Brand Positioning Strategy

Brand positioning is the critical element in shaping all that you say and do to build a brand. When your brand positioning strategy is clear and effectively communicated, internal stakeholders feel more energized and inspired, customers seek you out for the right reasons, and you create practical and emotional ties with key audiences. Strong brand positioning strategy also provides the foundation for effective company and product names, engaging audience messages, and powerful brand identities.  All of this is clearly enticing, but how do companies actually take their branding positioning from point A to point B?

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What is Brand Positioning Strategy?

Authors Jack Trout and Al Ries first developed and introduced the concept of brand positioning in the early 1970s. In fact, their highly celebrated book, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, has been re-released in multiple editions over the years. Spurred by this new way of thinking about brands, companies began to develop more sophisticated and effective brand positioning strategies than ever before. To understand how this was accomplished, let’s first define what a brand positioning strategy is all about.

In its simplest terms, a brand positioning strategy refers to the steps you take to make your brand promise clear, differentiated, and meaningful. An effective strategy should clearly and compellingly articulate who you are, what you do, and why you matter while providing a roadmap to make your brand position ownable, believable, beneficial, and sustainable. Once in place, a strong brand position increases internal morale, provides a platform for external marketing and communications, and guides all that a company says and does.

By helping companies articulate their strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis the competition, a good brand positioning strategy enables them to claim an advantageous position in the minds of customers and prospects. The easiest way to accomplish this is to tie your positioning to an idea that already exists in the minds of your target audiences, taking what they know to be true in the world and turning that truth to your advantage. For example, Volvo became a major global automotive brand by branding themselves as the leaders in safety, a concept that consumers care about. Similarly, rather than downplaying it, Avis celebrated their #2 ranking in the marketplace as a badge of honor because it meant “we try harder.”

7 Elements of a Successful Brand Positioning Strategy

As alluded to above, a successful brand positioning strategy needs to convey several key elements.  Here’s a quick breakdown of each to help you better understand their significance:  

Who You Are: Just as a name and personality set people apart from their peers, your organization needs to identify the essential qualities shared by internal players that sets you apart from the competition.

What You Do: Brand positioning should address far more than the products or services you sell; it should articulate the promise you make to your employees, investors, customers, and partners. It is an aspirational promise that you need to collectively live up to, year in and year out.

Why You Matter: Most importantly, companies forge emotional connections with audiences by communicating why their brand matters.  Think of it this way: what would be missing in the world if you weren’t there to provide it? How do you make a meaningful difference in people’s lives? 

A smart brand positioning strategy should also help build a brand that is: 

Ownable: Your brand positioning must be true for you and no one else. If you can own an idea – or better yet, a word – your leadership becomes clear and defensible. Some of the most successful brands in the world have achieved greatness through their singular and passionate focus on an ownable promise.

Believable: While good positioning strategy is always aspirational, it is still based in reality and makes a promise that can be truly fulfilled. Anyone who thinks branding is just hype has likely been disappointed by a misleading or over-promoted promise.  Only promise something that you’re able to deliver!

Beneficial: Too many brand positioning strategies focus solely on products and features while neglecting to identify their associated benefits. The best brands provide something beneficial to key audiences, inspiring them to take part in the brand story.

Sustainable: Good brand positioning strategy creates a lasting story that should evolve, but not change, as companies grow and prosper. While brand campaigns may be specific and changeable over time, the positioning strategy that informs them should be steady. Sustainability is what makes a single, ownable story last for years regardless of an organization’s size.

4 Steps to an Unbeatable Brand Positioning Strategy

To embody the brand elements detailed above and develop a powerful brand  positioning strategy, apply a disciplined approach to the following four steps:

Step 1: Find your True Differentiators 
Differentiation is clearly important, as an undifferentiated company or product is simply a commodity that competes only on price. Companies should seek those aspects of their business, culture or character that set them apart, either by creating a preference or commanding a premium.  Airlines, for example, are all essentially selling the same service, yet Southwest has created a preference by offering low cost, convenient flights whereas Emirates, on the other hand, commands a premium price by offering a five-star experience in the sky. Both airlines sustain their differentiation through a multitude of features, character traits, and strategic decisions over time.

Step 2: Ensure and Maintain Relevance
Differentiation alone is not enough; you must be differentiated in a way that’s compelling to your audiences and their unfulfilled desires.  So, selling fine wine in plastic bottles might be differentiating, but not necessarily relevant or compelling to wine connoisseurs. Conversely, Miller Beer found that beer drinkers often felt full early in their drinking, leading the company to position Miller Lite as “everything you’ve always wanted in a great beer, and less” –  a strategy that enabled it to quickly become the 2nd largest-selling beer in the U.S.

Step 3: Deliver Coherently
Your positioning strategy is not just a slogan; it’s how you create and deliver your product or service and address and engage your audiences. These outputs will take on different forms and flavors, but if informed by a clear positioning strategy, they should hang together coherently. Once you’ve made a decision to differentiate in relevant ways, you need to plan and coordinate how that unique value will be delivered. BMW’s position as the “ultimate driving machine” is essentially a claim to superior engineering, resulting in a superior experience.  To succeed in defending this position, they needed to do more than create great cars. They also had to show up in places where driving is celebrated and symbolizes value and status.

Step 4: Continuously Earn Your Reputation
A successful brand positioning strategy requires commitment, investment, and repetition in order to set and fulfill expectations over and over again.  Case in point: Starbucks worked hard and invested heavily to become the world’s largest and favorite coffeehouse; it didn’t happen overnight. Similarly, both Nike and Adidas tried to own a very similar position but Nike invested many decades of heavy advertising and product innovation to own the idea of athletic spirit and victory. 

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