Brand positioning is the process of helping customers and potential customers form a well-established idea of what your brand is, what it stands for, what category it falls under, what problems it solves for them, and perhaps most importantly, how it differs from competing brands.
The marketplace is crowded and not just with products but with ideas. Consumers are inundated with information and it can lead them to simply block out the noise, meaning your message never gets heard. Your story never finds purchase in their mental inventory of things to know about. Positioning simplifies that process for them considerably. They don’t need to know everything about your brand, product, or service, they just need to remember the most salient aspects.
In effect, you are carving out a place in their mind to fit your brand.
“Consumers are inundated with information and it can lead them to simply block out the noise, meaning your message never gets heard.”
Marketing scholars Al Ries and Jack Trout, who are sometimes credited with modernizing the concept of positioning, put it this way: Positioning is “…an organized system for finding a window in the mind. It is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.”
Make a Statement
Much of the modern concept of branding developed as a result of research into the potency of strategic positioning. In the 1950s and 60s, many top brands, such as Kraft and Tide, promulgated their first specifically worded positioning statements for their products to ensure everything from packaging, advertising, and promotional materials hewed closely to the image they wanted to create for themselves in the minds of consumers.
Every positioning statement needs to identify five key elements:
- Target Market
- Market Need
- Product Name and Category
- Key Benefit
- Points of Differentiation
There is no hard and fast requirement as to how these elements must be presented in a positioning statement, but there is a frequently used and quite effective framework that many brands use:
“For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy). Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).”
Choose Your Position Wisely
“Every advertisement is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand,” said David Ogilvy, arguably one of the most esteemed thinkers in the history of marketing. Sometimes the position derives from the product or brand, but, in cases, the reverse is true and the product becomes defined by its positioning.
For example, Ogivly, in describing his work for automaker Saab, said: “In Norway, the Saab car had no measurable profile. We positioned it as a car for winter. Three years later it was voted the best car for Norwegian winters.”
Perhaps the most interesting feature of brand positioning is that it happens whether or not brand managers actively guide the process. Consumers will instinctively decide what your brand and product are (to them), whether they are deserving of attention, and how they compare to similar offerings. The goal of a brand manager is to shape that natural process so that the consumer forms a desired image of the brand or product.
Take note, though, a firmly entrenched position is difficult to alter. If you’ve spent significant marketing resources towards ingraining an image in the mind of your audience, they won’t quickly or easily accept an alternative. For example, when a brand like Hyundai, which is known for low cost cars, decided it wanted to add high-end models to its lineup, it found an audience that was extremely reluctant to consider their brand as that expansive. Ultimately they were forced instead to spin off their luxury Genesis models into its own brand.
That’s not to say repositioning or expanding a brand’s position never works. Dove, which for generations, distinguished itself as a more female-focused soap brand than it’s chief rival Ivory, successfully launched Dove Men’s Care in 2010 and attracted an entirely new demographic.
Consistent Brands are Strong Brands
Another purpose of a positioning statement is to help brand managers make key decisions while maintaining strict brand consistency. It’s a reference that ensures every touchpoint a consumer interacts with reaffirms the position you have staked out and doesn’t undermine your messaging.
Done correctly, it is one of the most effective tools available to marketers. It helps brands build positive, durable, and strategically useful reputations. It also serves to create a barrier against customer churn by removing reasons to switch. Once you have positioned yourself as distinct and superior to the alternatives, your customers are far less likely to be swayed by price fluctuations or competing messaging.
But to do that, every aspect of your position must drive home the functional benefits your brand offers the customer (i.e. the problems it will solve for them and the increased satisfaction it will deliver). It should also supply symbolic benefits like feelings of belonging, fulfilment, and, increasingly, social significance.
“Positioning statements help brand managers make key decisions while maintaining strict brand consistency.”
In recent years, consumer behavior has shifted noticeably away from making buying decisions purely on price and performance. Consumers want products and brands that take a stand and direct their brand promise not just to serving the customer but the community they operate in as well. Many brands have taken steps to do just that and the smart ones are also moving their positioning to solidify their new leadership role.
There are just too many options in the marketplace to be like everyone else. Taking that tack guarantees you’ll never move your brand into its own position in the mind of consumers.
Find out what makes you special, whether that’s something innate in the character of your brand, a feature or benefit only you can deliver, a category that you lead in, or other advantages you have over competitors and use that uniqueness to separate yourself from the pack.
Need help positioning your brand to outperform your rivals? Talk to Hanlon today.