The superstars in branding are the ones who have cracked the “positioning paradox”. The positioning paradox says that in branding, the more features you show, the less you are seen. The more details you provide, the more vaguely you communicate. The more directions you give, the harder it is to be located. The higher the number, the lower the value. That’s why it’s called a paradox. Sounds almost like guru-speak, doesn’t it?
Amateurs are afraid to leave even a single feature or benefit on the table, fearing they’ll lose some corner of the market. So they say everything, and communicate nothing. They become professionals when they understand and live by the belief that the opposite is true. By capturing undisputed leadership in one single, important benefit, you are far more likely to be noticed, remembered and associated with a series of other great benefits—made all the more credible because you have reached prominence in one meaningful speciality.
It’s the “bed of nails” effect in reverse. A bed with a single nail sticking out will penetrate the second you lie down. But a thousand nails can’t penetrate anything. The pressure of each nail is completely diffused by all the others around it. The positioning paradox is also behind many other axioms. For example, the “least number of words” principle. Generally, the shorter and crisper the expression of the core idea, the greater the impact. Messaging can be shorter and crisper when the idea is singular: ADP—the payroll company; Rolex—the luxury watch; Duracell—the longest-lasting battery, etc.
Owning the gold medal in one critical value like safety or durability associates your brand to a ream of other important benefits for your target—quality of construction, intelligent engineering, caring company, trust, etc.
It takes discipline and frankly, some guts, for businesses to thwart their instinct to tell the entire story in every communication. But the masters of branding know what the “P” in positioning really stands for: the big positioning paradox. In every aspect of branding, you say the most by saying the least. The simplest message wins.
Bill Schley is president of david ID Inc., a strategic branding firm in the US. His book, Why Johnny Can’t Brand: Rediscovering the lost art of the big idea, was published by Penguin Books and was?ranked?among the top five marketing books of 2006 by strategy+business magazine.