Understanding the Importance of Brand Positioning
The marketplace is noisy. Brands are being created at breakneck speed. Much more than people can keep up with and each brand is creating more and more content to catch the dwindling attention of the target audience.
In such an environment, how do you make your brand stand out and capture the attention of your target market? How to create the right kind of impact that leads to sales and revenues, and market share growth?
Traditional marketing methods are becoming ineffective as people are starting to tune out advertising messages. Outbound marketing methods are quickly starting to create the opposite effect of what the brands intend as people start to hate interruption and being sold to. The dawn of inbound marketing is here. Enhancing your brand image through content strategy is more important than ever!
This is where the concept of brand positioning comes into play.
What is brand positioning?
Brand positioning is the process of creating a unique position or place in your target customer’s minds that raises your brand over the competition and creates a distinct brand anchor that the customer will come to associate your brand with. This positioning will help move your brand to the top rung of the latter of your competitors in your customer’s mind.
To give an analogy to better illustrate this concept, image that your various competitors are the rungs of a ladder in your customer’s mind. Your brand’s position on the ladder is the position in your customer’s mind. When the customer requires a product or service that your brand offers, they reach out to the ladder to make their buying decision.
Who do they choose and why?
Being able to answer this question is critical to the success of your brand and your business. But answering this question is not that easy or simple.
All brands have a position whether they have actively tried to gain that position or not. If your brand is not actively working towards creating a position then your competitors will determine where you are positioned.
Blind spots in your brand strategy or messaging could lead to a positioning that puts your brand on a downward spiral with loss of sales and revenue. Of if you are a new brand, it would lead to a massive struggle to get any market share at all.
Developing a Unique Brand Positioning Strategy
To address the problem of having a strong position in the minds of your customers, your brand needs a brand positioning strategy. A strategy by definition is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.
The keyword here is long-term.
And that is where most brand owners bog down. Once you believe that a strategy is for quick and immediate results or gains, you will lose the benefits of a strategy.
To create a brand positioning strategy, you will have to go through the following activity steps:
- An in-depth market analysis
- A through competitive analysis
- Defining your brand value proposition
- Create a positioning strategy
A brand positioning strategy should be organic and should evolve over time as you start implementing the strategy and track the results.
In-depth Market Analysis
To create a brand positioning strategy you have to start with an in-depth competitive analysis. Not just a peripheral market demographics but rather an in-depth look into all aspects of the market landscape.
Start with the market characteristics
Is the market growing, stable or contracting? Are the customers actively searching for the product/service that your brand offers? Do the customers have a problem or issue that needs solving but have not realised that your product or service is the answer?
Next comes the Market Lifecycle Stage
Where is the market in terms of its lifecycle stage? Here are typically four market lifecycle stages: introduction, growth, maturity and decline. In which stage is your market in? And how do you position yourself in each stage?
- Introductory stage: If your market is in the introductory stage then you can try and become a pioneer by educating your target audience through a robust content strategy and position yourself as an authority. Your focus should be on educating the market about how the solution (product/service) that your company offers is the right solution and better than current solutions. But remember, you should focus on the solution in general and not try and market your brand too aggressively.
- Growth stage: in the growth stage, it is a rapidly growing market segment and there is a great influx of new competitors. Your target audience is already aware of the market and the products or services that solve their problem. So you can position ourself as a best of the breed. This is where you try and convince your prospects that your brand should be selected.
- Maturity stage: This is a saturated market and there are tons of competitors vying for the same piece of the flat market. Consumers most probably already have what your company sells. In this stage position your brand based on economies of scale and pricing. Your messaging should talk about how efficient and cost effective your offering is.
- Decline stage: The market may be dwindling as consumers are either not buying anymore or are moving to newer alternate solutions. If you are trying to enter a market in the decline stage, I would ask you to think twice. The positioning may involve offering discounts and price slashing to try and generate sales. Or to go innovation and move your business to greener pastures.
Finally we define Market Segments/Personas
Once you have done the market life cycle stage analysis, you get to one of the most critical aspects of any brand positioning strategy – creating market segments and/or buyer personas. I can not emphasise enough the importance of this step.
Market segmentation is critical because it enables you to understand the various opportunities and threats of that market. You may think that your product or service is a great fit for the market. But in reality, if you do not segment your market then you end up having a scatterer shot approach to your brand messaging and marketing. You would be putting stuff out there and seeing what will stick. While this may be a good strategy for some, often times, it will end up wasting valuable time and resources for startups and small businesses.
Here is a list of various market segment examples:
- Demographics: This is the most common segmentation and is based on customer traits (such as age, gender, marital status, occupation, religion, education, income and so on).
- Geographic: Based on where the target customers live your positioning strategy may vary.
