March 8, 2023
    Reding_icon 8 MINUTE READ

    Brand Positioning 101

    The Ultimate Guide Part 3

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

    (Note: this is part 3 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 2 here and here.

    How to Develop a Positioning Idea
    There are 4 steps to finding and communicating your positioning idea. As we mentioned above, it begins with research. 

    Phase 1: Research 

    In the research phase, you're after some specific information: first, consumers' perception of your and your competitors' brands, and second, the attributes that they value the most from your product category. You can gather this in a few ways. 

    The simplest and cheapest is to simply browse forums, social media (both competitor accounts and industry groups), and review sites to uncover common frustrations and desires that your market expresses. Look for trends and themes and keep track of these. 

    Your next step will be consumer surveys (to maximize the benefits you get from this, it's worth it to hire an experienced market research firm to help you plan the survey and analyze its results). In your survey, you want to focus on questions that assess brand awareness, perception, and word associations. You can add demographic questions to segment the final data by audience grouping.  

    To refine your findings from the first two stages, you can add in focus groups. While you'll cover similar questions, the focus group format will allow you to dig deeper into the data and explore it further. Pay attention to facial expressions and physical reactions to various questions and answers. This can lend strength to positive or negative responses. 

    Once you've collected all of your data, create a perception graph. 

    Create an X and a Y axis from two of the most important attributes you found in your research (say, convenience and price). 

    On the graph, mark the position of each of your competitors, as well as your own brand (if your brand has established awareness). You should end up with brands covering the full breadth of the graph: from high convenience/high price to low convenience/low price and everything in between. 

    As a final step, for each brand's position on the graph, draw a circle sized to match the market share that given company holds. You should end up with something that looks like this: 


    This graph will help you and your executive team clearly visualize where your brand sits in the competitive landscape - and where its positioning opportunities lie. If your brand does show up on the graph, but in a highly contested section, it might signal the need for a pivot. If it doesn't, use the opportunity to identify a gap in the market and use that as an objective in your positioning strategy. 

    Phase 2: Find your differentiating idea
    Once you've collected your research findings, it's time to put them to use and actually develop your positioning idea. 

    While this idea has to be based on what's available in the market and what consumers actually want (relevance and differentiation), there's some degree of flexibility here. 

    Why? Because the other factor that plays into your positioning idea is your brand's identity. Your idea has to align with your company's strengths, capabilities, values, personality, and reality. 

    If your company is only a few years old, a heritage-based positioning idea probably won't work for you. If your research discovered that your customers appreciate humorous messaging, but humor isn't a part of your culture and way of communicating, trying to force it through your positioning and marketing won't be sustainable. If your leadership team feels strongly about protecting the environment, tie that value system and passion into your idea. 

    Discovering your positioning idea is a creative, thoughtful process. One that takes time and attention - something not a lot of marketers or executives have. Yet, it's the most important work your leadership team can do to build long term, sustainable business growth. 

    Your leadership team needs to achieve full buy-in on any positioning idea, because doing so immediately leads to the next steps: investing in the idea, following through with decisions grounded in the new position, etcetera. Without enthusiastic support from the top down, the idea will go nowhere. 

    Once you've found an idea and gotten leadership buy-in, it's time for phase 3: supporting the idea. 

    Phase 3: Support your positioning idea

    Once you know what your positioning idea is, it's time to start communicating it - but, to do so, you're going to need to build credibility around your idea. 

    People need a reason to believe your claims. If you're making a claim to leadership in your industry, support that claim with all of the data you can. Even more than just laying out stats, though, you need to act like a leader. Sponsor industry events. Create industry-leading publications. Demonstrate product innovation. Pioneer new ways of doing things. Take some risks - leaders go in front to forge a way forward. 

    Act like what a customer would expect someone to act like who has your position. 

    Often, this can mean staying true to your position by sacrificing for the sake of focus. You might shed some product or service lines or not pursue certain business opportunities because they water down your position. This isn't a loss, though - it makes your positioning claims believable, thereby increasing your attractiveness to the right people. The result: more profits, more customer loyalty, and a more sustainable business. 

