Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management professor Philip Kotler made a career breaking down brand management into its component parts. His 2003 book Marketing Management defines 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. Brand positioning is at the intersection of brand and product, and business owners must focus on both.
[P]ut your brand’s point of view at the center of the business. The brand is the emotional hook that ties everything together, superseding the product,
—Sunny Bonnell, Co-founder of Motto and Co-author of Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous and Different
Why Companies Should Lead With Brand Positioning
Simply changing an offering or releasing a new one may not be enough to affect purchase behavior because the customer has no reason to trust you. “Many companies put the product at the center of their organization. They lead with a laundry list of product features, and if the company has more than one category or wishes to expand, it can be tough to get customers to shop the whole brand,” says Sunny Bonnell, co-founder of branding agency Motto and co-author of Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous and Different.
"Plus," Bonnell continues, "when product overshadows brand, the company is always at the mercy of the market.” By also considering the mark a brand’s image makes on a customer’s heart, effective brand positioning primes customers to view new and improved products as favorable and credible choices. “A better bet is to put your brand’s point of view at the center of the business. The brand is the emotional hook that ties everything together, superseding the product," she adds.
“Brand positioning is essential because it captures your unique proposition, value statement, essence, aesthetics and appeal,” says Liem Le, CEO and founder of virtual community Little Lion. “Often, it may be your first interaction with the customer, and you want to make an ‘amazing, I can't look away and want to hear more’ first impression. It may be your only chance to ‘pitch’ your audience, so you can’t skimp.”
“Brand positioning that means something special and appeals to your audience creates tremendous value and can work wonders for your bottom line, employee morale and customer loyalty,” says Bonnell. “Strong brands are like a magnetic force. They draw people in and become revenue-generating machines, yielding benefits like ability to charge a premium.”
When they feel connected and close to a brand, customers are also more likely to accept product mishaps and foibles. This is why some argue that you perfect your brand positioning before you adjust an existing product or experiment with a new one.
Brand Positioning 101: Know Your Market, Build Your Statement
To understand what will lead your customers to set you apart, you have to know the greater context in which you’re operating. Through quantitative and qualitative research, you can determine who your target customers are, what they need that they can’t get anywhere else and what you can provide to this effect.
It’s also critical to analyze the other companies in your space so you can differentiate your brand from the competition.
“The brand positioning statement has to be concise, consistent and clearly convey the benefits,” says Le. “If you’re a small business, it’s even more critical to get this right, since we do not have the resources of larger corporations. We lesser-known underdogs also have more to prove.”
The short statement should outline:
- Who you are
- Who you serve
- What you provide
- How you provide it
- Why you provide it
- Why the customer should choose you
Le shares her own brand positioning statement as an example: “As a women-owned small business, we provide our community with live connection with others through a broad variety of virtual wellness activities—including mindfulness, fitness, cooking, improv, art, family activities—that are easily accessible from anywhere.”
While shaping your statement, there may be times you need to return to your initial market research. There are also several tools that can help, especially as you consider how you might present your brand positioning in marketing materials.
“The brand pyramid offers a framework for answering the brand's mission, beliefs and values, essence and personality, emotional versus functional benefits, uniqueness, features and attributes,” Le explains. “You might also try a brand tree, with the trunk identifying the brand's promise and the branches signifying how the brand will achieve that promise.”
At the end of your process, Bonnell says, you’ll have a central inspirational idea that aligns all company actions, behaviors, marketing communications and brand experiences.
“Aim for positioning that is culturally relevant, anchored in the truth and appealing to the audience based on what they value,” she advises.
How do you know whether your brand positioning is serving your offering in the right way? “You know it’s working when you're able to grow your product sales, line extensions and new products under the same brand umbrella,” says Le. “Brand positioning is successful when health metrics like customer trial, repeat, loyalty, satisfaction, reviews, referrals, brand reputation and brand recall are trending positive.”
Lastly, realize that the most thoughtful brand positioning isn’t forever. Even once it’s out there in the world, and even after you’ve tweaked your product in response, you will need to periodically revisit it.
“Brand positioning is not a set and forget,” advises Le. “The explosion of social media and technology means that market conditions change rapidly, requiring continuous vigilance.” Fortunately, this is likely to be second nature if you make a habit of putting your brand first.
Read more articles on branding.
Photo: Getty Images