Outstanding post by Seth Godin today titled "When you stand for something." He makes the excellent point that consumer's need a company to stand for a set of benefits. When these benefits are vague, the company is damaging the brand.
I've found that these choices are even more complex and challenging than the ones outlined by Seth. There is always a temptation to be everything to everyone. Retail offers the best examples of brands that thrive because they are well defined and those that do not. In retail you are either Bergdorf Goodman or WalMart. Everyone else is a shade of the two. Not to say others aren't successful. The problem is that they always live a life of protecting share from those that are cheaper or others that are higher on the premium goods scale.
Another good example is Southwest Airlines that not only has a well defined brand, but is surprisingly the best performing stock on the New York Stock Exchange from 1972 through last year.
Choice becomes even more complex as you define your relationship to the consumer. Are you a friend, mentor or secret adviser. What are the three measurable points of distinction that differentiate you from the competition.
It's easy to believe that everyone will buy your core product. The problem is that you quickly become Sears....A company that is capable of satisfying many people in an average way. The world is too competitive to be average. Your value proposition sets the guideposts of distinction. With the economy in turmoil, it's better to be well defined like Southwest instead of representing an unclear future like the competition.