Brand positioning is the component of brand strategy that you probably hear most about, yet many haven’t quite grasped its true definition or potential. Most understand it as company’s place within a marketplace, when in fact the position of power lies in the hearts and minds of your customers.
Philip Kotler stated brand positioning as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”, the chap clearly knows his stuff.
The history of brand positioning
Brand positioning, as a strategic concept, was not invented by a single individual, but evolved over time through the contributions of various marketing professionals and scholars. While it is difficult to pinpoint a specific individual or moment when brand positioning was first used, it gained significant recognition and popularity in the 1960s and 1970s.
One notable contribution to the development of brand positioning came from Rosser Reeves, an advertising executive, who introduced the concept of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) in the 1940s. Reeves emphasised the importance of identifying and communicating a distinct and compelling attribute or benefit that sets a brand apart from its competitors.
However, the term “brand positioning” as a strategic approach gained prominence with the publication of the book “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout in 1981. Ries and Trout’s book consolidated and popularised the concept, offering strategic insights and frameworks for creating a unique and favourable position for brands in consumers’ minds.
Since then, brand positioning has become a fundamental principle in branding, guiding businesses in defining their market position, differentiation and target audience focus. It continues to be a key element in strategic brand creation, management and communication strategies.
Here at Brandality, we employ a strategic approach to define a company’s brand positioning. While the specific methodologies may vary from project to project, the following are common steps and considerations often undertaken:
Research and analysis: Conduct in-depth research to understand the company, its market, target audience, competitors, and industry trends. Gather data through market research, consumer insights, competitor analysis and stakeholder interviews. This research highlights opportunities and serves as the foundation for developing a robust brand positioning strategy.
Target audience: We see ‘People’ (customers) as its own separate component within the bigger brand strategy. It is however important to be undertaken as the information identifies and defines the target audience – including needs, demographics, sociographics and behaviours. Understanding the target audience helps in crafting a brand positioning that resonates and aligns with the needs and aspirations.
Competitive analysis: Analysing the competitive landscape to identify the company’s differentiation points, competitors’ brand positioning, messaging, strengths, weaknesses and potential gaps. This analysis helps us identify opportunities and to carve out a distinctive and favourable brand position.
Unique differentiating values: Help define and articulate the company’s unique compelling value that differentiates it from competitors and installs a place in the minds of its customers. This could be a specific product feature, a service offering, a core purpose, a customer experience or a brand attribute. Whatever is defined it must be unique, resonate with customers and be aligned to their values.
Brand promise and narrative: Defining the brand promise, which represents the commitment the company makes to its customers and the brand narrative, which sets the story and tone that helps guide communications and amplify brand positioning.
Implementation and consistency: We help in implementing and integrating brand positioning across various touchpoints, including visual identity, communication channels, marketing materials, customer experiences, and employee alignment. Consistency is crucial in maintaining a cohesive and impactful brand positioning.
The benefits of brand positioning
Brand positioning offers several key benefits for businesses, helping them differentiate themselves, establish a competitive advantage and connect with their target audience. By defining their brand positioning, businesses can align their strategies, marketing efforts, and customer experiences to deliver consistent and impactful messaging that resonates with their target audience. It enables businesses to stand out, build brand loyalty and foster meaningful connections with customers.
Increased brand recognition: A strong brand positioning strategy enhances brand visibility and recognition. When a business consistently communicates its unique value proposition and establishes a clear position in the market, it becomes more memorable and recognisable to customers. This recognition helps drive brand preference and increases the likelihood of customer choice and repeat business.
Brand loyalty and advocacy: Brand positioning cultivates a sense of trust, credibility and emotional connection with customers. When a business effectively positions itself and consistently delivers on its brand promise, it fosters customer loyalty. Loyal customers become brand advocates, spreading positive word-of-mouth and generating referrals, leading to increased brand awareness and customer acquisition.
Premium pricing: Successful brand positioning allows businesses to command premium pricing for their products or services. When customers perceive a brand as unique, valuable and differentiated, they are often willing to pay a premium compared to competitors. Premium pricing contributes to higher profit margins and sustainable business growth.
