Positioning Relevance

by Chris Kenton on March 23, 2005

I was driving home from a client meeting yesterday in the rain. It was one of those spring rains where it’s bright outside, but everything on the road is wrapped in vapor. It’s mesmerizing. You kind of recede into your head, watching the traffic, listening to the radio, but somehow away from it all. What a perfect time to listen to commercials. Really. You can meet them on their own intended wavelength, the frequency of sub-cognitive influence. You can pat the little vignettes of drama or comedy on the head and send them off to play, while welcoming the value proposition and positioning statements for a nice little chat. What is it you’d like to tell me? I’m listening.

So I’m listening to the commercials in this half-hypnotized state, and along comes a message from the accountants at Grant-Thorton. The commercial was unremarkable, it just kind of floated by, but the positioning pulled me out of my reverie. I wondered for a moment if I’d really heard what I thought I heard, but then they kindly repeated it so it left no doubt. Here it is. Remember, this is an accounting firm.

"Grant-Thorton. Passionate about the business of accounting."

Passion. Accounting. D-o-e-s  n-o-t  c-o-m-p-u-t-e. Error. Error. Format C:

I don’t know why it struck me as so absurd. I mean, maybe businesses really do feel they’re missing something with their dour and dispassionate bean-counters. Who needs rigor if it comes with rigor mortis? Maybe what all businesses are clamoring for is Accountants with Passion. Sing to me about my balance sheet, tell me little lies about performance, make love to the numbers you prancing pony. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I can just see the chorus line.

So the whole thing got me thinking of how many times I’ve come across businesses that embrace the notion of differentiation– ~Differentiate or Die~ –but have forgotten about the notion of relevance. It’s good to position yourself in a way that is unique. But it’s a whole lot more effective to position yourself in a way that is uniquely relevant to the goals of the consumer. Grant-Thornton may be the only accounting firm with passion. But in an era of increasing financial scrutiny, new regulations coming down the Sarbanes-Oxley pipeline, and scandal seeming to lurk around every corner, who cares about passion? Give me an accounting firm that knows what it’s doing and doesn’t make mistakes, and I’ll find passion with my wife, thank you very much.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Soueu March 23, 2005 at 1:39 pm

What were they thinking? It did snap you out of your reverie so it might work for someone–accounting and passion–hey, maybe they’re different. Would you hire them? Probably not. Get a real ad campaign that conjures up dependability and honesty!

Nick Wreden April 8, 2005 at 8:08 pm

You’ve ruminated extensively on the use and misuse of “brand;” I think you ought to apply the same analysis to “positioning.” There are several issues to explore here. The first is currency. In groundbreaking book, Trout & Ries came up with the concept in 1979, and have been flogging the same concepts incessantly since then. The world was quite different in 1979, when disco ruled and Carter was US president. Can a company-driven concept, where companies seek to “position” ther products, that developed in the mass-economy world still be relevant in today’s customer-driven environment, where customers define brands based on their value — emotional, experiential or economic — to them? I think not. The second is relevancy. Ries continues, amazingly, to argue that “mind share is more important than market share.” Is that really still relevant in a CEO’s world that values profitability, sales growth and market share growth. And the final issue is effectiveness. Effectiveness can be looked at from two angles. The first is the number of times a product is “re-positioned,” often each time a new VPM is hired. An effective strategy should outlive the tenure of a single person at a firm. Another is results. In 2002, about $1.4 trillion was spent worldwide on marketing. Yet according to both E&Y and McKinsey, up to 95% of all products fail to become brands. If “positioning” worked as a dominant marketing strategy, I suggest that you wouldn’t have such a massive failure rate.

In other words, I suggest that the main problem in branding is not in how the term is defined. It’s an over-reliance on “positioning” — a dated, corporate-centric strategy that no longer works.

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