Brand positioning is about creating a targeted impression in consumers’ minds. It’s more than just slogans and taglines. Your brand positioning strategy lays out the specific (and often emotional) ways you want consumers to perceive your brand when they think of it or encounter it in the world. It also serves as foundational material for all your marketing and communications.
A brand positioning statement is one or two sentences that sums all this up. It addresses consumer needs and desires, and details why your brand is uniquely valuable at addressing them.
This article outlines some key brand positioning methods that will help you develop a powerful brand positioning strategy for your company, product or service.
1. Determine your current brand positioning strategy
What if you’re already in-market but didn’t spend a lot of time on positioning before you launched your business? It’s possible you’ve been in business for years and now want to get more strategic about your positioning and marketing.
Start by looking at what you might say on a sales call. What propositions do you lead with? What product features or benefits most appeal to your clients? Why do you lose deals to competitors? Is something missing? What feature or benefit do you wish you could offer? These questions help you identify where you are now and make decisions about where you need to go in the future.
You can also consider your brand’s emotional impression. This may or may not be an important part of your brand right now. It depends on what your business does and what you have emphasized. A few key questions to consider here: Do people get excited about your brand? Is there a natural connection between it and organic human behaviour and emotions? Or is your brand more prosaic or commoditized in nature?
With all of this, of course, you’re looking for points of differentiation. How can you position your brand in a way that’s unique?
But what if you’re not already in-market? What if you’re just starting out?
You should start by identifying your competition so you can develop a brand positioning strategy to beat them.
2. Identify your competitors
Identifying your competition gives you useful information on how you can effectively position your brand. Failing to understand your competitors can be a fatal flaw for your business.
So, how do you find out who your competitors are?
One way is simply studying the market. What other companies are selling a product or service that could compete with yours? Every market, from retail to software, is competitive. Look at the companies that sell to your target demographic or business.
If you’re a B2B company, particularly one that operates in multiple markets, you might get value out of research on the key search terms associated with your business. That can point you at competitors you never knew existed. This is particularly relevant in a world where your biggest competitor can be next door – or somewhere on the other side of the world.
Customer feedback is another way to identify your competitors. Ask for feedback on what other companies your customers considered before they decided on you. This can give you insight into consumer perceptions and decision-making processes.
You can also search social media and online communities. From Facebook to Reddit to Quora, consumers are constantly discussing products and services. This is particularly true in the B2C space but useful information can be gleaned about any industry.
Throughout this process, you’ll identify primary, secondary and tertiary competitors. You need to know your primary competitors extremely well. So that’s where you need to dig deep.
3. Do primary competitor research
Competitor research will give you a lot of useful information to help position your brand. You can hire an agency or marketing specialist to do a competitive review for you. Or you can do it yourself. Either way you should learn some critical things about your competition.
You should get a clear sense of the products and services your competitors are offering. How do they compare to yours in quality? What claims are they making? What features or benefits are they emphasizing? What kind of strengths and weaknesses do they have?
You may have advantages or disadvantages on price. How are your competitors pricing their offerings? Are they racing to the bottom? Are they pursuing a premium price? Or do they take a position based more on value than price?
Are there process differences between you and your competitors – not in the products or services themselves but in how you each deliver? This is particularly important with service-based businesses as the process and the experience a client has is often a major piece of the operative value proposition.
Look at how your competitors are marketing themselves – starting with their websites. What brand positioning methods are they using? You should be able to learn a lot just from the homepage of a competitor’s website. That’s where the most important information about a company is located. It’s likely that significant discussion and debate has gone into choosing the content that users see when they arrive on the website for the first time. This is what the company thinks is important. You can learn from that.
You should also take note of the tone of their broader marketing materials and the language they use when talking about themselves. Are they luxurious or utilitarian, casual or professional, traditional or innovative?
What about the social channels they use? What’s effective for them? Could that be effective for you? Are they doing paid advertising? Should you?
All of this gives you a broad view of the landscape, your competitors and the material necessary to develop your own brand positioning strategy.
4. Create your brand positioning statement
Here are a few useful questions to consider as you develop your brand positioning statement.
- Who is your target customer? Is it a very specific person or a broad group?
- What’s your product or service category? This helps define the market in which you compete.
- What is the key benefit of your product? Define the promise you are making to your audience with your brand and your products.
- What proof do you have you offer that benefit? You have to tell your customers why they should believe you.
Keep in mind your positioning statement should only be 1-2 sentences long. You have to get to the essence of things. It’s central to your brand strategy. But you can’t include every detail.
You will ultimately have to focus more heavily on some aspects of your potential positioning options than others. You may focus heavily on price, customer benefits, competitor weaknesses, processes or another element.
