Start-Up Marketing (Guest Post – Seven in a Series)

Jeff Berman has agreed to contribute a series on marketing for startups to the Scratchpaper community. This is the seventh in the series (table of contents here). Stay tuned for more.

How to Botch Marketing #6:

Your Positioning vs. Your Why

Dove Soap

The Story of Positioning

Fifty year ago, Ivory Soap dominated its category with its “99.44/100% pure” line. No one could compete with Ivory on clean, and so everyone else was fighting for 2nd place. Then, along came Ted Bates & Co., who positioned Dove Soap around moisturizing rather than cleanliness. Dove became the #1 brand in a blink, suddenly every marketer was scrambling to define their Unique Selling Proposition, and the idea of positioning became the rage.

What the Positioning Story Misses

Essential to Dove’s success but often overlooked by marketers is why the moisturizing story worked for them. Before it became a new way to sell soap, the moisturizing message had two powerful things going for it:

  1. Moisturizing was important to consumers, especially women. The message resonated because it was directly relevant to one of their top concerns, in this case, younger-looking skin.
  2. Dove, the product, was created with this value in mind. It was (and is) made with ¼ moisturizing cream. The message grew directly out of why the brand existed. It was not tacked on at the end.

So, yeah, moisturizing turned out to be a great positioning strategy for Dove. But it worked because it was a brand value before it was a product attribute, and one that consumers wanted.

How This Works For You

When you think about taking your thing to market, how you position it, how you develop your message needs to flow from the reason your thing exists in the first place. Otherwise, no one will believe it, no one will pay any attention to you, and you will be wasting your marketing dollars. A unique selling proposition counts for nothing unless it connects with something your audience cares about deeply, and is built into the why at the heart of your brand.

Your Most Powerful Message Flows From Why

The most powerful message you have is based upon the value — the reason why — at the heart of your thing. A big reason category leaders become dominant is because they message on their why, on the values and the reason at the heart of their creation. Their products and services are tangible expressions of this deeply held value. Think about how many category leaders develop their messages this way: Apple, Nike, BMW, Disney. The list is endless. A shorter list would be leading brands that don’t sell based on values first.

People connect based on values. If they trust your why, if they trust you’re in it for a good reason, they’ll trust what you have to say and buy what you’re selling.

Jeff Berman is the founder and principal of Berman Creative, a creative agency focusing on brand strategy and marketing solutions for early-stage and redirected companies. You can reach Jeff at We’re grateful for his contribution. 

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