Previously in our series on branding, I talked about the “why” of your brand and the importance of understanding and articulating its essence. In this third installment, I’m going to build on those topics and talk about positioning your brand in the minds of your audience, in a way that differentiates it from competitors.
What is Brand Positioning?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “I’m living rent free inside your head”? It’s usually uttered in the pejorative sense, but it’s also a fairly accurate description of what transpires when a successful brand positioning strategy takes hold. Essentially, brand positioning happens when a service or product takes residence in the mind of a consumers who in turn expresses familiarity (hopefully in the positive) and even loyalty. More often than not, positioning is achieved through the constituent parts of first and ongoing impressions (style, tone, affability, authenticity, and the like), which help differentiate one product or service from an equally capable and often entirely similar competitor. In turn, customers discern these differences and grow loyal to attributes that are specific and desirable to them. It’s the reason why my grandmother, for decades, bought the same brand of condensed milk for her coffee and my father insists on wearing a Garmin watch when he runs instead of a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. Each product’s nuanced appeal took root and acquired a loyal customer. Factor this over thousands of people constituting a customer base, and you start to see just how important positioning is for a brand.
It’s important to note that your brand will get positioned in people’s minds, whether you’re actively involved in positioning it or not, so it’s wise to develop a strategy. It’s also important to note that there are no guarantees. Positioning is a matter of influence, persuasion, and how your brand is perceived, and its success is relative to the strength and clarity of your strategy.
How to Influence Your Brand’s Positioning
Whether your brand is new or established, influencing its position begins with articulating your understanding of 4 core brand components:
Target Audience: since the goal is to position your brand in the minds of a collective audience, you had better understand everything about them. What age group are they? What motivates them? How would you describe their attitudes towards the products or services you’re offering? What do they value? What’s important to them? Articulating these attributes in a concise paragraph will ensure your understanding of the audience is precise rather than vague or loosely assumed.
Define your Market: what is your product or service and where will you sell it? Who are your competitors? How are you differentiated from your competition? Are you selling to businesses (B2B) or consumers (B2C)? These distinctions are important. Next, you should consider things like the geographical reach you intend to serve. And from there, what’s the specific focus? This is important because a lot of brands fall into the trap of trying to be too many things to too many people, claiming to do all of it well, which is always a highly suspect claim. Pick a vertical, narrow the focus, and do it well, then distill all of the answers to the above questions into a simple market definition.
Brand Promise: put simply, a brand promise assures customers they can expect the same quality or experience every time they interact with a specific brand. Take McDonald’s, for instance: it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, the experience at a McDonald’s restaurant is predictably the same, with products that reliably taste the same. Sure, there can be some regional nuances. In Germany, you can order beer. In Newfoundland, you can get a McLobster sandwich. But fundamentally, your experience in these places and elsewhere remains the same. Understanding your brand’s promise, being able to articulate it, and never wavering from honouring it is vital to successfully positioning your brand.
Evidence the Brand Upholds its Promise: this is obviously trickier for new brands, as the evidence will necessarily be built over time. But for established brands, you should be able to show it. Probably one of the most timeless examples of this is the iconic Maytag repair man, ever bored because the superior products he services are never in disrepair.
Once you’ve identified all these components of your brand, you can formulate a brand positioning statement. A good brand positioning statement adheres closely to the following formula:
For [target audience], [company name] is the [market definition] that delivers [brand promise] because only [company name] is [evidence].
Now that you have the scope of your brand’s constituent parts in sharp relief, you can and should use it as the compass guiding your marketing strategy, as you enter your target market, differentiate and compete, uphold your brand’s promise, and, ultimately, grow.