Stand Out in the Clutter: Brand positioning allows businesses to stand out from their competitors by clearly defining what makes them unique and different. It helps create a distinct identity and value proposition that sets the business apart in the minds of customers. Effective differentiation leads to reduced price sensitivity, increased customer loyalty and a competitive edge in the market.
Adaptability and Resilience: A well-defined brand positioning strategy enables businesses to adapt to market changes and evolving customer needs. It provides a framework for consistent decision-making and enables businesses to navigate challenges and seize opportunities while maintaining a strong brand identity.
Target Audience Focus: By understanding the target audience and their needs, brand positioning enables businesses to tailor their products, services and messaging to meet those specific requirements. It ensures that the business is addressing the right audience with the right solutions, leading to higher customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty.
Long-Term Business Strategy: Brand positioning provides a foundation for long-term business strategy and decision-making. It guides product development, marketing campaigns, customer experience initiatives and overall business direction. Having a clear brand position helps businesses align their efforts and investments towards achieving their strategic objectives.
Is Brand Positioning for Everyone?
Brand positioning is relevant and valuable for any business, regardless of its size, B2B or B2C, industry or nature of operations. Every business, from startups to multinational corporations can benefit from a well-defined and strategic brand positioning.
It is an essential strategic aspect that helps businesses define their identity, create competitive advantage and connect with their target audience in a meaningful and impactful way.
Examples of companies with distinct and clear brand positioning:
Volvo: Volvo’s brand positioning centres around safety and reliability. They have consistently positioned themselves as a brand that prioritises the safety of its customers. Volvo’s commitment to safety innovations, such as seat belts (In 1959, the Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin developed the modern three-point seat belt) and collision avoidance systems, has established them as a trusted brand in the automotive industry.
Patagonia: Patagonia’s brand positioning is built on a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility. They have positioned themselves as a brand that produces high-quality outdoor clothing and gear while minimising their environmental impact. Patagonia’s brand positioning resonates with environmentally conscious consumers who value ethical and sustainable practices.
Dove: Dove’s brand positioning revolves around real beauty and body positivity. They have positioned themselves as a brand that celebrates and embraces diverse beauty, challenging traditional beauty standards. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign and their focus on promoting self-confidence and positive body image has demonstrated empathy and helped them connect with consumers.
John Lewis: John Lewis is a well-established department store known for its commitment to quality and exceptional customer service. The brand positioning of John Lewis revolves around trust, reliability and a wide range of premium products. The brand’s “Never Knowingly Undersold” promise reinforces its commitment to fair pricing and customer satisfaction.
Tesla: Tesla’s brand positioning is built on the principles of sustainability, innovation and luxury. They have positioned themselves as the leading electric vehicle manufacturer, focusing on cutting-edge technology, superior performance and a commitment to a greener future. Tesla’s brand positioning has attracted environmentally conscious consumers who desire high-end electric vehicles.
Airbnb: Airbnb’s brand positioning is centred around the idea of belonging and experiencing local communities. They have positioned themselves as a platform that offers unique and authentic travel experiences, connecting travellers with local hosts. Airbnb’s brand positioning has disrupted the traditional hospitality industry by focusing on personalisation, community and a sense of belonging.
Whatever market you operate in, it’s undoubtedly going to be a crowded competitive one that is only going to get busier. People are overwhelmed by choice, with every option shouting that they’re the greatest, with the most features and the best price. Customers therefore now rely on their gut, guided by the sense of trust and positive feeling; If I buy this product what does it make me? Does it amplify my own values? If I use this company’s service will they deliver quality and make us look good or will they make us a fool for employing them?
I see far too many companies looking at others operating within their market/category for guidance, inspiration and influence. They see no growth from this, become stagnant and get understandably frustrated. Just a hint… you’ll never lead by following a leader! What should be done is identify the needs of the customers, the sociographics and gaps in the market and then position your brand to differentiate – carving a space in the hearts and minds of their customers. But don’t just stand out, stand out for something.