this very vivid. What I realized is that students that, that there really is not education formal education around how to identify superior positions in the marketplace. And let me give you an example. I was teaching at elective. This is my second year at Darden. And I had all the students, they had to, to work on kind of a new product idea. And I had multiple students who were in the entrepreneurship area who had iterate over a hundred times new products. So one came to me with this very cool watch. He said, I've, I've worked on this for years. Look at what the watch can do. And I said, excellent, who's the target? And is there a market for that product? The very basic, like, what's the size of the market out there? What's the need. Right? And he looked at me and I said, well, if you don't know, a target is how are you gonna distribute the, like all the basics that a big formal company, you know, like a P&G or a Coke or a Pepsi or a Unilever, or a general mills or a J&J all of the practices that these companies employ to identify what the right space in the marketplace is. And the idea before they launch, they go work on the product, right? There's a choice that J&J makes about where to allocate resources. They're working on one type of medicine, but not another. They do this upfront work to say, where do we wanna play and why? And then they figure out the position in the marketplace. Then they go build the, and so I realized that we didn't have the, and it's not just Darden. It's globally. We don't have the curriculum to really help students understand what the better companies know, which is the science behind identifying a superior position. A P&G is built $22 billion brands, not 1 22. They have a process us in a system for trying to identify what are the right positions in the marketplace? How do we go build the product? How do we promote, how do we build the brand so that we can own that position in the marketplace? So that, so the story where I started observing my students, saying, guys, should we need to help them identify before they invest years in designing a product? And so what this book is really about is I call it bridging the theory, doing gap. And so I love that you said at the very beginning that this is very practical. Okay. So my goal is when I use this book in my executive education, is that I help build skill and proficiency. I'm not just building theory about how things work. I'm giving them tools so that they can practice doing it so that they know how to apply this to their own jobs, their own situation. So there's three tools in a marketing attitude section. I talk about what is the positioning concept tool? And this is really how do I identify the general position in the marketplace. So if Walmart owns low price, where does target move to they can't own low price. So they've got to identify a different position in the marketplace. How do you do that? One is, and once I've identified that position, how do I build out my brand? What are the pieces and parts of a brand? And then the third one is how do I use strategy maps to either help identify the position or to communicate it? So strategy maps are especially important when you get to the C level. Before I pivoted into, uh, being a professor, I was a CMO and I, I reported to a number of different boards. And a lot of what you have to do at the top of a function or organization is to take very complex ideas and turn them into maps, strategy maps that help sell through your ideas. So strategy maps help you make decisions, but they can also help facilitate your ability to align the organization. And so the third tool that I talk about is what are the types of strategy maps that exist and ways in which you can practice creating your own strategy maps? So those are the three tools that kind of are in the up front part of the book,
Arek Dvornechuck: Right? That's a great overview. And of course you dive deeper into each of those, right? So positioning concept, as you mentioned, that's the first tool in this section, but then you break it actually down into things like first we start with problem statement, right, where we define the customer's problem in their own words. And then we come up with solution statement where we define the solution to that problem. Right. And then we come up with supporting statements. So what is the proof that they should believe us? Right. So, and you give us a specific examples, right? So obviously if you wanna learn more, you can find out about that in the book. So in the second step, in the brand essence, you also dive in, in different aspects, right? Like brand values, brand personality, regions to believe rational and emotional benefits, right? So maybe we can give our listeners a couple of examples so they can understand. So for example, you use Papa Jones, you know, brand values of Papa Jones would be traditional family values and stuff like that. Like natural ingredients and stuff like that, right? The brand personality would be therefore friendly, warm health oriented. So the reason to believe would be that ingredients are fresh and hand cut and the benefits were rational and emotional benefits. So they created this phrase better pizza that they're known for. Right. So that's more of a rational. And then emotional benefit is you feel like a great pattern, you know, if you said that pizza with fresh ingredients and so on. So I'm not sure if you guys have a, like a much better understanding of these concepts and this example of Papas, if you check out the book, actually just wanted to give you a few examples. And then the total, as you mentioned, is strategy maps. And this helps us to communicate our marketing strategy. And especially when it comes to leadership, right, as you said, it gives like on a visual overview of the brand of the target of the competition. So we can sell that idea to the board and things like that. You give us actually a lot of different tools here, for example, this is very interesting. I just wanted to show to our listeners, for example, you break it down here, hard brands, and this is one of the examples of the strategy maps, right? So now in the second part of your book, you explain how to go actually from strategy to implementation, right? So as you say, the strategy is only successful. If you can implement it effectively, right. I love that you are all about being practical, pragmatic. So here we have two tools, the strategy marketing plan and the creative brief. So can we spend a couple of minutes talking about both and maybe you can give us some examples.
