LONDON: Marketers need to distinguish between the analytical task that is brand strategy and the more creative approach that brand positioning demands, according to an industry figure.

But, says Nicolas Liddell, director of consulting at brand consultancy The Clearing, there are no hard and fast rules on where to start, as successful businesses have been built on the basis of both, although he adds that "ultimately, it's better that the positioning and strategy are aligned, rather than worrying about which comes first".

In a Warc Exclusive – 7 steps to effective brand positioning – Liddell contrasts the positioning-first approach of brands like Gore-Tex or Google with the more conventional and "beautifully linear" strategy-first approach.

The latter – conduct exploratory insight, develop a set of creative positioning ideas in response and then validate the popularity of each idea with the target audience before executing with conviction – has the benefit of research, while the former tends to be based on instinct.

Position-first businesses "don't let other people dictate what their ambition is; they decide that for themselves. 

"The role then of brand strategy is to fill in the gaps; to make sure that the positioning can be made relevant across different categories and customers."

But no matter which approach is adopted, "a creative leap is an inevitable part of the process", says Liddell. Strong brand positioning "is the realm of the intangible, the unproven and the unknown".

That said, brand positioning – and strategy – have to be anchored in the real world and related clearly to a commercial aim; "without this they are merely hopes parading as ambitions".

Similarly, while playing around with big brand positioning ideas can be fun, "it's important that your positioning idea is practically useful, rather than intellectually interesting".

Liddell also advises spending time trying to understand the future, rather than getting bogged down in an insight-laden vision of the present. 

"The business you're in today matters less than the businesses you might be in tomorrow," he notes – Nokia, for example, started life 145 years ago as a paper mill.

Data sourced from Warc