How your brand is positioned in the market ultimately determines how consumers view you and your ability to meet their needs. It determines who you compete within your category, and if positioned right, it determines how much people or businesses will pay for your products or services. So, the stakes are high. Let’s begin by outlining what brand positioning is before we dig deeper.
What is brand positioning?
Even though 50 years have passed since it was introduced, many marketers still view the concept of positioning as the basis for brand strategy. First coined by Jack Trout in 1969, positioning was what “advertising does to the product in the prospect’s mind.”
The meaning then expanded beyond advertising and revolutionized branding after Trout, along with Al Reis, published their classic book “Positioning: The Battle of Your Mind” in 1981.
Brand positioning is about owning a unique position in the mind of the target consumer
Put simply, brand positioning is about owning a unique position in the mind of the target consumer, and it is an articulation of what you want your brand to be to consumers. It’s established relative to your competition in a way that signals differentiation and it is about making sure that when your target consumers think of your brand, they know the benefits you offer. Therefore you are showing the value of your brand to your target audience.
It is a strategic document that is primarily internally focused, helping shape and guide innovation, marketing, commercialization and sales strategies. This articulation typically addresses the following key questions: who the target customer is for the product/service, what need(s) are satisfied with this product/service, and reason(s) to believe this product will satisfy the need(s).
To some extent, positioning, at least as described by Trout and Reis, can be seen as an art. But there is a lot more to positioning than merely reflecting a position in the minds of consumers.
Fundamentally, brand positioning stands at the heart of marketing strategy. It provides the direction for strategic and tactical activities that will help an organization’s products and services stand out amid the many alternatives consumers could choose.
As such, positioning should always follow other key aspects of brand strategy, namely, market diagnosis, segmentation and targeting. Only then should marketers seek to position the brand most effectively.
Your brand positioning might have the following goals. To be seen by the consumer as:
- Good value
- The market leader
- The challenger (and with tag – different, newer)
- A safe pair of hands
Example: Positioning in the battery market
Brand positioning is vital in the battery market, purely for the fact that most brands sell the exact same product. As the chemicals that make up batteries go, they are identical. So if you’re selling the same product, how do you get the consumer to pay more?
In Duracell’s case, you do it through communicating trust. Their marketing showed that everyone, whatever their purpose — however trivial or serious — trusted Duracell to get the job done. It evoked an emotional response. Then, ensuring that actions were matching their words, trust was the number one barometer to assess how effective this positioning was.
When you have articulated your brand positioning, then you need to communicate it. This is how you’re going to bring it to life. You might promote the attributes of your brand, or outline facts that make you the best option. The essence of your positioning needs to be tight at the beginning for this to work.
Align your brand to the experience
So you’ve positioned your brand in the market, you know who your competitors are, and you know your target audience. You’ve talked the talk. Now you’ve got to walk the walk. This is why brand experience is so important. The experience you provide customers, and potential customers must match up to their expectations – and this in part set by how you position your brand, how you communicate your offering and ultimately how your business can help.
Why is brand positioning important?
Brand positioning is important because it helps you to differentiate your product or service from another. As a brand you have to show your target audience what you do, and you have to make them believe in that. Brand positioning helps you to achieve that goal. It is about communicating to the world what you bring to the table, and importantly – what is different about you.
Brand positioning increases the strength of the business. A consumer or prospect will weigh up the advantages and your ability to meet their needs before making a purchase, and how you position your brand to meet these needs will determine how likely they are to use you.
In some cases, the product offering between brands is very similar. So the differentiation doesn’t come from the technical aspects of the product or service, but rather the emotion that is elicited when buying the product. For example, higher levels of trust in the product might generate peace of mind, or a lower price might make you feel more satisfied that you’ve managed to save money.
Steps to create your own brand positioning
Creating your own brand positioning begins internally.
You need to ask yourself:
Who – you are targeting
What– is the need you are serving
Why – your audience should believe you
The “who” is where market segmentation happens, determining which audience is most likely to buy from you, and the most in need of your product/services. Once you have determined this, they become your target audience – this is where your priorities and actions will primarily focus. (There may be times where you look to expand this target audience and appeal to a wider demographic of people). The “what” is what problem is solved, what need is met by this brand? “Why” is reason to believe that your brand is better than other brands at solving the problem, meeting the need.
The key to successful brand positioning is remembering that this is the art of strategy. This is not about tactics. If you make the mistake of thinking of the tactics (how you’re going to communicate your brand), you’ll neglect the ‘why’ – why your audience will believe you can meet your audience needs, which is much more fundamental to your success. Remember to keep this reason for being tight. That way it’s easier to stay true to your positioning and see when you’re deviating.
- Communicate it internally – Send it to your product, marketing and communications, customers and HR teams. It needs to be reflected in every business decision you make, in every department.
