The importance of Positioning

The act of defining and promoting a positioning is your organization’s conscious effort to communicate specific messages and attributes about your brand.

In the last issue, I discussed the importance of Positioning; it should be the fundamental starting point for all marketing activities. Your brand’s Positioning is the “space” in your audiences’ mind that your organization tries to establish as belonging solely to your brand; you want to “own” that space. The act of defining and promoting a positioning is your organization’s conscious effort to communicate specific messages and attributes about your brand. The audiences’ perceptions of your efforts is the Image that they create in their own heads – which may not always align with the stated Positioning. In other words, the message sent is not always the message received.

Clear positioning is absolutely essential if you want to create the proper image in your audiences’ mind. Your brand’s positioning should be relevant, unique, credible, clear and stable. If you don’t have a clear sense of what these brand attributes are, you can’t create effective marketing.


Once you develop such a positioning, how does this get expressed to your brand’s many audiences? Well, positioning is expressed through the communications between your brand and your audiences. These communications can be grouped into different channels, each comprised of multiple ‘touchpoints.’ Many of the significant touchpoints are shown in figure 1, organized into different communication channels.

Figure 1. Positioning is expressed through all your brand’s touchpoints – those opportunities where the brand and consumer come into contact. If your positioning is weak or poorly defined, the result will be an inconsistent brand image.

There are ten key aspects about your brand’s communication channels and the associated touchpoints that you must understand in order to create effective marketing:

There are ten key points that you must understand in order to create effective marketing.

1. Your Positioning is not your Image.

I covered this in the last issue, but it is important enough to review briefly here. Your Positioning is your organization’s conscious effort to project a specific Image. The audience’s perception is the Image that it receives – which may not always align with the stated Positioning, due in part to the difficulty of controlling many of the channels of communication. Just because you say something about your brand does not mean that your audience hears it, or interprets it in the way it was intended. As an example, just because you say that your brand stands for ‘Quality’ does not mean that your audiences believe this to be the case.

2. Communication comes through all channels

Touchpoints are the ways that audience members learn about brand character, positively or negatively. Taken all together, these touchpoints define the ways that brands communicate to audiences. In fact, one (fairly narrow) definition of marketing is simply “touchpoint management.” Control the touchpoints, making sure that the right messages are being sent and received, and you are well on your way to building the desired impression of your brand.

Many people responsible for marketing life science companies focus on a few channels only. Typically, the web site, brochures and a trade show booth are the prime areas of focus. However, your audiences get information about your brand through all touchpoints, not just the ones you focus one. It is important to review your marketing efforts across all channels, to make sure that you are not overlooking an important avenue of communication between you and your audience.

Have you ever been impressed with a company’s product, only to be repulsed by the manners of the salesperson? Have you been satisfied with a company’s services, yet confused by their invoices? Each and every touchpoint is a possible avenue for your audiences to learn about your brand. In fact, touchpoints are the only way an audience can learn about your brand. If this is so, shouldn’t you pay attention to each and every one?

3. Each communication channel can reinforce, positively or negatively, the messages coming through the others.

Great marketing messages resonate with the audience and reinforce each other. One clear example of this is the way Apple’s packaging communicates their brand values: clarity and ease of use. In this case, the communication and brand values expressed by the product, the advertising and the packaging all reinforce one another.

Another example highlights how messages that clash with each other, and with the brand’s values, can destroy a brand image. How often do you talk to someone who actually works for your cell phone provider? If you are like me, almost never. In fact, my contact with the brand is limited to three main touchpoints: First, the phone itself. Second, the advertising. And third, I get an invoice every month.

What message do I get from the advertising? Primarily this: we are a company that provides clear communication. And what message do I get from my invoice? Well, every month I get a headache trying to understand what I am being charged for. That invoice doesn’t give me the clearly organized information that I want. And that fact alone gives me plenty of information about how my cell phone carrier feels about me.

My cell phone invoice is a touchpoint failure, a missed opportunity. Touchpoints can work for your brand (by reinforcing those brand characteristics and values that you want reinforced) or they can work against your brand, by muddying the message or by representing characteristics that are antithetical to your brand’s desired positioning. In this example, clear communication is one of the personality characteristics that my cell phone provider is trying very hard to imbue into my impression of their brand. How well does their invoice reinforce clear communication as a personality trait? Not very well, I’d say.

4. Your brand positioning will contain both rational and emotional elements.

Both the emotional and rational side of your brand’s positioning must be carefully considered.

Strategic, well-aimed positioning should take into account both the rational and emotional aspects of the audience’s worldview. The differences between the rational aspects of a brand’s positioning (for example, who the audience is, what the brand promise is, the brand’s unique benefit, etc.) and the emotional side of the brand’s positioning (the brand’s personality and values) are clearly illustrated in retail brands with a large element of ‘fashion,’ such as jewelry, clothing, and consumables (for example, soft drinks), etc. DTC advertising in the pharma space also makes these differences quite obvious – the emotional component is carried by images of two people in bathtubs holding hands, while the rational side is typically relegated to the overleaf page containing the abbreviated P.I. and myriad warnings.