- Lifestyle: Based on the hobbies and interests of your target customers, this segmentation will help with crafting targeted messaging and marketing campaigns.
- Behavioral: Buying and spending patterns can help you position your brand ideally.
- Benefit: This segment seeks to understand which benefits of your product or service would the target market mostly seek out.
Conducting Competitor Research and Analysis
One of my pet peeves is entrepreneurs and startup founders thinking they know their competitors without actually undertaking a thorough competitive analysis. It is easy to think that you know the competition – but knowing your competitors doesn’t just mean knowing who they are and a vague idea of their offerings. Knowing your competitors is about knowing how they are positioning themselves, their messaging strategy, and a lot more.
Without knowing what mindshare your competitors own in the market, you may go for the same mindshare, which is difficult if your competition has done a good job of their positioning. The result is that your brand wastes time, resources, and money chasing after a position that you can not take in the consumer’s mind.
To give you a really simple example, and to show you that even mega-corporations sometimes make this mistake, look back at how Coca Cola tried to take market share away from Red Bull by introducing its energy drink – while trying to occupy the positioning that Red Bull had. But Red Bull-owned a significant mindshare that could not be taken over due to their unique brand messaging and marketing, which perfectly aligned with their target audience. Coca Cola tried three times already with its line of energy drinks – Sprite Recharge, Lift Plus, and Burn which has all failed in the past.
Look at the competitive landscape and work out the strengths of each competitor. Be sure to look at your direct, indirect, and potential future competitors. Again this is where many businesses make a mistake – not being able to identify potential future threats.
- Direct Competitors – These are the obvious ones that come to mind when considering your market segment and offering similar products or services.
- In-direct Competitors – Although these companies may offer services or products that are not similar to yours, they could perhaps solve the same problem and thereby draw away customers.
- Future Competitors – These are usually large corporations who may enter your market segment and take away market share. An excellent example is Amazon.
Evaluate Competition and Complete SWOT Analysis
Once you have listed all your direct, indirect, and future competitors, evaluate them based on their strengths and weaknesses. Look at metrics such as quality, price, efficiency, brand strategy, messaging, marketing campaigns, and mindshare.
This would be a difficult step – especially trying to understand the positing strategies but your efforts would teach a lot about your brand and where you may need to position your brand.
Define Brand Value Proposition
Most businesses do not really understand or are not even aware of this concept. Understanding it and applying it to your business will help your business ascend to the next level like how one of our clients used the message of positiveness to stand apart from the crow. You can read more about the concept of brand value proposition in this article I wrote a while back.
Select Value Proposition
Once you have identified and evaluated your competition and tried to figure what their positioning strategy may be, it is time to look inwards and decide what value your brand would bring or is already bringing to the market.
There are three types of value propositions that you can embrace:
- Product Innovation Focus – your brand is all about innovation and hence you are claiming your position as a pioneer
- Efficiency and Pricing Focus – your brand is all about having an operational efficiency and hence being able to offer competitive pricing
- Superb Customer Service Focus – your brand is all about the customer and service and so even if you can not differentiate your product or service, you can gain mindshare.
Review Competitor’s Value Propositions (If Possible)
If possible try and review your competitors value propositions. This may be a little tricky since typically the messaging will be noisy and the proposition may not be clearly visible straight away. But if you scan thorough their websites and social media channels, you may be able to work out which of the above three your competitors are focusing on.
Create Brand Positioning Strategy
If you have done all the above steps diligently, you should now be in a great position to create a winning brand positioning strategy for your brand.
Here are a few ways you can position your brand:
- Pricing – This could be either high end like luxury brands (Louis Vuitton, Gucci etc) or it could be on the cheaper end (Zara, Mango etc)
- Quality – This is not such a great positioning angle since customer expect high quality no matter what.
- Customer Service – This one is a biggie and can really make a difference in gaining mindshare and market share (ex: Zappos)
- Performance – You are promising to outperform the competition (ex: BMW, Porche etc)
- Convenience – People really brands who offer convenience (ex: Starbucks, McDonalds etc)
- Lifestyle – This positioning will gain you a cult following and great mindshare (ex: Nike, Apple, Burberry etc)
What will you use? Perhaps it is something not listed here. Whatever it is, make sure that you think through all angles and then decide on the positioning that will get the maximum mindshare and then embrace that fully.
Crafting Your Brand Story and Value Proposition
Crafting your brand story and value proposition is essential to your brand strategy. It helps communicate your brand’s value and the unique elements that set it apart from the competition. Here’s a step-by-step approach to crafting these critical brand elements:
Define Your Brand’s Core Values:
Identify and articulate the core values that define your brand. These values will be the foundation for your brand story and value proposition. They should be aligned with your business goals and resonate with your target audience.
