Brand Positioning: A Guide to Staking Your Claim
Occupying a unique place in the minds of customers requires careful examination of the environment in which your brand competes. Take advantage of natural strengths unassailable by competitors while aligning the organization to deliver on a singular sense of identity.
When you think of the automotive brand Volvo, what first comes to mind?
Safety? That is brand positioning.
Prolific consumer choice is a new phenomenon that transcends categories. Over the past decade, the number of craft beer brands has grown from 1,600 to 6,300.1 In the US alone, there were 34 automotive brands vying for a share of the 17 million cars and trucks sold in 2019.2 And the number of online retailers in the US topped 1.1 million in 2019.3
In a report on the growing power of consumers, Ben Perkins and Céline Fenech of the Consumer Business Division at Deloitte have this to say on the changing market environment: “Consumers’ power is consolidating with improving access to information, ever-widening choice of goods and services, and opportunities to share their experiences more widely. As a result, consumers have become more demanding and many are now more skeptical about the ability of big brands to keep their promises. With consumers expecting more, it is harder for businesses to keep up.”4
At the heart of this phenomenon are the perceived functional and emotional benefits a customer believes a brand provides. Brands lose if they are unable to align their offering with a singular identity that embodies qualities customers desire—qualities at once true to experience and unique from other providers.
The process of brand positioning, or staking a claim to a unique idea and identity in the market, is the pathway to uncovering, creating and occupying a distinctive space for your brand in the minds of customers. It allows organizations to deliver on what customers want and need while connecting with them in a way that competitors are unable to.
Positioning isn’t a new idea; Jack Trout and Al Ries developed this practice to distinguish advertising campaigns in the 1960s. Since then, positioning has grown in scope and significance. When done well, it aligns organizational functions around a central truth, rallies teams to deliver on a core objective and drives decision-making about every aspect of brand and customer experience. In other words, it sits at the very heart of organizations and impacts everything they do and say. Positioning is the key to delivering on what Mr. Perkins and Ms. Fenech describe above as an increase in consumer expectation.
Achieving a strong brand position begins with a thoughtfully examined and researched assessment of the brand offering, perceptions and performance relative to the competition. It requires clear thinking and definition, careful implementation at all levels of marketing and operations, and the means to measure and refine approaches over time. Whether defining brand positioning with the help of an outside branding agency or going it alone, here are steps to take:
Survey the landscape.
Defining the market environment empowers you to distinguish areas of greatest opportunity and risk. Map the landscape your brand is operating in by defining the qualities of both your company and the key players around you.
- Consider your audience: What do they currently think about your brand, and what do they need and want from it?
- Analyze your company: How do your brand’s strengths and weaknesses align with customers’ needs and wants? What is your brand providing that others aren’t?
- Examine your competitors: How are they satisfying (or failing to satisfy) customer needs and wants? What are competitors providing that your brand isn’t?
Some organizations may already have this information on hand, but if not, you can source it by using:
- Personal experience. Key team members may be able to provide background that’s otherwise difficult to source.
- Customer feedback in the form of surveys, social media or other sources.
- Sales and marketing metrics. How your brand is performing can provide insight into the competitive landscape.
- Internal decks and documents, such as those created by the sales team.
- Market research. Consider if primary research is needed, or if secondary research can fill in gaps in competitive understanding. Qualitative and quantitative research can also provide data and customer experience insight necessary to answer the questions above.
Your aim in this stage is to see a clear and complete picture of the ecosystem in which your brand lives.
Identify the opportunities.
Once you have a deeper understanding of the current market and external brand perception, you can begin the process of identifying specific opportunities to stake out a unique position in customers’ minds. Look for natural overlap between your offering, what customers want and what can’t be replicated by the competition.
Consider what your brand does from a functional or emotional perspective: How does it make consumers think and feel; how do they use its products or services; and what do they want (and expect) it to achieve? One way marketing teams can answer these questions is by reviewing customer journey maps. They can provide insight into how a brand currently interacts with customers and how the brand potentially could interact with customers in the future.
Next, consider the customer pain points your brand solves. Why is your particular brand best situated to solve these problems? Typically, it comes down to one of three main reasons:
- Who you are: Your brand has the heritage, reputation or composition that customers demand.
- What you’re about: Your purpose, values and culture connect in a way that competitors don’t.
- How you work: Perhaps you have better service, user experience, technology or process than the competition.
Be prepared to identify the greatest opportunities for positioning, which you will discover at the intersection of customer needs and wants, your brand’s singular ability to satisfy them, and competitors’ weak spots.
Define the strategy.
With the space your brand needs to occupy identified, it’s time to put pen to paper on how your organization will get there. Start by outlining a positioning statement that can be used as a North Star to align marketing endeavors—it should capture precisely what your new or refined position is in a simple, compelling format. For example: “Home Depot is a home improvement company that offers DIYers and contractors construction products by providing excellent service and one-stop shopping.”
Your brand position is the “big idea” that you want customers to remember—today and into the future. It’s built on the strengths and qualifications that make your brand unique and influenced by how these differentiators are communicated.
Brand positioning is ultimately the process of understanding the landscape in which your brand operates and crafting an identity that is distinct, recognizable and preferred by customers. It’s an opportunity to leverage what a company or brand is already doing well and what is loved and desired by customers. And it reframes customers’ purchasing decisions around the functional and emotional benefits your brand provides rather than price or best fit. Positioning allows you to discover and shape how customers think about your brand in comparison to competitors—and become top-of-mind amid a sea of choice.
1. “Time Traveling: How Craft Beer Has Evolved Since 1990.” Accessed February 27, 2020.
2. A07 Online Media. “These 14 Companies Dominate the World’s Auto Industry”. November 1, 2019. Accessed on February 27, 2020.
3. “How Many Etailers Are in the US?”. Accessed on February 27, 2020.
4. Deloitte. The Growing Power of Consumers. London: The Creative Studio at Deloitte, 2014.
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