While these differences may not be quite so obvious for the typical biotech brand, it is important to realize that both the emotional and rational side of your brand’s positioning must be carefully considered. These rational and emotional elements will be conveyed through each channel differently. Careful marketing planning takes into account the rational and emotional elements present in each channel.

5. Some touchpoints are easy to control, some less so.

There are many touchpoints over which you have little control.

There are many touchpoints over which you have little control. You can’t directly control the handshake or the manners of your sales staff, yet both will affect a prospect’s impression of your brand. You can’t control your reputation, or what gets said about your brand in social media, online communities, or blogs and yet all these can drastically alter how your audiences think of your organization.

The many touchpoints that are difficult to control are gathered at the right side of figure 1. In contrast, there are many touchpoints over which you have more control, and these are gathered at the left. With a little effort, you should be able to exert tight control your graphic identity, your messages, your printed materials, your web site and your advertising. Recognizing what you can (and can’t) control gives you the ability to put your efforts where they will do the most good.

6. The importance of each channel varies by industry and by company.

The importance of the different channels varies widely with the industry and the individual organization. For example, architecture is a crucial channel for communicating with the audiences of fast food restaurants or cryogenic storage providers, but much less important for the typical life science service provider. In contrast, web sites are much more important for biotech and life science companies than they are for fast food establishments.

7. The importance of each channel varies by audience.

Different audiences will come in contact with different touchpoints, and be affected by them in different ways. For a manufacturer of diagnostic instruments, the audience segment of lab personnel will be much more affected by the ease of use of the instrument’s interface, while clinicians will rarely come in contact with the machine, and more often come in contact with reports or other output.

8. Not all channels are capable of carrying the same message.

Each of these channels and touchpoints is best suited to communicating different characteristics about your brand. Put another way, not all are channels are equally useful in communicating any given characteristic. Let’s look at one example: In the management of clinical trials, CROs are commonly known for issuing multiple change orders on a project, and clients are wary (and weary) of being inundated with these additional costs.

Therefore, as a way to differentiate their brand, a CRO may want to choose honesty and straightforwardness as a brand value or personality trait. This is a viable strategy, because as I pointed out in a previous issue, brand exposure can shape the (non-conscious) behavior of the viewer. (As a reminder, to be most effective at shaping behavior, the viewer must value the brand’s personality characteristics, that is, at some level they want to exhibit behavioral characteristics represented by the brand. For these viewers, exposure to the brand can trigger behavioral change, reinforcing these characteristics.)

Honesty and straightforwardness are clearly values that audiences interested in CROs share. And for customers looking to hire a CRO, this honesty and straightforwardness would be a desirable characteristic in a supplier. So choosing honesty and straightforwardness makes sense as a brand attribute for a CRO.

But communicating honesty will be easier via some channels than others. A web site that states: “We are honest in all our dealings,” may create as much suspicion as it allays, just like the sign outside an auto dealership that says “Honest Dave’s Used Cars.” If you have to declare your own honesty then “it ain’t necessarily so.” And if you routinely make a big deal about your own honesty, the rest of your communications are automatically suspect.

On the other hand, an impartial reference, or unbiased personal recommendation (from the Recommendation channel on the far right side of figure 1) would have a completely different effect in discussing your honesty. In this case, the Recommendation channel lends itself very well to communicating your honesty, while the Printed Matter or Media channels do not.

This is also true when companies want to distinguish themselves on the “Quality” of their work output. Some channels more easily carry this message than others. I’ll write more on this subject in a future issue.

9. Not all channels are capable of carrying the same amount of information.

This is a corollary to the previous point, and it should be obvious. Over the years, however, many clients have asked us to create taglines or identities that will communicate the entire brand story – one which, if it was written out, would take at least an entire page. No tagline can communicate that much information.

Not all touchpoints or channels can carry the same amount of information. Websites can be very extensive and carry lots of information; a direct mail piece carries less. Understanding the limitations of the ‘bandwidth’ of each channel will help you optimize the correct mix of your marketing activities.

10. Touchpoints are audience focused.

Last, and certainly not least, let me point out that when planning marketing activities, it is common for companies to think about the issues from an internal, company-focused perspective. Needless to say, this is not how your audience views your marketing efforts. They only see your brand through the ‘lens’ of the touchpoints. Many a marketing snafu would be avoided if there were less attention paid to the company-focused perspective, and more paid to an audience-focused perspective.


Touchpoints are the only way that audiences can learn about your brand. Different touchpoints will convey different attributes.

Touchpoints are the only way that audiences can learn about your brand. Different touchpoints will convey different attributes to your various audiences, so successful marketing will take into account all of these, and use them in combination to build an effective brand image. Touchpoints are important because they are valuable channels of communication available to shape audiences’ image of your brand into alignment with your desired brand’s positioning.