3. Bridging Tools
Kimberly A. Whitler: Yeah. So just to maybe put this in context for your listeners at the very beginning of the book, I create a framework where I talk about what is it that marketers contribute uniquely to firm performance? How do we help the firm? And in this kind of organizing framework, I talk about our goal is to help create advantage for the firm. And we do this through these strategy tools, and then we have bridging tools that help connect strategy to implementation. And so there's three sections are strategy tools, bridging tools, and then planning tools, all of which in aggregate help us as marketers create positional advantage for the firm. All three are critical. Now the importance of bridging tools is that they help move us from strategy to planning the implementation. They help move us from one side to the other side. And that a lot of times where we go wrong is we might have a great, a terrific brand essence statement, but in the Mar marketplace, we don't own that. And that's because somehow we have failed from the strategic side to the implementation side to earn the right to own that positioning. And so the bridging tools are really, there's two sets of them. One is how do you create a strategic marketing plan? And by the way, I use this with a lot of non-market. And one of the things, one of the most valuable things I learned early in my career is how to create smart strategic plans. And it really is about being choiceful. And one of the things I've seen over and over and over and over again in my career and with the work I do with different companies is that we don't like to make choices because making choices requires us to have a degree of confidence that the choices that we're making are the right ones yet the consequence of not making a choice is to impair the organization's ability to execute. Let me say that again, that when we fail to make choices, what we then ask everybody below us to do is everything right. We ask we, we encumber them with having to do more, what that the consequence of that can be imperfect implementation less than optimal execution. And so the first part of this, of these bridging tools is really how do we think about making choices? And then the second part is the creative brief. And I tackle this. I actually did some work with a very large financial services company. We were educating their marketing organization and we did some extensive work on how to really write better creative briefs. That a lot of times on the strategy side, we don't fully understand the pain that we're passing on to creatives if we're not developing a very clear and choiceful creative brief. And so the second tool is really designed to help us think deeper about the importance of the creative brief and to really invest more time in making sure that what we're handing off to creatives gives them the best chance to execute against our strategic vision.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. So I just wanted you guys to show you something in the book. So here you actually give us a lot of examples, right here is a, like for examples, do you have specific how to write a creative brief with examples and stuff like that? Right. So as you mentioned, creative brief is one of those bridging toes, and it's very important to get it right. Otherwise we can have a problem with execution. So we are doing this service. If we don't have a strong creative brief, it's a, this service to the creatives. So it is very, are important to get it done, you know, right at first. So creative brief is how to activate our previous plan, right? How to convert our strategy into action. It includes all the key information about the project. And it also serves us as an agreement between the marketer and creatives, right, who execute on that strategy.
Arek Dvornechuck: And of course there and components to the creative brief. And, you know, there is a lot of examples as I show you guys on pages like 1 44, you give a specific creative, brief examples from real life. So you can guys check that out. And in the third part of your book, you actually present us with marketing plans, right? as you said, first is developing the strategy. Second is those bridging tools. And the third part is about planning tools. So here we have the marketing technology blueprint. We have the influencer mapping tool and we have, uh, brand measurement methods and so on. So can you talk to us a bit about this third part and some of its tools like marketing technology blueprint, and I think very interesting. One is the influencer mapping tool.
