Any effective repositioning campaign must begin with an understanding of the way one’s target consumers, or “prospects,” think. It is vital for an advertiser to remember that the mind of a typical individual is bombarded with information. The past 30 years have been an age of “overcommunication,” with people producing more information than they had in the previous 5,000 years put together. Every day more than 4,000 books are published and one million pages are added to the World Wide Web. The average 18-year-old in Great Britain has already been exposed to 140,000 television commercials. The modern mind is a crowded and chaotic place.

In such an environment, advertisers must work hard to ensure that their products are clearly, simply differentiated from the competition. Consumers are already overburdened – they do not have enough time or available brain power to take in and process complex, multidimensional advertisements. They live in a complex, confusing world, and if an advertiser hopes to grab their attention, she must harness the power of simplicity. Rather than try to tell the whole story of a product, a successful ad will “focus on one powerful differentiating idea,” and if possible, one single word. Volvo has had tremendous success selling cars based on a consumer desire for safety, and BMW has thrived by focusing on the thrill of driving. But how can an advertiser achieve such concision? Marketers must edit ruthlessly — anything that requires complex analysis, anything that competitors could claim with equal justice, must be cut out. The consumer needs to be shown what is unique and defining about this brand. And since the construction and cultivation of a strong brand is a long and ongoing process, anything that jars with established perceptions of one’s brand must also be cut out.

The continuity of established perceptions is vital because not even the best ad can change consumers’ minds. Xerox lost a great deal of money trying to convince the public that in addition to its wildly popular copying machines, it could also manufacture quality personal computers. Xerox has long had a settled identity, and any attempt to fundamentally change that identity would be futile.

Once formed, perceptions tend to remain in place. Thus a strong, focused brand identity is a treasure, and a company that attempts to broaden its identity does so at its own peril. The more products a company tries to brand together, “the more the mind loses focus.” According to the author, having a murky idea of what “Brand X” stands for is little better than having no idea at all.

The need for focused branding has become all the more urgent due to the “amazing proliferation of product choices” in recent decades. From the early 70s to the late 90s, the number of available TV screen sizes rose from 5 to 15. The number of magazine titles rose from 339 to 790, and the number of soft-drink brands rose from 20 to 87. Perhaps surprisingly, this explosion of options has not led to a pristine consumer paradise — in fact, a multiplicity of choices can actually be a turnoff for potential consumers. Overwhelmed with options, some individuals will put off (and then forget about) making a decision about a particular purchase. In such an environment, the ability to make a purchasing decision seem simple is a key part of business success. This is largely accomplished by clearly positioning one’s brand with simple, effective advertising campaigns.