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The Yin and Yang of Positioning and Branding


Andy Cunningham

It’s no secret, to succeed as a business you need to build a brand. But building a brand is no easy task, and most companies don’t get it right the first time. Great brands are built on solid positioning. It’s a yin and yang; positioning is yin (rational) and branding is yang (emotional). They’re two sides of the same coin, and you need both. A new logo or color scheme can’t define a brand. Branding expresses a company’s unique role and relevance, its position, in an authentic and differentiated way. To build a sticky and successful brand, you need to know your company’s position in the market. And to identify your position, you need to start with your Corporate DNA. In this podcast, we’ll sit down with marketing expert and best selling author, Andy Cunningham, to discuss the process of identifying your corporate DNA, establishing an authentic position and building a brand that sticks.

Whitney Drake: Can you talk about the difference between positioning and branding?

Andy Cunningham: It starts with my basic thesis that companies are a lot like people because they're made up of people, and they serve people and people work there. They have many of the same traits as people have, and they have a rational side and an emotional side. I look at positioning as the rational side of a company. It's the very basic description of a company's role and relevance in the marketplace that must reflect their business strategies. It's a very basic, rational description of who they are and why they matter. The other side of a company's identity, just like humans, is the emotional side. I call that the branding side. Branding is that same role and relevance, but it's expressed in tone of voice, choice of language, color palettes, logos, the way that you talk to people. You need both of those things in order to make a company's identity whole, just like a human has to have a rational side and an emotional side. The last thing I'll say about it is that just like humans, if you act emotionally before you have a rational approach, you are likely to make a mistake. What we really ask companies to do is to come to a decision on their positioning, their rational side, before they augment that with the emotional side.

WD: How do you guide them on this journey of figuring out the rational and then bringing in the emotional?

Marketing Communications Today

AC: The funny thing about the emotions is they're very much attracted to design, and color and catchy taglines. It becomes a race with logic to get to companies to have them do this work before they start in on that really fun, glitzy, sparkling stuff that we all love to do. I've developed a methodology for getting people to “aha,” which is what I call it, and is really the answer to the question, who are you and why do you matter? That methodology examines six aspects of the market first, and we try to figure out where you fit in each one of those six aspects. So the first one is, what will you call your core DNA? Which is kind of core to my methodology, and we've got three kinds of companies in the world. We've got customer focused companies, product focused companies and concept focused companies. I've nicknamed them mother's, mechanics and missionaries. When you understand which one of those you are, you can use that as a differentiator. For example, if you're a mother company or a customer focused company and you try to pretend like you're a concept company, you're not authentic in the marketplace. So it really helps to understand what your DNA is, or what I like to say, to understand what you're made of so you can make something of it. The second thing we look at is the community that you are dealing with, and that is certainly your customers, but it's also all of the people who influence your customers. You need to understand what your position is with them, and where do you want to take that position, and what do they think of you and how do they use that knowledge to influence purchase decisions? The third thing we look at is the competition, of course. We have to understand how they are all positioning themselves because we don't want them positioning themselves in such a way that it sounds exactly like what our companies are doing. Understanding the competition and differentiating yourself from them is critical. We also look at the context in which all of this is happening. Context is the what's going on in the world, and right now we all know there's a lot going on in the world. So that's why a lot of these advertisers have had to pull their ads because it is out of context with what's going on in the world. Then, we also ask them to come up with a handful of criteria for what it actually is that is going to make a good positioning statement.

WD: What are some common pitfalls that companies face when they're trying to find their position or build their brand?

AC: I think when they're trying to find their position, most companies, they really want to be all things to all people. And so you sit in a meeting where people are trying to talk about their position, and instead of staking out a point on the map, they want to stake out an entire region on the map. They can't let go of certain parts of who they are in order to stand for something. It's very hard to get them to narrow that down. I liken it to, if you go into your closet, and if you have 50 pairs of pants, and 40 blouses, and 16 sweaters and 95 pairs of shoes, it's very hard to make a choice for what it is you're going to wear. Whereas if you go into a closet and you only have 10 choices of each of these things, it's so much easier to make that decision. So less is really more because you can stand out better when you show up as one thing as opposed to showing up as 50 things. People can't absorb that much. It's too difficult for them to understand.

WD: I want to talk a little bit about a couple of highlights from your career, examples of things that you've seen that are aha moments that you could share.

AC: I was really lucky when I was a very young person to have wound up getting a job with an agency called Regis McKenna launching the Apple Macintosh. I got to spend two full years working extremely closely with Steve Jobs when I worked for Regis McKenna, and then I went off and started my own company and got another three years of Steve Jobs. The aha moment was really the day that we launched the Macintosh. It was on January 24th, 1984. I'll never forget that day. I had spent the previous six months really trying to make the world understand what this computer was in a nondisclosure sort of way. We had chosen 100 influencers out in the world, and our team and me spent time introducing them and educating each one of these 100 influencers about the Macintosh. On the day that we launched, it was done at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, and we had the media there and it was an emotional moment. The entire Macintosh team burst out into tears. It was incredible. But on my drive home, I turned on the radio and I heard all of these radio announcers on every channel talking about the Macintosh and using the exact same words that I had educated them with for the previous six months. And that was the biggest “aha,” I think of my career where I said, “this stuff really works.” This PR stuff, it's magic. 

WD: What trends should we look for in the coming year, and then how do we find out more information about your methodology?

AC: One trend is that everything is going to be showing up in both virtual and physical means from now on. You know how there are agencies and companies who have their digital department and then they have their other people? All of this is going to become one big thing, and you're going to be able to access anything you want both virtually and physically, and it won't have this great separation. Another trend is in product launches. We used to launch them on a given day. We coordinated all of the media, and Apple still does this because they have their developer conferences at which they do stuff like that. Salesforce does it at Dream Core. SAP does it at Sapphire. But if you're not one of those giant companies and you don't have that giant event where you can actually launch your products there, what companies are doing is they're moving to what I call the slow roll. There is no day of launch. You get a few customers, you bring in their feedback, you tweak the products a little bit, you push it out again, you get a few more customers. Now you have a case study, you can put that up on your website. That is a huge shift over the way we used to launch products.

Want to subscribe to our podcast and to hear more from industry professionals? Check us out on Spotify, PodBean, iTunes, and on our Marketing Communications Today podcast. Join us Thursday, April 9 at 1 p.m. to hear from Matt Pyle with PEEPS.

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