4. Marketing Plan Tools
Kimberly A. Whitler: Yeah. You know, the reality is, is that there are so many diverse areas in which marketers work. That there's no way that I could tackle everything. The strategy side, interestingly is more kind of uniform at the top companies, more consistent. You know what I teach on the strategy side. I've had students who've gone to Pepsi, who've gone to Coke. Who've gone to Unilever. Who've gone to different places who say, oh gosh, this all seems familiar. When I go to these companies as familiar on the planning side, you know, it, one marketer might be working solely on social media. Another might be working on media plans. Another might be working on digital. Another might be working on traditional media. And so what I wanted to do was to focus a little bit more on some contemporary issues that marketers are dealing with. That's why I focused on the MarTech blueprints because MarTech is, you know, obviously a hotter area. And then also I wanted to tackle this key opinion leader. That's the Chinese version of influencer marketing, um, in part, because I've done some work over, I spent some time over in China interviewing a lot of leaders over there. I wrote an HBR article on what the west can learn from Eastern marketers. And I've been fascinated by influencer marketing and frankly how the east is, is ahead of us in terms of understanding, utilizing, leveraging, I think influencers. And then the last tool in this is about brand measurement methods, because one of the things that marketers are unfortunately criticized for is not measuring marketing. And I don't believe that I think they are measuring it, but we're having a hard time connecting it to financial metrics in the firm. And so what I tried to do here was give marketers a framework for thinking about different ways in which you could measure marketing and try to, uh, demonstrate value in the company. So there's three different things. One looks at MarTech blueprint, one looks at KOLs and influencer marketing. And it's a map on how you think about connecting your KOL influencer Strat, or your plan to your strategic plan and how you might execute that then the brand measurement methods.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. That's a great overview. I just wanted to give an example to our listeners. I think it's a great example. You know, most of us can relate to it. So when it comes to influencer mapping tool, you give us this example with Amy's, which is an airline, right, uh, that they gave case Naad, which is a popular YouTuber. They gave him an early membership in the premier premier class. He created videos and they, you know, and it worked like a magic, you know, so the video was viewed 63 million times. And the company received a lot of praise from, you know, Maxim and GQ and a lot of press, right? So you give us those specific tools, you know, to find out how to go about planning, right. How to select right influencer to work with your brand to make it happen. So again, the summary, we have three tools here, the marketing technology blueprints, which helps us understand how market and technology intersect. For example, we can use marketing to identify new technologies, right. And then suggest their implementation. Right? The influencer mapping tool is provide us specific guidelines on how to go about working with influencers, obviously. And then we have brand measurement methods. So here you describe on how to measure actually the outcome of our strategic positioning of our actions, right? So you can get the most out of it and very well known. So there are different ways in which we can measure brand value, right. And brand equity and things like that. But the most popular is probably Interbrand hundred best global brands index that is part use every year. So yeah, that will be it. I really appreciate your time. So as we are approaching the end of our interview, of course, I'm going to link to your book in the description box below. So you guys can check it out. There's a lot of tools and examples for you. Uh, so if you want to learn more and not just, just about the theory, but also how to put this into action, that I would really recommend you check out this book, but Kimber, for people who want to learn more from you or work with you, what's the best way to get in touch with you. Maybe your website, social media.
Kimberly A. Whitler: Yeah. I'm on Twitter. I also, you know, all educators, you can find us fairly easily. If you just Google my name and look it up under Darden. It has my, my public contact. My email address is WhitlerK@darden.virginia.edu. And that's an easy way to, uh, reach out to me. You know, the one thing I would say that this book ends in a very different way than any other book. The very last chapter is about how you practice using the tools. And so one of the things that I love about P and G when I started is that we would have these brown bag lunches, where we would reverse engineer, competitive strategy. We we'd go through ads and we'd identify what the brand strategy was. And we'd assess is a stronger week. And we did things like that that would build our muscle, hone our ability to under understand strategic positioning. And so, you know, from that early time, when I became a CMO, I started doing things like that with my organization, it from a training perspective. And so in the very last chapter of the book, I provide very grateful to P&G, Coke, Buick, GM. Uh, they provided me with some ads that allow the reader to go in and to practice using these tools to understand competitive positioning so that when they get to the job, when they're actually applying them at work, they have a little bit more skill and knowledge. That's the whole goal with my book is to help people understand what some of the formal tools are that are used in some of the top companies that can enable them to do a better job of identifying superior positions in the marketplace.
Arek Dvornechuck: That's a great point. Yeah. I noticed that in your book, that's a great point that you mentioned that. So, you actually strongly advise us to look at some of the advertisements and reverse engineer. Right. And you do that in your book. You actually show us specific examples, how to look at the ad and how to break it down and dissect all this work behind the scenes or that they've done in order for this ad to work and work in alignment to their strategic positioning. Right. So that's great. Yeah. Thanks again. Thank you for your time and thanks for doing this interview today.
Kimberly A. Whitler: Yeah. Thank you for having Me.
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you. Bye.
Arek Dvornechuck is a strategist and designer who helps brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch
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