Global Brand Positioning

This article is about taking commodities and turning them into desirable brands. This may sound like a big deal for aspiring marketers – how to make what is other wise something that is indistinguishable to it’s competitor, into something that is desirable and differentiated. Presumably something that is more valuable. But, like how to make vegies interesting, which is a problem for Mums and Dads every night, it’s an issue that confronts practicing marketers every day in Australia.

I’m at a dinner party. A few of us have met each other before, but the connection is loose. It’s a bit awkward. I’m unsure why a couple of people seem so familiar, but I don’t want to say ‘where do I know you from?’ Cause I’ve invariably either been rude to them or went to school with them or something equally significant and my memory is faded and they may click soon, get shitty with me and upset the hostess, So I stay quiet and hope no-one remembers how they know me.

Negative opinion I think to myself. I might actually like these people, make friends. Or even make a dollar out of them somehow, who knows? Then I realize I’m in the ZONE. In that perfect situation when I can think a lot and no-one disturbs me. In a crowd, but alone. When everyone is focusing on someone else. I’m pleasantly the odd one out. At the edge of this conversation, and that one, but not actually being asked to contribute to any of them. Just one human amongst a tribe of the species. This is my happiest time. I don’t have to do anything.

It’s similar to when you’re scuba diving; weightless and silent. You just float there, perfect temperature, listening to your breath going in and out, your heart do dup, do dup. I am of nothing. A number. Like in Startrek, and I am Borg, 5 of 9. One fish in the school. A carrot amongst a bag of carrots. It gets me thinking, a bad thing at a dinner party. At a dinner party you should just be. React, charm, inquire, joke. But never think. Thinking implies you have something more important to do. Which is wrong, of course. I revel in the zone, not trying to do anything to get noticed. Just listen, be. Sip a bit of wine when they do. Nod when they do.

Dinner comes out. The side–dish catches my eye. Carrots. I say to myself, ‘I was just thinking about you’. They are thinly sliced, drizzle of melted butter, green stuff to add contrast. The host has steamed them with some rare Vietnamese herb and ginger in the water. They have been transformed from a sweetish, healthy, basic snack, to a mouth-watering delight. Really different. But still, basic carrots. A commodity, but now not just a commodity. That nirvana for the king of marketing’s many wankers, the ‘experientialists’. A real, actual experience.

Carrots can be made into something exotic with how they are cooked, chopped up. The host had no name for this recipe. He’d thought it up that afternoon. Had not branded it, packaged it up. But he’d taken a commodity and made it something his guests might remember for decades, such is the incredible human ability to remember food.

This article is about taking commodities and turning them into desirable brands. This may sound like a big deal for aspiring marketers – how to make what is other wise something that is indistinguishable to it’s competitor, into something that is desirable and differentiated. Presumably something that is more valuable. But, like how to make vegies interesting, which is a problem for Mums and Dads every night, it’s an issue that confronts practicing marketers every day in Australia.

Aside from the fake metal badge, what difference is there between a Nissan Tida, a Mazda 3, a Merc 200 and the other same shaped, same powered, same priced cars out there, bouncing along suburban roads, carrying carrots, milk, eggs, back to the big square caves we call houses each evening?

What real differences are there between PC brands or banks? Banks sell money. The only difference between that money is how many hurdles you have to jump to get it, how long it takes, how much of it you lose along the way, how nice they are to deal with and how many other forms of money they strap onto the first contract ie. Insurance money, credit card money and overdraft money. It’s still money. PC’s I hear you wondering about? The only real difference between a Mac and a PC is the experience. The guts are the same, the screen, sizes, speeds all about the same. The same Intel chip driving them, but one is easier to use, a simple philosophical difference, that makes all the world to Mac users and obviously means bugger all to most of the PC buyers.

As similar as the banks, are the energy companies or the Telcos. Sending the same messages, down the same pipes, across the same airwaves. Only charging different amounts for bundles of memory they only lend you anyway. Different levels of service, different timings on when they charge you. But you feel safer with Telstra, more animal-friendly with Optus, more rad and exciting with 3. All just psychology. Hype created by naughty marketers to hide the awful reality of selling the same bloody thing in a different deal.

I could go on; House Insurance, Radio stations, Jeans shops, Tennis balls, all made to the same standard, with the same colours, performance and pricing. Depressing. Why can’t I get tennis balls in purple and orange? Why can’t I get a telco who’ll ring up and say “Geoffrey, your broadband data contract is full for this month, instead of it slowing you down, why don’t I swipe your card for another 30 bucks?” Why can’t I get health insurance that throws in the occasional ski-trip? Actually, health insurance, with massages, gym memberships, check-ups, has started to cotton onto this issue and is beginning to differentiate quite well, but have the banks been watching? Nup. Asleep at the wheel of life. Try getting worstpac to give you a massage or dental clean as a freebie.

Globalisation breeds commodities

The ever lengthening tentacles of the corporate world love to push boring global sameness down the throats of we poor bedraggled humans. What happens is the manufacturing and operations engineers get together with the accountants and admin people and they decide it would be really cool, due to economies of scale, to sell the same widgets all over the world. That way, they could have fewer factories, making things each specialized in. They would save say 23.5% by doing it all at the same time.

Why worry about developing different looks or performance, when that would only help the public and those arseholes over in marketing? What we’ll do is exactly the same, sell it all around the world, and because we sort of know (our pesky wives and kids keep telling us) that the public want differentiation, what we’ll do is make differentiation the marketers problem. You want differences? No probs. Just invent them.