- Communicate it externally – You have created a product or service for a particular need, now how are you going to market it?
To summarize: Understand the need that it is you’re meeting. Understand the target audience that you will serve by meeting this need. Then communicate your positioning (what you can offer, and why they should believe you) to that audience.
To begin, get your positioning locked internally. And then execute this externally. Depending on your circumstances you might focus on a far advanced product offering or feature, but if these are very similar, then evoking emotion – trust, excitement, happiness, etc – are effective ways of distinguishing yourself from the rest.
Examples of effective brand positioning
Brand positioning is in part set by your market conditions. If you’re a challenger brand, you can’t claim to be the market leader when another brand holds the majority of the market share. However, you can make your brand distinctive and differentiate yourself from the rest with alternative messaging.
Some of the most famous brand positioning examples have also resulted in the most famous advertising campaigns.
AVIS (vs Hertz)
“We try harder”
Avis held the tagline ‘We Try Harder’ for 50 years. Why? Because they embraced being the challenger brand. Being the challenger brand made them try harder. They want to be the best, so as the consumer you’re going to get a better experience for what you pay, in the hope you’ll come back and use Avis instead of Hertz.
This positioning helped to elevate Avis, despite being the second biggest car rental company. In fact, that was their very point. Their message was: Don’t write off the underdog, you’ll get a better quality of service.
McDonalds vs Burger King
The relationship (or competition) between McDonalds and Burger King is a really interesting one, and certainly a fantastic example of two styles of brand positioning.
On the one hand, you have Burger King. The challenger brand, cheeky in their tone of voice and even more so in their (not so) subtle digs and stunts aimed at McDonalds and their products. Their communications have won fans, awards – and customers, all around the world.
On the other hand, you have McDonalds. Who are renowned as the leader in their category, and refuse to respond to Burger King – because as soon as they acknowledge them, they’re not distancing themselves from their competitors and their status as category king can be disputed.
“I’m a Mac”
Apple personified their product offering in an advertising campaign called “I’m a Mac”. Positioning the Mac as newer, cooler and more casual than an out of touch PC, Apple were able to position their product – and brand, exactly where they wanted to – as more modern, hip and easy-going, compared to Microsoft
The brand positioning statement – what it is and how to make one
The “brand positioning statement” is a short strategic document that synthesizes the value that the brand would bring to a particular market segment.
Unlike slogans, positioning statements are developed for internal purposes and aim to reflect the competitive advantage sought.
While the overall statement should be aspirational, it can’t be so far removed from the reality of the current situation as to lose credibility in the minds of consumers.
In order to articulate the brand position, you need to consider the three Cs:
Consumers: It’s all about who you have chosen to serve, and being relevant to them, i.e. focusing on value claims that will resonate, and in turn, make your brand desirable to those consumers. From features, attributes and special ingredients (the ‘what’) to benefits consumers receive (the ‘what’s in it for me’) or deep-seated needs & values your consumers aspire to (the ‘why’).
Competitors: Focusing attention on your competition within a chosen frame of reference will help zero-in on specific claims that are believed to distinguish the brand from its competitors. Managers may use perceptual mapping (see Fig. 1) as a way of identifying how people perceive the various brands in the market, and what favorable position may exist.
Fig 1: Example of a perceptual map (correspondence mapping) generated in Qualtrics
Company: This point is about ensuring the positioning statement is realistic, and can be delivered reliably at every interaction with customers. Some brand positions will be easier to infuse into all aspects of operations than others, which in turn will result in more value being created.
By focusing on who to serve, where to play, where to win, and why consumers should believe you, the main guiding principle for crafting a positioning statement can simply be expressed as:
“For [target market], Brand X is the only brand amongst [competitive set/category] that [unique claim/benefit] because [reason to believe/support points].”
Keep it short, simple, and tight
Doing so ensures it’s easily conveyed across the organization. In terms of communicating the essence of your positioning, various strategies can be used.
A popular approach is to promote features and attributes you believe competitors can’t match (e.g. Westin’s heavenly beds) which suggests other options are sub-optimal.
Another popular approach is to directly position the brand against your main rival. This is the case of Avis’ 1962 “we try harder” campaign that targeted Hertz and cleverly turned its weakness into a benefit.
Use this framework for writing your positioning statement
For: Identify the ideal market segment
Example: The business person who is starting a new company
Product is: Provide a concise description
Example: Software that produces a business plan
Ideal for: Describe best use or application for the product
Example: Quickly and easily creating a professional business plan
Better than: Identify primary competitor or competing approach
Example: [Insert competitor]
Because: Cite differentiation and other evidence to back up your claim of superiority
Example: It is a stand-alone product and requires no other programs to buy or learn
(Cited from ANA)
Examples of brand positioning statements
Brand positioning statements are internal documents, and when this positioning is ready to go public it is used to brief external campaigns. The external slogan is a creative interpretation of that brand positioning. The brand positioning statement should be short, simple and leave no room for ambiguity.
