Please Pass the Dressing

Fresh picked lettuce

One of the mainstays of my desktop book lineup is The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier — a great pick-it-up-and-get-inspired manual for brand strategy (and, incidentally, a very effective cure for writer’s block). Whenever I flip through the first section, I’m reminded of the three essential questions that form the foundation of any brand differentiation exercise:

Who are you?

What do you do?

Why does it matter?

Easy questions. Very, very difficult answers.

There’s such a fine balance between not doing enough and doing it all — but it’s all in how you position your company, and some do it better than others.

A positive (and humorous) example Neumeier gives from the B2C world is the acquisition of the Hidden Valley family of products by The Clorox Company in the early 1970s. Now, if your brain just flashed to a horrifying picture of a fresh garden salad tossed in a deadly concoction of toxic chemicals, there are a couple of reasons for that.

First, I never said “ranch dressing” or “household bleach” — but the deep equity built up in both the Hidden Valley and Clorox names has made them synonymous with their most legendary products, respectively. So here’s where it gets interesting.

The Clorox Company has always been very deliberate about positioning its diverse family of brands — and most importantly, differentiating them — so no one stands in the grocery aisle thinking about the slightly gruesome suggestion that bleach and ranch dressing might somehow be linked. Neumeier jokes that “the marketing people had the good sense not to rename it Clorox Hidden Valley” — they kept things pure, simple and organized.

“From the cleaners you trust to the dressings you crave,” Clorox walks a well-positioned, well-differentiated line in positioning its “leading brands you love” throughout the home.

It’s a good reminder of just how crowded today’s marketplace can be — and just how powerful a sound, thoughtful brand strategy can be in forming both our perceptions and preferences.

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