Tough going for marketers

This is not what you get told when you study marketing. When you’re at Uni, bright eyed and bushy-tailed study marketing, you’re told the whole world revolves around you. But it is something you’re told when you study engineering or accounting. So instead of starting with the fundamental premise that we should make items the public wants, most of the global corporate world’s managers start with the premise that they all get the same bloody thing and your job, Miss Marketer, is to make it different. You get badges, and a shaved-down ad budget. Good luck. And you better get 20% or more increase sales per annum or it’s your dick on the block, missy.

A lousy idea in the first place

The foundation concept of globalization is that we are all the same and have very similar needs and desires. This is so self-serving for mass-manufacturing and so not human it’s plain scary. We are all different aren’t we? I have had a different education to you, different experiences. Survived different diseases, eaten different food, seen different movies, read different books, lived in a different suburb and think differently.

The end of globalization

There’s a very interesting, a bit heavy-going (I’m so used to sound bites and twitter, words with more than two syllables exhaust me) titled ‘The collapse of Globalism’, by John Ralston Saul (also wrote the infamous Voltaire’s Bastards), which you ought to read.

It debates the pros and cons of the globalization trend and paints a pessimistic picture of global brands versus local identities. Put in a nutshell – if you reflect the culture of your customers, be they your local community of a few hundred thousand, or your on-line international community that could be in the millions, you’re going to do way better than a brand that tries to be all things to all seven billion people on this planet.

WE are angry about it

There’s a bucket of research that says the public are sick of being treated like idiots. More to the point – their actions. They tweet, blog, and bitch about company’s behavior all the time in the supermarket. ‘Look what they are trying to do to us…’. Then maybe think, as you sit there as an over-paid, under appreciated marketing professional, is that ‘they’ actually me?

Connected, empowered and grumpy

Before getting all guilt-ridden, it’s not that easy for us either, is it? As a caution, we do have to remain aware that the marketer’s world is a fragile place. And anything you do now is inherently riskier than say even 5 years ago. I love it. But I’m a bit nutty, I like sailing in storms, diving with sharks, giving speeches I haven’t remotely thought about. One of the things I like most about modern connectivity is that the public finally, absolutely, have a real voice and can connect to their friends and vote with their fingers, by sending messages to their contacts if you. Mr Board member insists on trying to rip them off. They, and you, Miss Reader are probably one of them, sending Facebook and Tweet notifications to 500 of your closest buddies and those punters send the message/ video/joke about your widget to another 500 people and soon 50 million people know you charge too much for a service or don’t include free sugar with your coffees or your staff are bastards to little kids.

Most of the research I’ve seen lately about Gen Y and X, and that’s a good proportion of the decision-makers in this fair country, say they are demanding, vengeful, loyal less, and distrusting. It’s the vengeful bit that really worries most marketers. The buggers actually get a kick out of making fun of big business. (Shock horror??) Worse, cause phones are cameras and in everybody’s pocket, they can see something at 11.30 am, film it, send it to everyone in ‘contacts’, it gets picked up by your social media monitoring service, and you, the only head the CEO can kick at quick notice, are well and truly stuffed by the time you get back from lunch.

How to brand commodities


Let’s go back to step one for a sec. A commodity is something that is basically the same as the next. But if you sell something that is very similar, the game instantly comes down to price, and that means you probably don’t run a profitable operation, you make less money and your career goes down the toilet and eventually you end up selling Christmas cards for The Salvation Army. The number one thing you have to do as a marketer is dramatically change the perception that this widget is the same thing as the next one.

Be a product developer

This is pretty bloody hard if the product really is completely identical. So before you even go further into this article, it’s worth remembering you do have another choice. You don’t just have to sell their stupid me-too copies of other people’s inventions. You, as a professional marketer, are empowered to commission market research, to develop prototype products, to explore use of existing ones in new industries or to give new life to what seems to be a commodity by innovative distribution, packaging or anything else your brain can dream up.

Be truly creative

Being ‘creative’ is not just a cute logo or knocking up a viral. Being creative is jumping outside normal product development or marketing behavior and really doing things differently. This is almost impossible to sell through to conservative boards, but it invariably works, if you do. Try selling through a test market…

Change how it looks first, stupid

Humans are visual creatures. Brands, colors, packaging works.


It’s often the use of the same commodity in another manner that makes for great differentiation. Carrots can be basic vegies, but they can also be pastry rollers, candle moulds…


Biggest arena for innovation of all. Small packs of paracetamol via fuel stores. Basic suits or plain t-shirts via Youtube connected to e-bay. Think; how can I get this to a punter in an efficient, unique way?


Charge less or more. Package things up, like the telcos and banks do. Give 48 months interest free, like the furniture people. It all differentiates what is really the same thing.

Research it to buggery

With any of your actions, it’s not a bad idea to enlist the help of people who are much smarter than you, the smelly public. This can be done any number of ways in formal research, which I won’t bore you professionals with, but it also could be simply chatting to your mates at the footy. Even your mum, green-grocer, car mechanic are reasonable sources of information, if you have an open mind. And yes, look at the options Social Media throws up for tracking with rock-solid statistical accuracy.

Be honest

If it has nothing going for it, except it’s a copy, that might be funny. Might appeal to enough people to make it quite a big product. If you think there’s nothing you can say that may remotely work, go back and use your imagination again, stupid. Marrow-bone jelly, which was in all Pet Foods, was a bull-shit concept (had no real benefit) but carried PAL for 20 years. It was honest, but tweaked…

Use imagination, doggedly

Allow yourself to dream across all of the P’s. To say ‘what if’? To not accept that what has gone before is right and to have confidence in your own imagination. If you can see the widget appealing to millions of Peruvians as a door jam or going into the stern of a surf rescue boat, play with the idea. Be bold and don’t over-think things. In most of the inventor stories I’ve read, the dude who eventually makes the Meaty Bite, Dynamite, Vegemite only gets there after say 50 failures.

Go Boldly!
Geoffrey McDonald Bowll

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