March 8, 2023
    Reding_icon 5 MINUTE READ

    Brand Positioning 101

    The Ultimate Guide Part 2

    How to Differentiate Your Brand for Long Term Sales Growth, Customer Loyalty, and Market Domination

    (Note: this is part 2 of a 3 part series on how to develop a positioning strategy to stand out and thrive, even during times of market downturns, hypercompetition, and over communication. See parts 1 and 3 here and here.)

    Positioning Defined

    Discovering, developing, and promoting your position requires one thing: focus. 

    Because it's a competitive strategy that positions you against competitors in the mind of your ideal customer, it requires that you find room in the mind where you fit. You can't occupy the same position as another brand; attempting to just makes you look like a copycat. 

    So, it's a strategy of 1. You stand for 1 idea in the minds of 1 specific audience. Lots of business owners and marketers struggle with this because it goes against the instinct to try to be a good fit for everyone - it feels like a focused strategy restricts your potential market. 

    But the simple reality is that it's impossible to appeal to everyone, and those who try end up appealing to no one. One of the features of the most iconic brands (think Disney, Apple, Harley Davidson, and more) is that their most loyal customers form a tribe who fully buy into the promise those brands make. Consider this:
    Disney sells a magical family experience, not toys, films, and theme parks
    Apple sells creative performance, not computers, phones, and watches
    Harley Davidson sells independence, not motorcycles

    Accordingly, the people who adore these brands are the ones who most want these things. Other people could care less. But if these brands tried to equally go after the people who cared about other things, they would weaken their appeal to their primary audience, watering down their brand equity, profit, customer loyalty, and more. 

    A focused positioning strategy doesn't mean you can't offer multiple things or serve multiple audiences. It just means that your brand and messaging are built around a single, leading focus. 

    Take Red Bull - their positioning emphasizes extreme sports. Which means their primary audience are normal people who would like to imagine themselves as high performance athletes. But because this positioning has launched Red Bull to the top of the energy drink market, that leadership status attracts plenty of people who don't necessarily aspire to the extreme athlete status. But they subconsciously like drinking what they see everyone else drinking. 

    In other words, other audiences and offerings can follow on the back of your positioning idea - but that idea leads in your marketing, messaging, customer service, etcetera.

    The Characteristics of a Positioning Idea

    Your positioning idea needs to meet two criteria: relevance and differentiation. Let's explore these. 

    Relevance - If the idea or attribute you own isn't relevant to your market (specifically, addressing a problem your audience cares about), it doesn't do you any good. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is assuming that their product does what their customers care about; often, it only does what they think the customer wants. (Incidentally, a secondary mistake to this is not clearly communicating when your product does do what they want.)

    Differentiation - While relevance is about the customer, differentiation is about competition. If another brand owns a given idea or attribute in the mind of your customer, you can't also own that position. You have to find a gap in the market, a clear difference that your prospects can quickly grasp. 

    An example is Dove soap. Back in the 1950s, when most soap brands were just generic cleansing agents, famous ad man David Ogilvy advertised Dove soap as a moisturizing bar for women's dry hands. 

    How do you ensure your positioning idea is both relevant and differentiated? 

    It starts with market research. You need to understand how your market perceives your brand, as well as your competitors' brands. You need to learn what attributes or qualities matter most to your audience (including what frustrations they have with the current selection of offerings on the market). And you need to know who else in your market might own one of those attributes or qualities. 

    We'll return to the topic of market research later in this guide. For now, let's jump into types of positioning ideas.

    Types of Positioning Ideas
    There are a number of ways you can position your brand. Here are just a handful of examples.

    Leadership -
    the most powerful form of positioning, leadership can be measured in different ways: technology leadership, sales leadership, market share leadership, etcetera. If you're up against other leaders in your market, niche down. Redefine the category you're in by geography (a different area from your competitors), audience (a unique and underserved market for your product), or product attributes (through a new, industry-leading product innovation, for example).

    Being first to market -
    closely associated with leadership, this is a powerful positioning strategy that catapults your brand to the top position on the "ladder" of brands that a consumer has in their mind for any given category. You get to define the category, and everyone else who joins later looks like copycats. Be careful, though: if you don't have the resources to communicate your status to your entire market, a larger competitor can come in and take your "first" position by simply telling more people than you.

    Attribute -
    another common positioning strategy is to choose an attribute. Dove has moisturizing, Volvo once had safety, and Avis used to claim customer service. 
    Heritage - Sometimes, being "old" sells: Coke is the classic soda. Harley-Davidson is the bike for guys who value old-fashioned freedom. Many brands capitalize on the idea of "artisanal" for their respective industries. Another angle is length of experience: a manufacturer specializing in a specific type of product for 50 years, for example.

    Being the latest -
    if a "heritage" angle works in some industries, others prefer being up-to-date, such as technology.

    Low or high price
    - while low price is a risky strategy that can result in price wars, brands like Walmart and Southwest have leveraged this approach to stand out in heavily competitive industries. Going the other direction, luxury brands capitalize on the prestige associated with paying more for a product than anyone else. 

    And remember: whichever angle you take, make sure it matters to your audience (relevance) and is unique from your competitors (differentiation). 

    In the final part of this series, we'll get into the meat of how to build a positioning idea. Check it out here.