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Understanding perceptions; defining positioning

Over the past two to three years, change has been an ever-present theme, if not a need for many companies.

For many, it has been forced on them by the requirement to respond to the financial crisis and, almost inevitably, has led to downsizing; cost and staff cutting; closures; consolidation; sell-offs and demergers.

For others, though, it has represented an opportunity to streamline, or realign, operations, whilst continuing to evolve (enhance) their business and service offering. Frequently, adversity or necessity has demanded the improvements to the client service offer.

All businesses, however, now face similar communications challenges as, although confidence remains fragile, there is an increasing sense of need to be proactive around explaining where the company is heading; especially what must be done in terms of competitive standing, customer and stakeholder awareness and appreciation?

Many of our clients are asking themselves - and us - what they now need to do and say differently in order to reflect their ‘new’, emerging sense of self:

  • How robust and clearly understood is their market positioning and overall corporate image?
  • How well expressed is their business, or service proposition; their core messaging and corporate narrative? How different is it from the competition?
  • How should they structure their portfolio businesses and brands to reflect and support any change in the future?
  • Will that be the same for all audiences? Or do solutions need to be tailored for specific segments to reflect individual, bespoke needs?
  • What impact might this have on the company’s communications, branding and identity strategy?
  • Overall, how do you manage and implement change successfully?

For most, the answers lie in developing a precise understanding of where their brand (corporate, service, or product) not only is currently positioned in the eyes of key audiences, but also where it needs to be positioned. Because due
to recent events, the 'gap' between where their brand is now and where it needs to be in the future - or more importantly where their customers need and want it
to be - could be some distance apart.

So how do you establish that 'fix'... an 'orientation' that maps where your brand is today in relation to where it needs to be tomorrow? And what might be the communications and branding implications?

Over the years, we have developed a process by which we can deliver an accurate corporate profile and definition that involves a 360° evaluation, benchmarked against four key dimensions:

  • business, brand & culture; target audience perceptions; competitor differentiation; identity, communications & marketing

Existing business, brand and culture profiling

The process starts with an audit of where their business and corporate brand currently sits in relation to macro and micro market trends & 'drivers': its core positioning & proposition. The brand 'promise' and substantiators ('reasons to believe'). Also 'vision, mission & values'; behaviours and service culture. Operational, service and sales structures & processes. Existing research - industry data; customer satisfaction surveys; media commentary; staff surveys & audits - can also help provide valuable insights and act as an initial reference point.

Target audience profiling & perceptions

Existing data will frequently need to be supplemented with proprietary research (ideally qualitative and quantitative) around awareness & appreciation, ‘image perceptions vs. expectations’ of the brand, from both an internal and external dimension and in relation to competition:

–  management and staff’s views on current versus future business and brand challenges/ambitions. What is working well and what needs to change, or be adapted from an image and reputational perspective? To what degree, scale and scope? Where and with whom?
–  customers and key stakeholders’ perceptions that mirror the above issues and provide deep insights into not just current understanding and appreciation of the brand, but also - more importantly - future needs and expectations.

Competitor differentiation

As possible, a similar study should be conducted amongst key competitors and peers to interrogate the overall marketplace, identify the degree of uniqueness of your corporate/brand 'offer' and explore opportunities to strengthen image and reputational differentiation.

Identity, communications & marketing activity

To complete the picture, an evaluation of the effectiveness of all current materials and media employed: core brand fundamentals. Brand architecture (portfolio structure; relationships; management). Messages & narrative. Visual & verbal language, imagery, personality & tone. Design style. Media used and degree of coherence cross-media.

The sum total of these inputs, when analysed, will produce a profile for the brand that identifies any 'positioning gap' that exists between 'the now' and 'the future', as well as any difference between the views of management and other audiences.

Most importantly, it will identify the nature of that gap - the branding, communications, image and reputational challenge it represents and what must be done to close that gap. The focus being on the targetting of key messages; the content of those messages and overall ‘corporate narrative’; the likely implications for the core brand presentation, be that naming, identity, identity system management and architecture, and implementation.

This does not have to be an overly complex exercise; but it does need to be thorough and objective. And whilst in the majority of cases - especially with established brands - the findings are likely to be more in the area of identifying 'degrees' of change, rather than wholesale repositioning... the benefits of having a precise 'fix', or 'orientation' on your brand will repay the initial investment many times over.


During times of corporate change, what should your communications and branding strategy be?