Thursday, September 27, 2007

Alignment

I've long been fascinated by the power of brand alignment. I'm not talking about consistency across media or sales channels, but alignment with the company's fundamental value proposition, alignment with its business model, alignment with how the company invests and makes its money. That kind of brand alignment.

Target is a great example of alignment. Years ago, when squeezed between Wal-Mart (low price) and Macy's (variety and selection), Target decided to differentiate and win on the strategy of offering affordable design. We all love the advertising, but that's not the real story. Target aligned its business strategy, product selection, pricing, store design, and, yes, advertising around the idea of affordable design. "Tarzhay" leaped from being a discounter to a pop-culture icon. (What other store makes it into lyrics in a YouTube music video? Kohls? Not so much.)

Enterprise Rent-a-Car is another successful example of brand alignment. Its business model is based on delivering replacement cars to customers who are suddenly without a car (in for service) or without the right car for the weekend (need bigger car to haul visiting family). Enterprise doesn't target business travelers nor leisure travelers, two sizable segments. Its decision to focus entirely on the replacement car market drives and aligns its real estate strategy, pricing, and message ("we'll pick you up.") True, the advertising can be soooo much better, but at least Enterprise has resisted the temptation to be all things to all people and, instead, has a brand proposition that is aligned with a differentiated business model.

While President of Saatchi & Saatchi LA we explored a range of positioning strategies to launch Toyota's full-size Tundra pick-up truck. Then one day we realized a very simple truth: Toyota invested considerable engineering capital to give this 1/2 ton pick-up truck the strength, power and capability of a larger 3/4 ton pick-up truck. The result? A strategy and launch campaign based on the idea that the Tundra is the 1/2 ton pick-up with 3/4 ton guts. True. Differentiating. And fully aligned with how the company invested its capital.

During my time as head of marketing communications at Aetna Healthcare I helped lead a new positioning strategy to reframe the brand as a source of empowering health information -- not just health insurance. This idea was aligned with Aetna's Intelihealth venture with Johns Hopkins, its increasing emphasis on eHealth initiatives and the need to empower more of its members to practice preventive medicine. Again, like the examples above, a strategy fully aligned with the company's fundamental value chain.

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