Brand Positioning for 2019

I’m currently on my way to Detroit as part of my return trip from Miami. Today I have 3 flights, so I’ll be writing a lot on branding and why I’m so passionate about it.


Let’s play a word association game. I’m going to list a few organizations and I want you to pay attention to how you feel or what ideas you instantly associate to them.


General Motors












Wells Fargo





Now here’s what I thought about them:


General Motors: Crappy cars with lots of recalls.


Microsoft: Windows, default operating system for computers.


Apple: Used to be the default brand for creatives. Now sells overpriced everything.


Miami: Warm weather, Cuban food and cocaine.


Wendy’s: Crappy burger chain that doesn’t freeze their meat.


Starbucks: Coffee that makes me feel more important.


Wells Fargo: Financial institution that I feel is going to scam me


Tesla: Makes the best and safest cars on the planet. Also incredibly expensive.



If your company was on the list, what would I associate with it? What would you associate with it? If you said your companies name to a random person on the street, what would they associate to it?


This association is the most important thing in marketing. I know everyone’s obsessed with leads and acquisition costs right now but none of that matters if you haven’t created the proper association. And make no mistake about it, these associations are what the company sold to me before they sold me their product – and in some cases, instead of their product.


Everyone likes to talk about the millennials killing every other industry, but I don’t think that was ever the issue.


The automotive industry is dying because millennials are the first generation to see General Motors and think, “bloated company that doesn’t care about me and just wants to sell me a car with so many recalls it’s probably not safe”. The retail industry is dying because millennials think, “why would I go to Sears or Toys R Us where everything costs 10x what it should for no reason?”.


These guys all got lost along the way and forgot why anyone was shopping with them to begin with.


My absolute favorite story illustrating this point is the story of Blockbuster.


Blockbuster actually turned down the opportunity to buy Netflix. They honestly thought that Netflix wouldn’t hold a candle to them because customers liked going into the store, feeling the dvd, and running into their neighbors.


This is a very real example of some board justifying to shareholders why they’ll be fine and not actually asking the customer what they want. This changed the association from being “the place to get movies and snacks” to “inconvenient and unnecessary.” The best part about all of this is that the real reason Blockbuster didn’t buy Netflix is because they didn’t like the fact that they wouldn’t be able to sell the chips and drinks at the same time as the movies, which made up 12% of their revenue.


They ignored what their customer wanted, ruined their reputation, and ultimately tanked their business for 12%.


The point here is that what your customers think of you matters. If your customers don’t think of you at all then that’s its own issue. Money follows attention, but I don’t care how much attention you have, if you suck, you’ll get no money.


I love millennials because they’re the group of people that are really challenging what it is that makes a corporation successful in the age of the “profit over everything” mentality that we see from corporate America. You can’t be successful today unless your brand means something to someone or you’re the cheapest or most convenient product (read: Amazon).


The internet cracked distribution wide open and commoditized most industries. Your organization can either live as a brand or die as a commodity.


So, in summary, how can you position your brand properly in 2019 so that your company can enjoy a long, happy life? It comes down to values.


What does your organization stand for? If you’re the founder, why does your company exist? I don’t know many founders that start companies just to make money, usually there’s a very real and very important goal behind it. Usually founders are focused on changing their industry or delivering some kind of experience that they wish they could have.


I know when I started working with The Davis Media Company, the whole idea was to revolutionize a stagnant industry that hasn’t changed in 20 years. This idea came out in every single conversation we ever had with an association or an advertiser, which is why we were able to win contracts from established powerhouses.


We had a mission, and we communicated that mission.


If you want to take branding seriously this year, you need to take a hard look at your values and the tenants that your company stands for. It needs to be about you – you can’t put together a focus group and ask your customers who they want you to be. You wouldn’t ask someone out on a date by asking them what kind of person you should be on the date, right?


Focus on what’s important to you. What are your values. Those will translate into your organization.


Without values, your brand will die as a commodity.