When you’re starting out on your branding journey, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Whether you’ve just established your business or are undergoing a rebranding stage, it’s important to build a brand that is strong, valuable, and will stand out from the competition. And while there are endless marketing strategies available to entrepreneurs today, there’s one that stands out among the rest: brand positioning.
Brand positioning, also called positioning strategy, is the process of identifying and carving out a marketing niche so your customers will associate your brand with something specific, desirable, and unique. And when done well, the results speak for themselves—brands with strong positioning can enjoy greater brand awareness and loyalty, a higher conversion rate, and increased overall brand value.
It’s important to note that when we talk about a brand being valuable, we don’t just mean that you, the business owner, personally value your own brand. Seth Godin defined brand value as “The sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories, and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.” Having a valuable brand means having a brand that will directly help you build your business through intangible means, which eventually translates into a tangible increase in monetary value.
So, how can you optimize your positioning strategy to create a more valuable brand? We’ll get to that in a moment—but first, let’s take a closer look at what exactly it means to effectively position your brand.
How to position your brand
Successful brand positioning is a surefire way to sell your service or product—but counterintuitively, it has little at all to do with what you’re selling. Instead, brand positioning relies on your ability to get inside your customers’ minds. Your goal is not only to make consumers aware of your brand, but to make them think of your brand in a certain way and to associate it with one or two key qualities. To do this, you’ll need to take a look at three main components:
- What your audience wants.
- What your company provides.
- How your competitors are positioning their brands.
This third component may be the most important of all. You want to position your brand in a specific space in your customers’ minds, but you definitely don’t want to share that space with one of your competitors. By examining how the other businesses in your industry are presenting their brand, you can identify gaps and other opportunities for innovation that let you stand out in the crowd.
To expand on this, let’s take a look at some of the most common positioning strategies companies use to place their services in their customers’ minds. Keep in mind that quality trumps quantity here—it’s much better to use a single strategy extremely well than to confuse your customer base with multiple tactics.
If you can market your services as the most affordable compared to your competitors, you’ll give consumers a great incentive to switch to your company. A terrific example is Southwest Airlines, which has managed to thrive throughout the ups and downs of the travel industry by offering low ticket prices and free checked luggage.
Be aware, however, that positioning your brand solely on a lower price point runs the risk of assuming lower quality. You need to strike the right balance that makes consumers feel like they’re getting a deal on something great, not settling on a lower budget.
Exclusivity is a powerful motivator, as shown by brands such as Rolex, Coach, and even Lululemon. Such brands have positioned themselves in the minds of their consumers as the best of the best, providing a product that is not only high in quality, but that will confer upon the consumer a higher social status.
A product or service doesn’t need to be the height of luxury to convey quality. Just ask Chipotle, who managed to position themselves as a high-quality alternative to Taco Bell. Chipotle spent years tailoring their messaging to emphasize their natural, locally sourced ingredients and hand-prepared meals, eventually surpassing Taco Bell as the standard for Tex-Mex fast food.
Perhaps even greater than customers’ desire for low prices is their desire for convenience. Just think about how many consumers purchase products through online retailers rather than choosing to drive out to a physical store. Convenience-based brand positioning can also include location, accessibility, and multi-platform use.
A surefire way to get your audience’s attention is to offer them something they’ve never seen before. This could be by introducing a product or service that is the first of its kind—for instance, Netflix forever changed the way we consume movies and television by offering the first streaming service in 2007. But to set yourself apart from the competition, you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel—you might just tweak a key spoke. This is what Whitney Wolfe Herd did when she created Bumble, a dating app that positioned itself apart from its competitors through a feminist twist: in heterosexual matches, only the woman has the power to contact the man first.
Deciding on the best strategy for positioning your brand will give you an overall compass on what direction your marketing efforts should go in.
Make a brand positioning statement
Now that you’ve decided on your company’s brand positioning strategy, it’s time to craft a positioning statement to reflect that strategy. It’s easy to get positioning statements confused with taglines or slogans, since both are verbal summaries of your brand. However, while taglines and slogans are often catchy one-liners to use in your advertising, a positioning statement is an internal tool meant to guide your business’s marketing and operations.
“A positioning statement is a one or two sentence declaration that communicates your brand’s unique value to your customers in relation to your main competitors.”
To create an effective positioning statement, you’ll need to answer four critical questions about your brand.
- Who is your target audience? Gather all the information you can about the customer base you’re trying to reach—this can include core demographics as well as more introspective qualitative data, such as your audience’s key desires and fears.
- What is the market definition of your product or service? You should include in your answer not only the offer itself, but what industry category your company falls into, and how your product or service meets consumer needs.
- What is the greatest benefit your product or service has to offer? This is the most important piece of your brand positioning statement because it creates value for your offer. Spell out for your audience what specific aspect of your product or service is so compelling, and why it surpasses the competition.
- What is the proof of the benefit you just described? Establish trust with your audience by giving them tangible evidence that your brand keeps the promises it makes.
Once you’ve answered the four questions above, you can combine them into your brand positioning statement. To get you started, try using this classic template:
To [target audience], [brand name] is the [market definition] that provides [benefit]. That’s because [proof of benefit].
To see this template in action, let’s revisit one of our previous examples: Chipotle. If we were to craft a basic positioning statement for Chipotle, it might look something like this:
To foodies on the go, Chipotle is the restaurant that provides fast food without sacrificing taste, quality, or health. That’s because Chipotle is committed to using all-natural and locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
Here is an example for a service-based business:
To business owners, Miss Details is the marketing team that provides personalized strategy in branding and design that resonates with their audiences and positions them for success. That’s because we approach our work with a unique balance of creative flow and logistical details to make sure marketing is memorable—and, in turn, profitable.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to stick to this exact formula—you can experiment with the language to create a statement that will best guide your internal teams. Just remember to keep it clear and concise, and to include answers to the four key questions above.
Position your brand for success
Effective brand positioning is a powerful method of selling your service or product—but counterintuitively, it has little at all to do with what you’re selling. Instead, brand positioning relies on your ability to get inside your customers’ minds. Your goal isn’t just to make your brand recognizable, but to enable your customers to associate your brand with specific qualities, whether it’s affordability, luxury, convenience, or something completely new.
By identifying your audience, scoping out your competition, getting clear on what unique value your brand brings to the table, and communicating that value to your customer base, you can create a lucrative and lasting brand.
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