Anyone involved in marketing has probably heard the term, brand positioning. But what does it involve? Why is it so important? Just what is brand positioning and how do you position your brand successfully?
What is brand positioning?
Search the internet and you will find a number of definitions of brand positioning, with some more useful than others. Perhaps one of the best is that put forward by marketing authority Dr Philip Kotler in his book Marketing Management,
“The act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”
Let’s just take a moment to break down that quote and look at its key elements.
- “The act of designing” – Firstly, brand positioning is something you have to actively do and it is something that you have to design – in other words, something you have to think about and then put into action.
- “offering and image” – Secondly, it’s not just about image, it’s about the product or service you are offering too.
- “occupy a distinctive place” – Thirdly, it’s distinctive, your brand has to be individual and, as far as possible, unique in order to cut through the noise and be successful.
- “in the mind of the target market” – Lastly, and possibly most importantly, its success will be measured by how your brand is perceived by your customers and prospective customers.
Designing your brand
Your organisation will have a business strategy, and a corresponding marketing strategy. These should be the starting point for your brand positioning strategy as your brand positioning needs to serve your marketing strategy, which in turn serves your business strategy. Your marketing strategy should give you a good idea of where you ideally want to position your brand in the eyes of your market.
Without going too deeply into marketing strategy, you need to consider where your brand sits on a number of parameters. For example, one of the most obvious is the balance between price and quality. Consider these four extremes:
- High Cost + High Quality
- Low Cost + High Quality
- High Cost + Low Quality
- Low Cost + Low Quality
Where do you want to be with your product or service? Are you going for high quality at a premium price? Or perhaps you are aiming to produce a value for money, basic product that does its job well without frills, for a bargain price?
(While you could pick any of these as part of your brand positioning strategy, High Cost and Low Quality is unlikely to be the basis of a long-term successful business.)
Other example parameters:
- Ease of use
- Number of features
You will be aiming for your brand to sit somewhere within those parameters. Remember, these are only examples of the many parameters that you should consider as part of your brand positioning. Many of these parameter sets will be determined by the nature of the product or service you are offering and its market. The more parameters you consider, the more you define your brand positioning.
It's important to consider more intangible parameters too – such as friendliness, or stylishness, or how eco-friendly the brand is.
You will need to pick a number of parameters to aim for, and these will become the key indicators of your brand positioning.
The final outcome of this planning is a brand positioning statement, a few words that sum up your aim for the brand. Whilst this needs to be kept brief, it should be quite specific and avoid truisms or clichés. Remember, it should be distinctive.
Whatever positioning you are aiming for, it’s vital that it’s achievable and you are not setting unrealistic expectations for your brand. You have to make an honest assessment of your organisation’s capabilities as an over optimistic brand positioning will not survive exposure to market realities.
Creating your brand offering
A realistic brand positioning is important as it’s not just your marketing messages that influence your target market. The perception of your brand is affected by reliability, customer service, media reviews, feedback from peers, reviews on websites, as well as competitors’ messages and a prospect’s own personal bias.
This means that brand positioning is not just about the marketing. If your customer service is poor, or the product underperforms, then no amount of marketing will shift the perception of your brand in the customer’s mind.
You cannot divorce your marketing from your business strategy – your brand values have to be lived internally and externally. Every part of the business has to be on board with the brand, you cannot afford to be saying one thing and doing another.
Making your brand stand out
In order to be successful, you will need to position your brand in a space that is not already occupied by a strong competitor. No brand succeeds by being like everyone else, they succeed by being different, by having a unique proposition, by being distinctive.
To do this, you will need to thoroughly understand the market your product or service is in. The landscape and the competitors. This comprehensive knowledge and understanding should have been gained as a result of the research and investigation that fed into your overall marketing and business strategies. Without an understanding of what is out there, you cannot plot a path to a spot that is not only unique, but fits with where you want to be.
How contested your market is, will determine how much space there is to maneuverer or spread from that sweet spot. In a busy market, your brand positioning will have to be focussed and precise – in a less busy market, it can be looser, and potentially spread wider to capture more business.
Remember those parameters you looked at when planning your brand strategy? You will need to plot your competitors on those same parameters. Find out where they fit into the market to ensure your brand positioning really is distinctive.
Identifying your target market
It is your target market, not your good intentions that will determine whether your brand positioning is a success.
It is easy to market your brand as a particular thing, easy to target a particular segment of the market. And it is easy to fall into the trap of imagining that is all you have to do. But unless your marketing messages are actually reaching and resonating with your audience, your brand positioning will be a failure.
As part of your planning, you should undertake an audit of your brand’s current position within the market. Commission some market research to find out how your brand is currently perceived on your key parameters – this is your brand perception. Once you know your brands current position within the mind of the target market, you can create a marketing plan that takes you to where you want to be.
Over time you should repeat this market research to monitor your brand’s current position and continually adjust your strategy and marketing output as necessary.
At the same time, it is useful to research your competitors’ standing in the market – how are they perceived? Is that changing over time? This will help ensure your positioning remains distinctive, but will also produce useful intelligence on competitors’ strengths and weaknesses; insights that you can exploit as part of your marketing strategy.
So why is brand positioning important?
If you’ve read this far, it should be easy to see why brand positioning is important to your business. It is no good having a rock-solid marketing strategy based on appealing to the market with a particular set of brand characteristics, if that target market views your brand as having a completely different set of characteristics due to poorly focussed messaging or the shortcomings of your offering. There will be no belief in your propositions, no faith in your messaging. They may just see you as being the same as everyone else or they may question your credibility, or at worst, they may even regard your brand as dishonest.
The advantages to a strong, stable brand positioning are many. Once your brand stands for something distinctive and favourable in the mind of the customer, marketing becomes easier as you are simply reinforcing that existing perception rather than persuading or convincing. This reinforcement builds customer loyalty and makes them more likely to repeat purchase and to recommend your brand to others. Other brands will find it harder to dislodge you from your position and harder to compete with you. Your messaging can become more consistent and more effective. Energy and resources that would otherwise go to fighting the market, can be employed in more productive areas.
Looking at it another way, whatever you do – and even if you do nothing – your target audience will form an impression of your brand in their minds. Brand positioning is the art of ensuring that impression, that space, that position, is the way you want your brand to be perceived as part of your marketing strategy.