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By Judy Luk-Smit January 31, 2018 Reading time: 7 minutes


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At the New PR Conference hosted by AirPR Software in San Francisco, discussion swirled around ‘New PR’ and an evolution of public relations, including PR’s place in the greater marketing mix. Marketing and communication expert and author Andy Cunningham spoke about how to create a company’s positioning and branding as the foundation for success in the New PR. Cunningham is the author of ‘Get to Aha! Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition.’

She began, “Things have, as we know, changed dramatically in PR. To be successful in the New PR is to identify the intersection of positioning and content marketing. There are two super important questions that you need to answer to succeed in business: Who are you and why do you matter? That’s the root of positioning and the goal that we’re all trying to achieve.”

The Yin and Yang of Positioning & Branding

Cunningham shared, “I like to think of positioning (and a company’s identity) as a yin and a yang: there’s a rational side and there’s an emotional side. This comes from the underlying philosophy that companies are like people. They have a DNA, which you can read more about in my book.

“To position a company in the marketplace, you first have to understand the rational side: what is the rational description of the company’s role and relevance in the market? Once you have that rational description, you can put the frosting on the cake and do the branding side.

“The word ‘brand’ has had so many meanings over time: it started off as a way to mark your livestock in the Wild West, then it became a logo on a company, then it became the experience you’d have with a company, and now we just call companies brands. The way I think of the word ‘brand’ as the emotional expression of a company, just like positioning is the rational expression of a company.”

Creating Positioning

Cunningham described the fundamentals of creating positioning: “The first thing we do in a positioning exercise is to split those two things up and do the rational positioning first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a company and they’ve just hired a branding firm to ‘re-launch their brand’ and they are unhappy with the results. The branding agency goes off and comes back with something really creative, but it is disconnected from your customers, your board and your employees.

“The reason these projects fail is that they are not rooted in a rigorous framework: they are rooted only in emotion. What we are trying to do is the rational side first: articulate the role and relevance of a company in the market first, and then do the sexy branding stuff second.

“So how do you do positioning? Positioning is not a creative exercise nor is it a matter of sitting down and reading customer interviews and talking to a few employees, locking yourself in a room and coming out with this great idea. We need a methodology that is based in logic.

I’ve created a methodology called Corporate DNA. This comes from the notion that you need to be authentic when marketing yourself. Authenticity is more important than ever. Humans have a radar for authenticity. Therefore, the first step in marketing something is to try to understand who you are as a company at the core.

Company Orientation & Genotype

Cunningham describes the two elements of creating a company’s Corporate DNA: “I categorize companies into three categories: product-oriented companies, customer-oriented companies and concept-oriented companies. I do this because each of these types of companies do things differently: they talk about things differently, they structure themselves differently and they measure success differently.

“The first step is to ask: Are you product-oriented, customer-oriented or concept-oriented? Once you determine that, there are two genotypes for each one of those. For example, if you are a product-oriented company there are two ways that you can go: you can position around value, or you can position around features. If you’re a customer-oriented company, you can position around customer segment (like Forever 21),  or customer experience (like Disney). If you’re a concept-oriented company, you can position around a cult of personality (like Steve Jobs) or ‘the next big thing.’”

The 5 C’s of Positioning

It doesn’t end there, however. Cunningham identified five steps to creating your positioning statement:

  1. Core: This is creating your DNA and your genotype.
  2. Category: Category is about identifying your company’s categories – there are new categories, there’s redefinition of existing categories, there’s resegmentation of existing categories, and there’s adding yourself to an existing category.
  3. Community: This is old ground for PR people: it’s not just your customers, but the people who influence our customers. We have some pretty great ways these days to determine who those people are and how to reach them.
  4. Competition: You really have to understand what your competition is saying about themselves so that you can create something that is differentiated.
  5. Context: Context is very important because the world changes quickly. Document what you want to achieve from your positioning and how you can be relevant to your community.

Cunningham described how to create your branding, the emotional side, by determining your archetype or describing yourself emotionally. These branding elements need to tie back to your positioning and DNA. By describing yourself emotionally, you can understand your attributes, find your driver (short word or phrase to encompass what your brand stands for at its very core), and identify your brand promise to your customers. After documenting the personality of your brand, you can can determine your voice, which should be expressed in everything you produce including emails, sales decks, on your website, images, video, and social media.

After you have completed all of this, you develop your message architecture which includes your company vision, mission, positioning statement, key messages, and elevator story.

Building the Narrative & Content Marketing

Finally, Cunningham outlined how to activate your positioning and branding: “Once you have your message architecture, you can create your narrative. Your narrative is the core element of the New PR. Your narrative is the story of your company and must contain a story arc, tension and a series of memes, phrases or viruses that get implanted in everything you do.

“Once you have your narrative, it’s time to activate your narrative in the market. This is content marketing. Content marketing is about getting a reader to be incited to take an action without that reader knowing it. This is challenging, but part of what you do is to consistently include your memes/viruses and your narrative in everything you do. That’s how you build the digital footprint you need to have: mastering your paid, earned and owned media with your narrative.”

Andy Cunningham is the founder and president of Cunningham Collective, a marketing, brand and communication strategy firm dedicated to bringing innovation to market. Andy came to Silicon Valley in 1983 to help Steve Jobs launch the Macintosh. Since then, Andy has launched a number of new categories including video games, personal computers, desktop publishing, digital imaging, SaaS, very light jets, and cleantech investing.

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