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Should I skip brand positioning if I have a small marketing budget?

Lindsay Says

Regardless of its size, your marketing budget will work harder for you if you have a highly differentiated and consumer-meaningful brand.

Make Your Marketing More Powerful

The right brand positioning creates consumer breakthrough and memorability. Arguably the whole reason to create a brand positioning strategy is to make your marketing more powerful.

What about my small budget?

A differentiated brand is a high-ROI brand. High ROI is good regardless of your budget. For a small-budget business, a differentiated brand positioning enables your scarce dollars to work harder for you. For a large-budget business, a differentiated brand positioning enables your richer dollars to work even harder. Let’s look at how this works.

How do I get my dollars to work harder?

Large or small, let’s think of your company as a car. Your business goal is that by the end of the year, you want to get from San Diego, where you are now, to Chicago. You have two choices:

  1. You can buy a map.
  2. You can say to yourself, heck, I know where Chicago is. Let’s get in this car and drive. We’ll navigate by our wits. We’ve got plenty of time to get to Chicago by the end of the year. I’m sure there’s enough gas in the tank to get us there. We’re smart, we’ll surely make it. (Does this sound familiar?)

Now let’s look at how these options affect large-budget companies and small-budget companies differently. (Hint: your choice is much more critical when you have a small budget.)

Two Ways to Travel with a Large Budget

In my experience, among large-budget businesses, there are two styles for building a high-impact brand.

  1. One is to buy the map – in other words, to start out by creating a highly intentional, single-minded, differentiated brand positioning. That map – that potent positioning – makes a brand hum with efficient use of fuel. Because of the clarity their brand positioning buys them, companies with a “map” are thoughtful and deliberate about their marketing, so their high amount of dollars works very hard for them. These are the brands that tend to appear on the top 100 brands of the world list: Apple, Coca-Cola, BMW and so on.
  2. The other approach is to wing it. You don’t carefully choose a position (you skip the map). Inevitably, you don’t take the most direct route to your goal. You get sidetracked by wrong turns and roadside attractions. But you’ve got a lot of money to buy gas (a big marketing budget) so you just keep filling up the tank. High marketing spend can cover up a lot of sin with brand positioning. You can “buy” awareness and consideration of a poor brand position by spending a lot. And the brand can look okay despite its weak position. You will be inefficient; you’ll waste a lot of gas and spend a lot of money. You will not be as successful as Apple and Coke. But you can still keep driving. Think of AT&T: they have high brand awareness, because they pour gobs of money into shouting their brand name from their megaphone. But what is AT&T? Could you name their position?

Only One Option for a Small Budget

If you’re a small-budget business, there’s only one route to achieving high and healthy brand awareness: that’s starting out with a map. Without a map, and without a lot of gas to make up for your mistakes, you simply can’t reach your goal. With a map, the small amount of gas you can afford gets you quite far, because you are traveling with great efficiency.

A great example of this approach is Dollar Shave Club. Their extraordinarily differentiated brand position, with a very low marketing spend, led to high awareness and high business valuation. (Dollar Shave Club sold to Unilever for $1B in 2016.)

Save Your Precious Fuel

When it comes to marketing, no matter your budget, a powerful brand positioning makes the most of your efforts. So if you are a small-budget business, don’t fall into the trap of saying “our budget is so small we’ll skip the brand positioning.” And if you are a large-budget business, don’t cover your lack of brand positioning with marketing dollars – wouldn’t you rather be a Coke than an AT&T?

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