Despite the importance of this topic and the fact that this is our number one requested service (I have helped more than 200 brands with this), I have not written a blog post on this in a while. So, here are some of my thoughts on brand positioning.
First, this is the most important and fundamental task for brand managers. Everything else - brand identity, brand messaging, customer touch point design, etc. - must build off from this work.
Second, this is much more difficult than it might seem upon first consideration. Most industries are mature and most viable brand positions have been taken. Increasingly, the vast majority of brands in most categories are delivering well not just on the cost-of-entry customer benefits, but also on most of what used to be differentiating customer benefits.
Here are the brand positioning components that I address in our process:
- Target customer definition (in great detail)
- Brand essence (the heart and should of the brand)
- The brand promise (including the competitive frame of reference, differentiating benefits or shared values and the proof points/reasons to believe)
- The brand archetype (what motivates the brand to behave in the way that it does)
- The brand personality (seven to ten adjectives that describe the brand as if it were a person)
The brand's unique value proposition is closely related to the brand's promise. They are essentially the same thing. Often, I also help brand manager's think through the brand's mission, vision and values. This work precedes the brand positioning work (or at least runs parallel to it). Finally, another way to think about this is to ask the question, "Why?" Why does this brand exist? Why should it exist? Why should people care?
Further, we often consider customer lifestyle and price positioning as a part of brand positioning.
A variation in brand positioning is to create a "category of one" brand. Creating a "category of one" brand entails defining the brand's category in a way that is meaningful and highly compelling to the target customer, while allowing only one brand to be in the category's consideration set. This is easier said than done and few brands have successfully achieved this.
Increasingly, we have been asked to position brands in ways that create more emotional appeal. This typically requires focusing on emotional, experiential and self-expressive benefits or shared values. This also usually requires deep qualitative customer research as an input to the brand positioning process.
A trick in positioning any organization brand is to create a unique and highly compelling position that spans all of the brand's product and service categories. To do this, the brand manager must first understand how the brand could be successfully positioned in each of those product and service categories and then discover the common thread between them. Too many brand managers give up on this difficult task and decide that the umbrella brand stands for "quality" or "innovation" or "service" or "leadership" or some other non-differentiating cliche.
Increasingly, one must know how to differentiate brands in commodity categories. And I mean real commodity categories - petroleum, soybeans, water, etc. There are more than two dozen techniques we use to specifically differentiate commodities. All of them can work with brands that have parity products.
In our brand positioning workshops (in which we build leadership team and stakeholder consensus around the brand), we also address business strategy (including business models) and competitive strategy as they relate to brand strategy. We believe that brand strategy cannot be developed in a vacuum.
We use our very powerful proprietary BrandInsistence(SM) brand equity measurement system to identify brand positioning vulnerabilities, gaps and opportunities to inform the brand positioning process.
When we have crafted a new brand positioning, then it is time to create the supporting brand identity including the brand tagline. Further it is time to create the brand elevator speech and the brand story. And it is time to build an integrated marketing campaign in support of the brand position.
For more information on brand positioning, refer to Brand Aid, available here.