    Companies that water down their positioning through distractions - such as product lines that don't align well with the brand position - risk degrading their customers' perception. 

    Usually, if any individual or organization doesn't stand for a singular idea, they end up being perceived as standing for nothing. It might seem like more opportunities to make money and serve people on the surface, but in reality, when asked about your brand, people just won't have anything to say. They won't be able to associate any idea or attribute with you. Eventually, they won't even recognize your name. 

    Staying focused on your positioning and backing it up with hard evidence is the most reliable way to grow trust - and therefore loyalty. 

    But all of this can only work if you truly get behind your positioning angle. 

    Phase 4: Put your money where your mouth is

    Finally, it's time to take your idea to market. You've done the research, discovered your idea, and backed it up with evidence (including aligning everything you do in your company with your new position). Now, do you have what it takes to get the job done? 

    Performance marketing is about driving direct action that can be attributed. You put a dollar in, and (hopefully) get more than a dollar out. It's directly linked to revenue. It's easy to justify. 

    Communicating an idea to the market that isn't directly tied to product sales is a trickier business. It's harder (and takes longer - sometimes years) to test. It's not directly linked to sales. Lots of companies do it wrong - creating confusing or lookalike messaging, or straight up just making entertainment. 

    When it comes to turning your brand's position into marketing messages, your communications need to stand out, with the specific objective of creating alignment between your desired position and the market's perception of you. Your goal isn't to create an ad or piece of content that is entertaining enough to grab attention (even though attention is important) - it's to link your brand to a single positioning idea in your ideal customer's mind. 

    Achieving this means backing your idea with the resources necessary to get the job done. In other words, it takes money. If two companies enter a new market together, competing for the same position, assuming all else is equal, the one that spends the most will win (generally). 

    This means you may have to shake up the conventional approach to planning marketing budgets: instead of building a plan around what you can afford based on a pre-assigned budget, you need to figure out what it will take to get your positioning message across and plan a budget based on that. 

    Once again, this is why getting leadership on board with the positioning idea is so crucial: this is an investment, one that the entire company has to be aligned with. 

    How to Test Your Positioning Idea      
    Run your new positioning idea through the following 4-part filter to check that it makes sense. Use these questions to double check that you've covered and included all of the advice above.

    Is the positioning idea relevant to the customer? Is the difference meaningful? Example: a heritage position is relevant to a furniture manufacturer, because it is associated with quality, craftsmanship, etcetera. It would be much less meaningful to a technology brand; no one wants technology they perceive as being outdated.

    Is the idea available (i.e., no other competitor has already claimed it)? Can you own and defend it against the competition? Positioning is a competitive strategy; you can’t own the same word/idea in the mind of your customers as one of your competitors. You need a new idea, not a me-too one.

    Does the idea work with your company’s identity? You have to live and breathe this idea, letting it infuse everything you do. So it has to be built on who you are: your culture, your customers, your leadership, your people, your values, your purpose, your vision. The market needs to be able to trust that you can deliver on the promise inherent in your positioning idea, and your organization must be able to commit to the idea and to fulfilling the promise at every level.

    Is the timing in the market right for this idea? If the idea is too early, you’ll need the resources to keep after the idea until it becomes the right time. If too late, you’re better off just starting over and looking for a new idea. 

    Wrapping It Up
    Getting your brand position right, and sticking to it over time by letting it drive every decision you make in your company, can help you build a sustainable business that will last for the long haul. Metrics like brand recall and awareness, conversions, ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) and customer loyalty and Average Customer Lifetime Value will all go up. Costs of doing business, from Cost Per Acquisition to the ratio of product returns to sales, should go down. 

    At its core, it comes down to finding the right idea and getting company buy-in to drive it forward over the long term. This is a challenge. If you need help thinking through the process, Adkom can help you brainstorm ideas. Reach out to us today.