For example, here is Nike’s positioning statement:
“For athletes in need of high-quality, fashionable athletic wear, Nike provides customers with top-performing sports apparel and shoes made of the highest quality materials. Its products are the most advanced in the athletic apparel industry because of Nike’s commitment to innovation and investment in the latest technologies”.
This statement identifies a target audience and their need/problem. It focuses its positioning on quality (“top-performing/highest/most advanced”) and frames the brand as innovative and leading edge. If you’re familiar with Nike’s marketing, you’ll see how its consistent sponsorship of and association with the world’s greatest athletes reinforces this positioning. All these things work as an integrated system.
5. Test your brand positioning statement
You can test your new brand positioning strategy and statement in multiple ways.
Start by testing it with your inner circle before you publish it for the world to see. Your inner circle could include business associates in your network, longtime trusted clients, or partner organizations.
Getting feedback from existing customers you trust is especially important. They are stand-ins for everyone else you’ll be marketing to in the days ahead. Listen carefully to them. Watch for their reactions. Ask them what resonates most or what might be missing or unclear.
Keep an eye on your social media mentions, comments, follows and online reviews after you launch your new positioning. You can see how people are reacting in-market. Watch for spikes, changes and trends in your website traffic and sales pipeline.
Over time you can internalize all this feedback, holding onto what seems critical and discarding that which seems inessential. Then you can adjust your brand positioning strategy as necessary.
6. Use your brand positioning strategy to build out your marketing strategy
Your brand positioning strategy provides guidance for your team and company in their marketing and communications activities, just like it provides guidance for your customers on who you are and why you’re valuable.
As you test out your positioning statement (or even before you test it) you can also work on a marketing plan that brings your brand positioning strategy to life across mediums.
Think again of Nike. Almost every aspect of their marketing strategy and all the resulting marketing campaigns connect their brand as closely as possible to elite athletes. This reinforces their product positioning. Our gear is good enough for the world’s best. You should want it too. Nike also brings consumers closer to the athletes they admire and, by extension, the Nike products they use.
Imagine your brand positioning statement in a small central circle with larger circles radiating out from it. You can build your marketing strategy by completing those circles, adding in key layers like target audiences, social media strategy, advertising strategy, trade show or conference plans, digital marketing strategy, etc. Not every tool and tactic will be valuable for every company, but every company can work outward from brand positioning to build out a marketing strategy.
Successful brand positioning strategy examples
JetBlue vs. Delta
Delta is one of the giants of the airline industry but that alone doesn’t mean its market share is guaranteed. After Delta stopped serving peanuts and reduced legroom to maximize their margins, JetBlue entered the market with a marketing campaign focused on comfort and hospitality, offering great snacks and increased legroom at discount prices. JetBlue found their success by positioning themselves as an airline focused on making the flight experience as enjoyable as possible where Delta focused on their frequent-flyer program.
Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods
Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both occupy a similar segment of the grocery market. They both promote healthy options, including vegan and organic products, and share eco-friendly values. However, their positioning is wildly different. Whole Foods often gets flak for being overpriced and trendy, lending their stores a certain sense of luxury that is out of reach for the average person. Trader Joe’s on the other hand is one of the most cost-friendly grocery stores. They offer a friendly atmosphere and specialize in offering their own brand products in an endearing and communal store. Although both stores offer similar products, Trader Joe’s have positioned itself as being for the average customer who still wants high quality, health conscious products in contrast to Whole Foods slightly austere brand identity.
Lyft vs. Uber
Uber essentially created a completely unique market in the ride-share scene, but others soon followed. Although Uber remains the largest player in the ride-share industry, Lyft managed to take a sizable segment of the market through smart and fun brand positioning. Uber has positioned itself as a sleek and luxurious brand, from the monochromatic colour scheme to the luxury cars available for rides, but not everyone enjoyed the sense of luxury. Conversely, Lyft has positioned itself as a friendly and fun brand that offers human connection instead of chauffeured rides. This difference in position has allowed Lyft to share a large segment of the market and become successful within its own right.
A strong brand positioning strategy will demand a customer’s attention. Strong marketing retains it over a period of time. Together, the two build brand loyalty, enable your sales teams and drive material impacts to your revenue.
Developing powerful brand positioning requires you to understand:
- Existing customer perceptions of your company (if you’re already in market)
- Your target audience and their needs, wants and problems
- Your competitive landscape
- How your competitors are marketing and positioning their brands, products and services
- How your brand positioning will inform your marketing strategy and plans
At Tiller, we offer brand positioning services and then help clients execute based on that positioning. If you have any questions about any of the material above or want to learn more about how we can help you build a powerful brand, just contact us and we’ll be glad to talk.