Now that we have made the distinction between branding and positioning abundantly clear â€“ what are the best branded and positioned American companies in our opinion?
Keep in mind that magazines like Fortune, Business Week, and Forbes have scads of lists that tell you how good or successful businesses are at all kinds of things. This list is different in that it comes from the collective experience and perspective of marketing people. Who better to dissect a brand or position?
We chose companies that stand for something. Not the kind of stand for something that means they donate lots of money to charity (though several of these companies do a good job at that). We are talking about standing for something in the minds of their customers and prospects.
These businesses are worth looking at if you are looking for case studies about proper branding and positioning strategy.
Here is our 2009 List:
- Apple – Apple means quality stuff that is easy to use and looks nice. It’s that simple. Apple has maintained this position via clever branding that can be seen from their products to their packaging and from their retail stores to their web site. It all looks like Apple. This consistant communication of their brand has made it easier for Apple to retain its position in face of Microsoft and scads of other copy-cats.
- Microsoft – The Windows OS monopoly was predicated upon Microsoft’s position that PCs are for business and that the tools the Windows OS can provide for your PC will make you more efficient and effective at work.
- American Express – What are your immediate thoughts when you hear American Express. Your first thought might be, credit card, but your second thought probably revolves around prestige, service, exclusivity, or nicer than average perks. American Express makes its cardholders feel like they are in a special club.
- Disney – Disney is THE family entertainment source. If something is connected to Disney, you know what to expect and you are usually not disappointed. This is Disney’s position – and it is very strong. Pleasing people is a standard that expands to every corner of the magic kingdom. Recently, a friend and his wife expressed interest in a Disney timeshare down in Orlando. In response Disney sent them a hard-bound, full color, 80 page book about how awesome their timeshares were. Needless to say, this $30 token from Disney has them hooked for life.
- Nike – Nike maintains its position as a premium athletic shoe maker by making good products, smart branding, and tons of ads and endorsements. Most small business owners cannot afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on ads and endorsements that can instantaneously envelop a target audience. But small business owners can be clever about what their product means and how every aspect of communication with their target audience looks and feels the same. Nike is good at this. They also have this famous logo called the “Swoosh,” perhaps you have heard about it.
- Harley Davidson – Some people might buy Harleys because of the way they look or sound. Most people buy Harleys because of how Harleys make them feel. When one buys a Harley it is like joining a club that embodies a certain free-spirited renegade Americana. Don’t think this happened on accident or because of “Easy Rider”- Harley knows what their position is.
- Target -What does Traget mean: a big box store with nicer things than Walmart. That is their position. Target has propagated this position through cleverly branded print ads, commercials, and a nicely deigned website. My only beef with Target’s branding efforts is that some store locations fall short of the brand, which leads consumers to wonder if they have been duped by fancy ads.
- Walmart – Walmart means: lowest prices. I think they have even gone so far as to openly say this in their advertising. If I want the lowest price on a flat-screen, a length of nylon rope, or a carton of eggs – chances are I can find that price at Walmart. Walmart also has a negative position in the minds of consumers – people do not think Walmart sells anything of good to average quality. However, quality is not their position.
- Ford – Ford used to stand for innovation and technology. Companies like Acura and Mercedes-Benz occupy this position on opposing sides of the luxury car price spectrum. Recently Ford has tried to re-occupy their original position by making many luxery goodies (usually found in expensive luxury cars) available in affordable domestic models.
- Southwest Airlines – Southwest has recently told us to “grab our bags” because it is ON. Southwest was the first large airline to offer no-frills low cost air travel. And they made no bones about it. They are cheap, regional, and for a long time turned boarding call in to a cattle call by not assigning seating. Southwest’s position is made possible by smart management and leadership, not fancy ads. This is not to imply that using fancy branding and ads means poor management. One smart move Southwest management made was to purchase one type of plane. This cuts down on maintenance costs and down time. Recently they purchased years worth of jet fuel in advance before priced soared in 2007. This allowed them to forgo extra fuel and bag charges.