An example of note is Nike’s brand positioning. This is because as they became more successful, the business had to adapt and their positioning statement reflects this.
First off, Nike was targeting runners. So, to reflect this the positioning strategy was ‘The lightest shoe in the market that would last in longer-distance running at a price lower than the German brands in the market’.
As Nike became more popular, this evolved to – “For serious athletes, Nike gives confidence that provides the perfect shoe for every sport”.
However, an example that highlights the difference between internal and external communications, the Nike slogan renowned throughout the world is “Just do it. An active phrase that empowers everyone in sport, and wider society too. In fact, the slogan is used to position Nike on some of the society’s most important issues, most notably the racism row in America with Nike supporting Colin Kaepernick in a historic campaign in 2018.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
This was the beginning of Nike’s very vocal positioning on inequality in society, that led to a shift in messaging that resonated the same tone. In May 2020, Nike released an advertising campaign across social media – including their sponsored athletes, with the tagline “For once, don’t do it”, as they advocated we all be part of a needed change for an equal society.
— Nike (@Nike) May 29, 2020
How to communicate your brand positioning to stakeholders
Your brand positioning statement is a living document. Therefore it’s really important that the whole company is bought into the vision, what you’re trying to achieve and why your offering will help you to achieve that vision.
The brand positioning is the strategy, but communicating this brand positioning is through well thought out tactics. This begins internally, with an internal communications program that brings everyone together, all working towards one goal, with your positioning statement acting as your guiding principle. This includes every department- including leadership, operations, sales, marketing and customer service. Bringing all facets of your company together, enables everyone to deliver experiences that benefit the customer and the brand simultaneously.
Then, this should be communicated externally. There are different tactics you could employ here, and these are dependent on the goals you’re trying to achieve. (Think Mcdonald’s vs Burger King – both have very different tones and styles).
Ultimately your brand positioning should be reflected when you execute your marketing strategy. But whatever tactics you choose – Events, advertising, press briefings etc, this should articulate the need you serve, why your target audience should believe you – and ultimately choose you over your competitors.
Examples of communicating brand positioning include:
Amazon – “From A to Z”
Nike – “Just do it”
Avis – “We’re number two. So we try harder”
Lloyds (a major UK bank) – “By your side”
How to improve your brand position over time
Brand repositioning isn’t a quick fix. Improving your brand position, or a repositioning may be a consequence of poor business performance or changing consumer needs. However, it should only be undertaken after extensive research.
There are three factors that should be considered in this process:
Data – This should inform your decision and give you confidence in the actions you take. You need to understand the market conditions you’re currently in, and how these might evolve in the future. You should also know your current and potential market segments, so any shift in positioning better suits their needs.
Qualtrics BrandXM can help give your marketing actions impact. With all your data and insights in one platform, have the confidence in understanding your market segments and know that you’re on the right path. Monitor your brand, understand your market and your competitors – and make it easy to find breakthrough insights that will help turn your brand into a religion.
And, if you don’t have a team of research experts in-house, Qualtrics Research Services can help. You’ll be able to go straight to your market and hear how your target audience is feeling so you can better meet their needs, make more informed decisions and align your positioning more accurately.
Communication – Any shift in brand positioning will require tough conversations. With leaders throughout the business, and other departments throughout the organization. You need to get buy-in from everyone to make this a success. Not everyone will agree, and this is where the final point is important.
Vision – Having a clear and well-thought-through vision that’s backed by data will help with those tough conversations. It will also act as a point of guidance for you to measure success during this process. Keep on referring back to that vision to make sure that’s the direction you’re headed.
Keep a long term view
As mentioned above, this is not a quick process. For big brands, this might be a strategy that spans years. It may (not in all cases) need investment, acquisitions and marketing to shift your positioning and make people believe in this new offering. The internal shift in positioning does not equal an external shift in consumer perception.
It will take time to change the perception of what you offer, getting people to believe in what you offer today, rather than previously. Your repositioning may also target new market segments, so bear in mind that your brand may be entirely new to some of your audience.
Read more: How to improve your brand perception
Back up what you say, with what you do.
The mistake brands make is that they create advertising that is far away from their brand. What they say and what they do, are two different things. And actually, brand purpose is sometimes used to justify this marked difference with a blurring of the lines between brand positioning and brand purpose. So eager to have a say on societal or environmental issues, the brand’s messaging is at risk of becoming less about competitors and instead focuses on a very large target audience so they can have relevance – often forgetting about who they are, and the need they set out to meet at the very beginning.
When this happens, a conflict is created between what they say and what they actually do and brand is then at risk of erring away from their strategy towards their intended vision.