“A picture is worth a thousand words” by one source is a derivative of “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words” and is attributed to the newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane when he used it in a talk he gave to the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club in March 1911.
The notion that visual communication communicates ideas, evokes emotions, and tells stories, has inspired its use for thousands of years. Visual communication was used on the walls of the caves of Lascaux—estimated to be about 18,000 years old. Religious imagery was used in the fifteenth century (six hundred years ago) to reach the illiterate, engender emotion, and improve retention, according to a popular Franciscan preacher of the time. Today, the power of visual communication is well understood and exploited by marketing professionals.
Moving from a verbal to visual brand positioning
In a recent post I stated that, “Brand positioning refers to the specific, intended meaning for a brand in a consumer’s mind. It is a managerial concept and framework that is used by marketers to ensure that the brand’s vision is shared across the organization. It serves to enhance organizational focus and foster alignment in the tactical execution of the brand’s marketing…A brand’s positioning statement usually comprises of a brief paragraph that is written in language that is easily understood by all stakeholders of the organization: management, employees, partners, etc.”
Most brand positioning statements follow this standard format:
To…(brief description of the brand’s targeted consumers)… Brand X…(definition of the brand’s frame of reference)…is…(an assertion of the brand’s point of difference that makes it superior to alternative offerings)… because… (supporting reasons to believe this assertion)
While this format allows experienced marketers to quickly comprehend a brand’s positioning, it may prove challenging for non-marketers to achieve the same level of comprehension when they have had little prior exposure to this managerial concept and framework. In these cases, a visual depiction can be a powerful tool for bolstering a common understanding of a brand’s positioning for all the organization’s stakeholders.
I frequently recommend the following three visual tools for this purpose to my clients.
A positioning map is a simple graphical tool for depicting a brand’s positioning relative to competitors in the marketplace. It may be used to communicate the desired brand positioning relative to those assumed for competitors, or to communicate consumers’ perceptions of the positioning of a brand relative to its competitors. To aid comprehension, it’s important that each axis represents a single dimension important to consumers in the category and that the dimensions on each end of a single axis are opposites of one another.
In this simple example I have plotted the brand positions for three brands within Marriott International’s brand portfolio—The Ritz Carlton, Marriott, and Courtyard by Marriott—on each axis, distinguishing each on where it fits on the luxury to economy and high-price to low-price continuums.
A positioning triangle is another graphical tool for depicting a brand’s desired or perceived positioning relative to an important competitor in the marketplace. This tool emphasizes the key points of difference between two brands that claim similar category membership.
In this example I have plotted the claimed points of difference by two brands within the Quick Food category. While both brands share similar points of parity that allow them to claim membership in this category, it is each brand’s point of difference that allows it to provide the benefit that some consumers are seeking from this category better than other competitors. For Subway, the brand benefit is “Healthy Food.” For Wendy’s, the brand benefit is “Real Food.”
Urbany and Davis’s Three Circles framework is a valuable visual tool for guiding and communicating brand and business strategy. The three circles represent different but overlapping universes. The top left circle usually represents the company’s offering. The top right circle represents all customers’ needs. The bottom circle represents all competitors’ offerings.
In this simplified illustrative example for the Smart Phone market I have placed the Apple logo in the circle representing the company’s offering and Blackberry in the circle representing competitor’s offerings. Each designated area within the circles is strategically important but A, B, and C are critical for creating competitive advantage. The strategic importance of each area is as follows:
- A = Apple’s points of difference
- B = Points of parity between competitors in the Smart Phone market
- C = Blackberry’s points of difference (usually all competitors)
- D, F, G = value that the competitors are creating that is not desired by consumers
- E = white space: unmet consumer needs
Each of these three simple tools provide a powerful means for bolstering a common understanding of a brand’s positioning for all the organization’s stakeholders. So the next time you are faced with the challenge of communicating your brand positioning to your organization’s stakeholders I recommend that you, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”