Mastering the Art and Science of Repositioning

Mastering the Art and Science of Repositioning

At Atomicdust, we work with a lot of companies who are going through a repositioning project. They might be introducing a new product, reaching out to a new customer base or reacting to or anticipating a shift in the market. At any rate, they’re in transition – and they turn to us for help.

One of the first questions we often get is, “How will we test it? How will we know it’s right before we move forward?”

It’s understandable. In this world where, for better or worse, everything we do is tracked – what sites we visit, what we buy, what we eat, where we go – it’s natural to want to take a careful, measured approach. But is it always right?

It sounds like a cop out, but we believe the answer can’t always be found in raw data. And yes, we have the data to back that up.

Sure, we depend on research for a lot of the things we do – but positioning your company is a mix of art and science. Data and experience.

Noted author John Saunders said this is also true of another high-profile industry. In the Western Journal of Medicine, he wrote, “I want to suggest that the art and science of medicine are inseparable, part of a common culture. Knowing is an art; science requires personal participation in knowledge.”

Later, he wrote, “Evidence-based decision models may be powerful, but they are like computer-generated symphonies in the style of Mozart—correct but lifeless.”

It sounds crazy. Medicine isn’t pure science?. This discipline we trust, literally to save our lives, relies on something other than raw facts? Well, anyone with a good relationship with a doctor knows it’s true.

So why should we expect marketing to be different?

Marketing, branding and positioning are all about affecting behavior. Making people believe something. Changing the way people feel.

That’s right. The world isn’t just data. It’s not just about gathering knowledge. It’s what’s you do with it that matters, and that’s what makes a positioning project successful. Not raw data.

So data can lead you wrong? Absolutely.

Remember “New Coke”? It’s beyond cliché in marketing, but the example is no less fitting here. You know the story: Everything was pointing to the fact that Coke was failing in the mid-1980s. Pepsi was gaining ground as it positioned itself as “The Taste of a New Generation.” So to capture part of this trend, Coke changed its century-old flagship product to appeal to this generation. Their consumer research told them it was a good idea. Their sales trends supported a shake-up. All the data made it seem like a great idea.

Well, we all know what happened. Despite a ton of money and, of course, all of the research to support the “new” product. It was a total flop.

Why? Well, it’s not a secret. Any marketing textbook will tell you. Coke, one of the strongest brands in the world (even then), failed to take into account the emotional tie people had to their brand and, in turn, their product.

When they brought “old Coke” back under the “Coke Classic” name, it was wildly successful, and remains one the world’s most valuable brands today, even as soft drinks have lost some of their luster amid the health craze.

Mastering a repositioning project means being adept at both art and science.

Doing the research. Gathering the data. And going where it leads, but having the experience and knowledge to know what to do with it all. Knowing and trusting that some things can’t be quantified, at least not right away.

So there you have it. Science is numbers. Art is emotion. Positioning is both – and knowing that, and allowing yourself to trust knowledge and experience in equal doses – is the key to success in your repositioning project.

WATCH: Rich discusses the careful balance between data and experience in repositioning efforts. Watch below or on YouTube:

Download our presentation on Competition & Positioning.

Mike and Jesse discuss different philosophies behind positioning, and the role design plays in creating competitive advantage. Download the video and PDF presentation here.

Rich Heend

Rich Heend

Rich Heend is a senior copywriter for Atomicdust, helping us develop engaging websites, print materials and, as you can see, the occasional blog post. Basically, he reads and rights writes for us. (Oh, and he edits too.)

More posts by Rich Heend