Bill, rebrand it like this

A friend of ours is helping an ad agency rebrand itself, so he basically has to pitch ideas to black-clad creatives. Imagine that fun conversation: No, Pantone 19-1557 was the color of the year LAST year … and omigod you chose Arial over Helvetica!

Just kidding. Anyway, our advice when rebranding is to move out of category.

Let us explain. Back in the 1960s ad gurus Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote the landmark book on brand positioning, theorizing that every customer has an invisible ladder in his or her head for every product type. To “brand” your firm, you have to stake a claim on an empty rung. Think Avis: We try harder, which positioned Avis as better than No. 1 car renter Hertz, or Wendy’s Where’s the beef?, which knocked McDonald’s bready burgers.

Rebranding is even more complex, because it means changing to a new position in your customers’ already crowded heads. The exercise is tough, because it involves myriad factors such as competitor claims, emerging market trends, your own future product development — and usually a committee. The simplest route we’ve seen is to map competitors on three axes, product innovation, customer-focused total solution, or operational efficiency, and then look for the white space.

White space often exists, because companies and people tend to be ego-centric and so similar businesses cluster together. Home service companies, for example, work hard to provide service so may position their brand as the best customer solution company — leaving the efficient price rung open. Ad agencies, filled with award-winning creative, like to focus on their product innovation — leaving room in the customer solution department. You know. Like achieving concrete marketing results.

So here’s a quick exercise. Draw three arrows radiating from a common center point. Label the arrows “innovation,” “efficiency/results,” and “customer solutions.” Plot your competition. Then go where they aren’t.

White space exists even if you have to stretch to find it. Just ask the judges on American Idol.

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