“Companies are focused on building products rather than brands. A product is something made in a factory. A brand is something made in the mind. To be successful today, you have to build brands, not products. And you build brands by using positioning strategies. It starts with a good name.”
― Al Ries,
The Media and Entertainment industries lost an icon recently when Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, died at his home at the age of 91. A controversial figure who successfully built an empire around powerful and unique positioning. No matter your opinion of Mr. Hefner’s brand and life choices, we can learn and benefit from his marketing genius and power of positioning.
You may be thinking, “Ok, but what does a media and entertainment brand have to do with manufacturing? I make (tools, machines, widgets) and I can’t or don’t need to be that creative with my positioning.” Consider New Pig and Big Ass Fans, and then we can talk. More on that in a minute.
Positioning has Changed
Thanks to Al Reis and Jack Trout, “positioning” took a revolutionary turn in the 80’s. Like the rest of old-school marketing fundamentals, positioning is now more about the customer’s perspective than the products they purchase. Successful brands create a “position” in a prospective customer’s mind—one that reflects the company’s strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors.
Hugh Hefner recognized this back in the 50’s. Clean, simple, and unique, the Playboy name and logo reflect his original vision — to evoke equal parts friskiness and sophistication. His intention — create immediate connection and alignment with his ideal customer.
Differentiation is king! Choosing something competitors can’t or won’t is essential for long-term success. A fact not lost on Hef:
“Since both The New Yorker and Esquire use men as their symbols,” he once said in an interview, “I felt the rabbit would be distinctive, and the notion of a rabbit dressed up in formal evening attire struck me as charming, amusing and right.”
Designer Art Paul is the man behind the logo. Since its debut in the second issue of Playboy in 1954, it remains unchanged to this day. A remarkable fact and a testament to the effectiveness of the original design.
Consequently, the licensing deals Playboy now gets include low-end luxury items, as well as branded cocktail lounges, like Bar Fifty Three in Los Angeles. In 2014, License! Global Magazine ranked Playboy at 42nd on a list of the top 150 global licensors. All this business is a result of the lifestyle associated with the logomark and the brand.
Positioning starts with an intention and a distinction that are visible at every touch point. Hef’s mastery of positioning shows up in everything from his home and offices to his attire and overall lifestyle. A living brand ambassador. He could have but didn’t stop there.
He activated and optimized every possible touch point, including spokespersons, signature events, sponsorships, partnerships, social media, digital engagement and unmistakable uniforms (sadly, with tails). Most of us aren’t as high profile as Hef, and I’m not suggesting you wear a robe to work. Unless, of course, you’re the CEO of SleepNumber, then go for it! What I am suggesting is this, by harnessing the power of positioning and aligning it with every step of the customer journey, like Hefner, you create “an organized system for finding a window in the mind.” (Ries and Trout) And, I would add, “into the heart.”
Big Ass Fans Gets Customers
I mentioned Big Ass Fans earlier. An American manufacturer who is capitalizing on positioning and experiencing sizable growth because of it. Back in 1999, they were the HVLS Fan Co. (that’s High Volume, Low Speed—catchy, right?). After customers continued calling to ask if they sold those “big ass fans” they decided to align with their customers and adapt. They changed their name to Big Ass Fans, which has since morphed into Big Ass Solutions.
Too offensive? Quite the opposite. “When churches wanted to install fans to keep congregations comfortable, we developed the first silent fan motor to meet their needs.” Churches are attracted!
The decision to adapt and align with their customer’s perspective, coupled with a commitment to R&D and innovation, altered their results a hundredfold. (Sales catapulted to over $300MM in 2016)
Relying on their position as their litmus test, sales and marketing decisions become so easy: “if it isn’t a big ass solution, it’s not happening.” And, it’s not surprising their beloved mascot, “Fanny”, shows up at every step of the customer journey.
New Pig on the Block
Another manufacturer leveraging the power of positioning is New Pig. Their promise of a unique and different experience starts with their name and their culture, but it doesn’t end there. Most of all, New Pig makes the buying experience easier.
New Pig makes purchasing from them effortless with a responsive website that’s easy to find, easy to use and packed with helpful pointers for all stages of the buying cycle. Customers can download their handy ebook, live chat with a “Pigger”, and order from their catalog (right on the home page). Customers can also browse ratings on all products, get free expert advice, take advantage of fast online account setup, and stay connected through social media or their eNewsletter. “Pig Deals” are a click away, and returns are easy with their PIG promise no risk guarantee.
As evidenced by their growth (3,595% in three years), the power of positioning makes leaks, drips and spill cleanup lucrative and a whole lot more fun. You can even visit them at One Pork Avenue in Tipton, PA.
Lessons from a Playboy
- Start with intention and establish a differentiated POSITION; one that competitors can’t or won’t copy.
- Choose a NAME that aligns with your customer’s values, desires and/or hero state
- Adopt a LOGO that’s clear, unique and timeless
- Design a CUSTOMER JOURNEY that’s easy to navigate, repeat and worth sharing.
Hugh Hefner could have played it safe and created just another lifestyle magazine. Instead, he built a lifestyle brand and invited any and all who felt repressed or in need of an adventure to come along for the ride. And what a ride it’s been.
A recent New York Times article summed up his life this way, “Hefner the man and Playboy the brand were inseparable. Both advertised themselves as emblems of the sexual revolution, an escape from American priggishness and wider social intolerance. Both were derided over the years — as vulgar, as adolescent, as exploitative and finally as anachronistic. But Mr. Hefner was a stunning success from the moment he emerged in the early 1950s. His timing was perfect.”
Create a “Perspective Connection”
As makers, we have the ability to create anything our customers want and/or things and experiences they don’t even know they need. Ass, pig or bunny – fans, cleaning products or a magazine – doesn’t really matter. What matters is that your brand makes and keeps a promise that aligns with your prospective customer’s values and desires. As a result, they seek you out, gladly buy from you and happily share the experience.
We can choose to play it safe, to make and market like everyone else, or we can build a brand and a culture that’s inviting, unique and, dare I say, fun. Powerful positioning creates your litmus test for all products and services you create and the way you market them. As a mentor of mine always says, “When the value (and position) is clear, the decision is easy.”
How clear is your value (and position)? How easy are decisions made, to market or to buy? It’s never too late to recalibrate your positioning and make a lasting perspective connection.
And, again, robe or no robe? That’s your call.