Definition Makes A Difference

by Kim Faulkner 22 June 2018

The Marketers Role in Defining Perspective

Compare the word chair – ‘an object for resting the bottom’ against ‘an object that raises us up and off the ground’. We might well be referring to the same chair in both instances, but just the way we have defined it has created different associations around what it is, and how it could be used.

While we don’t advocate the use of definition to deceive audiences about the quality of chairs, we are firm believers that brands can and should pay special attention to the way they define themselves and the way they define the categories that they are in.

As an example, Sony once owned the category debate on portable music; they defined a perspective that was – life should have a soundtrack that’s not limited by the length of a power-cord. This perspective was hugely powerful; it defined a battery operated music player that revolutionised how music would be consumed. It signalled the birth of the Sony Walkman!

In many respects, by defining the product as an experience, the Walkman is the precursor to the iPod and the thousands of soundtracks we now take with us wherever we go. 

Why Definition Matters - A Case in Point

In our work with the Singapore Mediation Council (SMC), we found that just by defining "mediation" as "alternative dispute resolution", placed it firmly in the legal arena, and therefore something for lawyers to advocate in cases of conflict. 

We recommended that the SMC redefine what it offered as part of "Strategic Conflict Management" and this resonated with the business community almost immediately.

The language the SMC used in the past such as "without prejudice to your case", gave the impression that mediation signalled a "weakness" or "vulnerability" in the case, rather than a desire for a win-win outcome.

Key outcomes of a mediated settlement, were incorporated into the visual system of the SMC and brought directly to the end-users - the business community. 



An annual signature event called "Unfolding Conversations" was used to re-launch the SMC, and they have not looked back since. These annual events see over 300 business leaders congregating each time to better understand the role of mediation in business disputes, and how they can better manage positive outcomes through this.


The results have been encouraging with exponential year-on-year growth in the number of cases mediated, versus the far more acrimonious alternative of litigation. In 2017, the Singapore Mediation Centre handled $2.7 billion in disputed sums, setting a new benchmark for mediation as part of strategic conflict management.

ST Headline 2018

ST media cutting 2019

When and how do we know it’s time to redefine?

Change occurs at an unprecedented rate; audiences themselves have redefined their role – from consumer to content producer and new entrants to the market are in no short supply. The importance of taking time quarterly to review the way your brand is received in the market cannot be understated.

Research and professional brand audits are, of course, a great way of getting deep and objective insight but marketers should learn to trust intuition and to look at the way their brands are being engaged with internally – acronyms and glazed expressions are a quick indicator that the way you’ve defined yourself is not having the traction that you had intended.

If you notice this happening, remember that it might not be ad spend or top of mind that is the gap – it could well be the way you have defined yourself in the market and chances are you might need to consider a more in-depth solution than just upping your marketing budget. 


Kim has over 30 years of branding, marketing and design experience in Asia and has lectured and written extensively on the subject of branding, strategy development, marketing and design across the region.