Brand positioning is valuable for understanding what makes you distinctive from others to gain competitive advantage.
Brand positioning is perception in the minds of audiences. Your perceptions of Apple, Disney and Toyota are the result of decades of careful positioning.
Perceptions of your brand already exist too. It’s to your advantage to make those perceptions accurate and favourable.
Actively building and maintaining a position for your brand helps you influence what people think of it.
This is the context for how audiences think about and encounter your brand. It’s usually expressed by its fit in a restricted category or defined against its set of competitors. The point of reference encompasses how audiences make choices that fulfil their goals.
The point of reference can even include named competitors you aspire to equal or exceed.
What categories or sectors is your brand in? Who are your biggest competitors? In what other scenarios would your brand qualify as something to be chosen? What other brand could serve as a benchmark?
…it’s important to treat brand positioning as an ongoing strategy for staying relevant rather than as a one-off exercise.
2. The point of parity
This covers the features shared by all members within the point of reference. These features can be directly or indirectly competitive, and apply even if you don’t know the names of all your competitors.
Parity is often overlooked in favour of emphasising difference. Yet parity helps establish the must-haves for you to even be considered relevant competition. For your difference to be effective, you need strong parity.
List all the things your brand has in common against other members within the point of reference. Size? Quality? Convenience? Price? Product benefits?
3. The point of difference
This is what distinguishes your brand and makes it uniquely relevant and desirable to your audience.
The point of difference can be a tangible quality or an emotional association. Either way, leveraging a potent enough difference gives your brand competitive advantage.
What’s distinctive about your brand offering that is superior to others? How does your personality, attitude, history or service approach differ?
From these three points, you can identify where to compete and what territory of perception you can make your own. Markets move, landscapes change and businesses frequently develop and launch new offerings, so it’s important to treat brand positioning as an ongoing strategy for staying relevant rather than as a one-off exercise.
Our view is that strategic differentiation and its creative execution should strive to be one and the same
The most valuable words you can own
Most brands have a lead message that they express to their audiences. You probably call it a slogan or a tagline. But these terms undermine the lead message’s true worth. Wholehearted brand builders call these crucial words the positioning phrase.
The positioning phrase is a single, meaningful expression that’s distilled from the brand and made visible to audiences. For your brand, these are the most valuable words people will see, remember and find meaningful.
Just do it is Nike’s positioning phrase. It supports the brand’s perception as being active, inspiring, limitless. McDonald’s uses I’m lovin’ it to reinforce its positioning globally. The words help the brand be perceived as down-to-earth, easy, comforting and pleasurable to its audiences.
Our view is that strategic differentiation and its creative execution should strive to be one and the same. Crafting the most appropriate positioning phrase is a balance of science and art – it must be true, emotional, powerful and relevant for a long time.
In the battle for people’s minds, simple ideas imaginatively and consistently expressed are the most memorable and meaningful, and therefore the most valuable.
Brand builders gather relevant insights – preferences, pain points, demographics, foibles – about their audiences to inform the creative work. They typically take two routes to develop the positioning – the workshop approach and the studio approach.
The workshop approach – The creative team unites with C-suite brand gatekeepers. Together, they exchange ideas and agree on a creative solution. The workshop approach facilitates communication and saves time. Yet the quality of outcome varies. Those closer to the brand tend to be biased. Creative decisions are favoured through committee rather than conjuring or embracing braver, considerations with greater appeal to outsiders.
The studio approach – The creative team develops ideas separately, with management guiding and critiquing them to a solution. This approach lets bold ideas flourish without agenda or clouded thinking. Wholehearted brand builders recognise the value of an outsider’s perspective and respects that creativity requires focus to hone an effective solution.
Brand positioning is a paradox. A brand should be unique against competition – yet relate closely to a common point of reference to be recognised at all. Your brand’s ideal positioning comes from balancing the common against the unique.