Understand Your Target Audience:
Develop a deep understanding of your target audience’s needs, wants, and pain points. This understanding will guide you in crafting a brand story and value proposition that speaks directly to them and their experiences.
Craft Your Brand Story:
A brand story is a cohesive narrative that encapsulates the facts and feelings associated with your brand. It should be engaging, authentic, and convey your brand’s personality. Your brand story should illustrate your brand’s journey, its mission, and how it adds value to your customers’ lives. Remember, a compelling brand story can create an emotional connection with your audience, fostering loyalty and trust.
Develop Your Value Proposition:
A value proposition is a clear statement that explains how your product solves customers’ problems, delivers specific benefits, and tells the customer why they should buy from you over your competitors. It should be concise, specific, and easy to understand. Your value proposition should highlight the unique value your brand provides that others don’t.
Test and Refine:
Once you have crafted your brand story and value proposition, testing them is crucial. Use focus groups, surveys, and feedback from your target audience to assess their impact. Listen to the feedback and be ready to refine your story and proposition until they resonate with your audience and accurately represent your brand.
Finally, ensure your brand story and value proposition are consistently communicated across all touchpoints. Consistency helps reinforce your brand message and increases recognition and recall.
Remember, your brand story and value proposition are not static. As your brand evolves, so should your story and proposition. Regularly revisit them to ensure they remain relevant and accurately reflect your brand’s values and offerings.
Case study – Seaworld
SeaWorld announced that they would be phasing out the traditional Orca shows that have been their bread and butter and stop its killer whale breeding program. For over 51 years, SeaWorld had used the Orca as it’s a brand icon and its logo design and build up the entire business on the back of killer whale shows. With heavy pressure from animal rights activists and the release of the file Blackfish in 2013 which brought to light the lives of Orcas in captivity, SeaWorld has finally decided to pivot its brand positioning strategy.
Brand Positioning is all about the emotional connection that you can form with your ideal customers.
You can read more about how brand positioning enables success for businesses in this article.
For SeaWorld, the connection was the cute yet awe-inspiring image of the Orca, killer whale – a magnificent creature belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. SeaWorld’s core values and purpose are to protect animals in the wild and inspire their guests to join them in this critical mission. This may have been true at the beginning and helped position SeaWorld as an educational entertainment oriented theme park. In fact, SeaWorld may be responsible for making the hitherto feared Orca a much-loved animal around the world because people saw these animals up close and learned more about them.
“When SeaWorld opened its doors more than 50 years ago, killer whales were feared and even hunted. Now, they are among the most beloved marine mammals on the planet thanks, in part, to the inspirational encounters we’ve provided to more than 400 million guests.”, says SeaWorld’s website in connection with their pivoting and the story they are trying to tell.
But that positioning had to change. Once people learned about how social and how intelligent these animals were, they felt more and more inclined not to visit the shows where these powerful creatures were doing circus tricks and were kept in small enclosed pools for most of their long lives. On top of that, animal activists and the Blackfish documentary raised awareness of the torture these animals go through.
So, Seaworld finally decides to throw in the towel and in a letter to the LA Times, Joel Manby, the president, and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, announced the phasing out of the traditional shows and stopping the Orca breeding program.
“By offering our guests enjoyable, memorable and educational experiences, SeaWorld will continue to create the constituency for conservation, just as we helped to inspire the changing attitudes that, in turn, inspired our company’s changing policies.”, says Joel as part of the new story and positioning.
The Importance Of Brand Positioning.
By ditching the iconic Orca brand, how is SeaWorld going to create the same kind of emotional connection with its target audience which translates into millions of dollars in revenue? SeaWorld looks like they want to position themselves as an educational organization. A place people can come to learn about marine life. But is that a good positioning strategy? People go to SeaWorld seeking thrills. They want to see large killer whales perform tricks and entertain them. Would they be that entertained or thrilled by going to an aquarium?
Any organization that faces a crisis to its brand or its industry is faced with the daunting prospect of pivoting its positioning or succumb to the threats and die. This has happened to and is happening to many brands in the accident claims industry in the UK, certain insurance sectors, the fast food industry, sugary food and drink sectors and so on. Brands have had to reinvent themselves, pivot and tell a different story to survive.
Walking away from a brand icon that carried SeaWorld for so many decades would be difficult. Telling the right story is important. I am not sure the educational angle is such a good idea. I am sure the great marketing and branding minds that work with SeaWorld have explored all options before going down this route and only time can tell if this is going to be a success. Of course, there are those that feel that this new positioning is just a sham and that SeaWorld will continue to do what it has been doing – but just in a different way and with different messages.
Brand positioning is a critical element to any business and it pays to spend time and effort in building a strong brand.
