Metaphors of brand strategy


Metaphors are not quite conscious frames in our thinking that generate a certain kind of perception, throughput and output in our minds. Metaphors work through drawing a parallel between concepts thus transferring attributes fom one concept to the other. Planners usually are not aware that their thinking is guided by metaphors so that their output tends to be influenced but also unconsciously limited by them.

One of the well known metaphors in strategic thinking is "marketing = military/battle". So that words and images of Targeting, Forces, Impact, Strength, Penetration, Reach arise.

A metaphor that nobody is talking about as far as I know is that of "space". Leading to concepts such as Positioning, Territory, Moving from here to there in the positioning space, "The world of" etc. It's clearly connected to the metaphor of "battle" but has it's specific impacts on our thinking.

The "space" metaphor is static in its nature even if movement is possible on "the terrain". Think of positioning - THE branding concept of the last 30 years. Positioning is about settling down. Where? In the minds of the consumers - which again implies that minds are a space where you just decide "where" to place your brand. Set your claims "here". Positioning is obsessed with differentiation: it is allergic to sharing space with other brands. Positioning is positioning gainst the positions or other brands.

One limitation of this extremely powerful framing is: it does not acknowledge the active character of brands. Brands do things all the time and don't just sit in one certain spot in the brain. Not the brands as collective perceptions but brands people interact with. Thinking of brands as movements and not positions could generate different kinds of ideas.

Another bias of the "space" metaphor has to do with the human reluctancy to imagine a space with more than 2-3 dimensions or a curved space or a non-continuous space. On a PowerPoint slide three-dimensional spaces often exceed the viewer's visual capacities so we rather stick with two crossed dimensions. Within such a space brand positioning seems to be a choice of coordinates on the two dimensions. This systematically undermines our ability to think outside the box (again a spacial metaphor) and to open up new dimensions. Secondly, such a continuous positioning space implies that you could maybe move a brand "a bit" along those dimensions, whereas it might well be that in the mind of the consumer there is no such "a bit" but only gravity centers of attraction with a vacuum between them. There is a post in my blog dealing with the issues of "crosses". (here's another more detailed post about the issues of positioning crosses.)

What could be alternative metaphors that foster a different kind of thinking?
I wish a had simple and revolutionary answer at hand. All I have to offer right now are intuitions. Here are some of them:
- "energy", not space
- "organism", not space
- "motivation", not space

What do you think? And which metaphors do you use thinking it?