The Birth Order Theory for Brand Positioning, Part I

Out of the 25 first astronauts in space, 23 were First-born; the remaining two were only children.

Most of the great comedians from Chaplin to DeGeneres are the youngest siblings in their families.

Middle children often report feeling neglected, scorned.

First-born siblings frequently suffer back and neck pain as a result of their constant striving for perfection.

The idea that character traits and behaviors are heavily influenced by birth order was set forth over one hundred years ago by Austrian Psychotherapist, Alfred Adler. Birth Order Theory remains widely accepted, though controversial, in modern psychology. While exceptions to the Birth Order Theory are prevalent, the value of the rule proves successful time and time again. For a modern primer on the subject, I recommend The Birth Order Book: Why You Are Who You Are, by Dr. Kevin Leman.

I put little stock in astrology to guide my daily dealings, but I make frequent business decisions and even recommendations on brand positioning, based on the power of birth order and its significance in our lives.

“If they were drowning to death, I’d put a hose in their mouth,” is credited to Ray Kroc, speaking of his business rivals.

You may feel differently about competition, but for your safety and survival in the world of business, let’s assume someone somewhere might feel this way that about you.

The story is as old as Cain and Abel, long before we had Sun Tzu’s war methods to adapt to corporate strategy.

Much ink has been spilt by great intellectuals for the cause of market positioning in recent decades. For a brush-up on the topic, see the works of Ries & Trout, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, or Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders, by Adam Morgan.

Birth Order Theory trumps all of these. While helpful in tactics and application, market positioning strategies are all derivative of this primal reality, baked into the nature of all living things, and repeated throughout history in all competitive arenas, including statecraft, military strategies, sports, and marketing.

However dark, we can look to nature for the true application of our premise. See Siblicide in Humans and Other Species, by Catherine A. Salmon.

“Sibling conflict is shared across a wide variety of species, including humans. It is an expected process because offspring compete for dominance as well as food resources (most common in nonhuman species) and also for parental attention, money, and other personal resources in the case of human children.”

Whether you prefer to look at instances of siblicide in nature or the softer Birth Order Book by Leman, Birth Order Theory is nature’s guide to brand positioning.

For our application to brand positioning, here are a few key definitions, taken from Leman’s text:

“First-borns bask in their parents’ presence, which may explain why they sometimes act like mini-adults. First-borns are diligent and want to be the best at everything they do. They excel at winning the hearts of their elders.

As the leader of the pack, First-borns often tend to be: Reliable, Conscientious, Structured, Cautious, Controlling, Achievers.”

Middle Child
“The middle child often feels left out and a sense of, ‘Well, I’m not the oldest. I’m not the youngest. Who am I?’ says therapist Meri Wallace. This sort of hierarchical floundering leads middle children to make their mark among their peers, since parental attention is usually devoted to the beloved First-born or baby of the family.

In general, middle children tend to possess the following characteristics: People-pleasers, Somewhat rebellious, Thrives on friendships, Has large social circle, Peacemaker.”

“Youngest children tend to be the most free-spirited due to their parents’ increasingly laissez-faire attitude towards parenting the second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) time around.

The baby of the family tends to be: Fun-loving, Uncomplicated, Manipulative, Outgoing, Attention-seeker, Self-centered.”

For our purposes, we will suspend discussion of Only Children, who share many of the leadership qualities of a typical First-born. We will also depart from the nuances of sibling sets larger than three, as well as exceptions like the impact of extended gaps between siblings, blended families, implications of being First-born by sex, but not by family, etc.

For our working theory, we will only concern ourselves with two groups:

1. First-born
2. Last-born

If you are the market leader, we will operate under the assumption that you are a First-born.

If you are anything other than the market leader, we will operate under the assumption that you are a Last-born.

The reason we will not deal with the distinctions between Second-borns, Middle Child, Last-borns, etc. is that in every case, everyone who comes after is a reaction to the first. Leman refers to as the “Branching-Off Effect.”

To read Part II, click here.

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