It not only allows a brand to rise above the competition and dominate a market but it also creates an opportunity to tell the right story. Pivoting a brand positioning can be very difficult and that is why it is very important to craft the positioning carefully with careful thought of the future and any potential changes to the market segment or consumer behavior. Any such future threats need to be considered carefully and if possible pivots need to be baked into the brand strategy.
In a crowded market place, it is critical to differentiate your brand and make sure you understand how you can position and communicate your brand in the right way to attract the right kind of customers, conversions and ultimately larger market share. Brand positioning is a critical element of your business success and requires some careful thought and attention.
Let’s outline some fundamentals of strong brand positioning and a few marketing strategy tips on how to formulate your own brand positioning statement.
But why brand positioning?
When you are competing in a crowded market place – and these days it is almost every market segment – if you move forward blindly without a proper strategy in place, you may end up leaving money on the table or worse, have a business failure on your hands. To create the right impact on your target market’s psyche, you need to figure out a way to dictate the perceptions of your ideal customers. This alignment of perceptions and creating the connection in the minds of your customers is brand positioning.
Establishing the right perception that aligns with your customer’s world view is brand positioning. This starts with a deep understanding of your target market is and then identifying how to best to communicate to this audience and connect with them both at the rational and more importantly on an emotional level.
Positioning is all about the emotional connection that you can form with your ideal customers. How do you appeal to their sensibilities and ensure that they think of your brand when it comes time to chose. This is also called top of mind strategy.
Here are a few examples that will help you understand how brands position themselves. I talk about both the winners and losers in a few market verticals.
The Automobile Market
When it comes cars, what is the difference between a Toyota and a Lexus? One is positioned as the affordable car and the other is positioned as a luxury item. What about Volvo? They chose to position themselves as the safest cars! BMW positioned as superb engineering and performance while Audi is all about sexiness.
Mercedes-Benz on the other hand has struggled with it’s positioning in the last few years and hence it’s market share has been eroded. While it started out as a luxury brand, over the years bad brand management and leadership meant Mercedes tried to enter the low end of the market and ended up diluting it’s positioning. Today it is not sure what it’s positioning is.
The Airline Industry
Virgin has the strongest brand positioning in the airline industry at the moment. They get it. It is no wonder other airlines have been playing with loss of public trust and toying with bankruptcy all these years. Richard Branson, with his personal branding and charisma has truly created a world class airlines. On the same vein Emirates Airlines have been thought of as the most valuable airline in the world. Emirates is all about luxury and they position themselves appropriately.
What about Delta Airlines? Don’t get me started. All I can say is that they have positioned themselves as the most irritating and hassle-full airlines. At least that is how the public perception is, if the tons of feedback on social media is any indication. Over in Europe, you have the low-cost airlines such as RyanAir or EasyJet who enjoy a lot of negative publicity because of their tricky positioning targeting the lowest end of the market and then doing things to push their profits – which do not go well together and are bound to make customers unhappy!
The Fashion World
The fashion world is full of positioning exercises. In fact positioning your fashion or clothing line is quite critical because of the highly competitive nature of the industry as well as the highly fickle mentalities of the audience. So positioning through brand storytelling is the key.
Dunhill for example gained market share by creating and advertising a fantasy lifestyle. Dunhill created for itself an image of the “quintessentially British male” by making its name synonymous with the newly embraced automobile (Tungate, 2011, 509). Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger on the hand neither of them sketched, sewed, or actually designed any original clothes. They were,
instead, the “haute couturiers of marketing,” and exemplified the way fashion in America had changed (Agins, 1999, 82).
Brooks Brothers was founded in 1818 is an excellent example of “heritage positioning“. The essence of American style, Brooks Brothers is a legendary brand that prides itself on its guiding principles, outlined in its mission statement, “to make and deal only in merchandise of the finest quality; to sell it at a fair profit and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise” (Hogan, 2011; Palmieri, 2011).
There are tons of examples of failed fashion brands that could not position themselves correctly or were too cute for their own good. Even celebrity brands fail and I will list some here so you can understand how important positioning is. These celebrities had tons of money to throw at their brands but money is not the solution.
“Dollhouse” by Paris Hilton, “Miley Cyrus and Max Azria for Walmart” by Miley Cyrus (SOURCE), “Mblem” by Mandy Moore, “6126” by Lindsay Lohan, “Bitten” by Sarah Jessica Parker (makes me cringe!), “Pastelle” by Kanye West and more.
To be honest I could go on and on giving examples in every industry and market segment but that would not be practical for this article. I will try and update the sections and improve upon it so be sure to bookmark this page and keep checking back to learn how to build strong brand positioning and turn a brand unique.