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Brand Positioning

These days, most markets are absolutely saturated with options. This makes it difficult for brands to stand out from their competitors, and for consumers to make the right decision about which products and services are best suited for their needs. One action you can take to solidify your company’s place in the minds of your target audience is to create a brand positioning statement that describes exactly what it is that makes you different. 

Start by asking yourself, “Does my company occupy a clear position with respect to competitors?” If you can’t confidently respond with a yes, then it’s time to deep dive into your brand positioning. Let’s begin with a basic definition.

What Is Brand Positioning? 

Your brand’s positioning articulates the goal that customers will achieve thanks to your products or services (this element is known as the “frame of reference"), as well as why you are the superior option out of your pool of competitors (this element is known as the “point of difference"). Breaking down these two key elements of brand positioning offers a chance to clearly define your company’s uniqueness and decide how you will be perceived by consumers. 

How Do You Position Your Company?

It all begins with some strategic brainstorming, but eventually these nebulous thoughts need to be tied together into some form of brand positioning statement. Of course, the format of these statements varies by company, but there are some components that are generally viewed as critical. These include:

  • A description of your target audience
  • Your brand’s frame of reference
  • Your brand’s points of difference
  • Supporting evidence referred to as “reasons to believe”

How Do You Base Your Frame of Reference on Product Features?

Now, we’ve already defined the frame of reference as the goal that your brand will allow targeted consumers to achieve when they become customers, but how exactly do you craft this piece of the positioning statement? The most common way to establish a frame of reference for your brand is by basing it on a category your products or services fall into. By associating yourself with an already known category, consumers can easily infer which goals they will achieve by doing business with you. 

You could even go as far as comparing your brand to a specific competitor that consumers view as the gold standard for the category you’re trying to claim. A classic example of this is Pepsi. They have been in competition with their cola predecessor, Coke, since their product hit the market more than a century ago. But they don’t shy away from this known rivalry. In fact, they’ve run TV commercials that show a server at a restaurant that only has Pepsi products asking a diner who’s ordered a Coke if a Pepsi is okay instead? Before the actor in the commercial even has a chance to show disappointment, as a Coke-loving consumer in real life might, a handful of popular celebrities chime in saying “it’s more than ok” and then go on to explain some nonsensical reasons why Pepsi is better than Coke.

Despite this ad being downright silly and non-informative, it’s still extremely effective. Even if a consumer had miraculously gone their whole lives without hearing of Pepsi, if they had experienced drinking a Coke before, they would immediately know that having a Pepsi would help them achieve the goals of becoming refreshed and energized. The features that are shared by brands within the same category, such as carbonation and caffeine in this scenario, are referred to as “points of parity.” These help to further your effort of developing a frame of reference in the mind of consumers.

Points of parity are the reason why even if a consumer sees an unfamiliar off-brand drink, if it refers to itself as a “cola,” they’re likely to assume that this beverage will also be refreshing and energizing. However, before you begin using points of parity to define your frame of reference, just be sure that your brand truly possesses enough of the well-known attributes associated with the category you’d like to be a member of. Otherwise, your messaging will be misleading and consumers do not like that.

Alternatively, you could attempt to base your frame of reference directly on consumer goals, but this is a much more abstract concept to work with. This is one way to approach brand positioning for products that seem to be the first of their kind with no exactly right category to belong to. However, it’s important not to downplay just how much consumers relate new options to familiar products to learn about them. So, when you go to execute your brand positioning, the more specific and concrete your frame of reference is, the better.

How Do You Establish Points of Difference? 

The next step is to develop your brand’s points of difference, which indicate why your product or service is superior to the competition and therefore will be the best option for helping the consumer reach their goal. They gain credibility for your brand because they provide consumers with reasons to believe that your claims are true. This involves providing evidence for how your brand will benefit the consumer. Like frames of reference, points of difference are on a scale from concrete (functional benefits) to abstract (emotional benefits).

Functional benefits may take the form of tangible product features. Or they could be supported by who uses the brand – for example, customer testimonials, expert backing, and celebrity or influencer endorsements. All of these can legitimize claims such as superior performance or cost savings. The more concrete your benefits are, the easier it will be to communicate them to consumers simply and clearly. 

More abstract, emotional benefits are also valuable because they help connect consumers to brands on a deeper level. They shift the emphasis to the feelings that a consumer will gain by using your brand. This speaks to basic human wants and needs. Emotional benefits can’t really be supported by anything tangible, but they can be linked back to who already uses the brand in reference to what kind of image these people represent. 

To go back to the Pepsi example, they have hired a significant number of celebrity spokespeople between the 1990s and now. When Britney Spears started appearing in Pepsi commercials and advertisements in the early 2000s, consumers were given a reason to believe that the beverage was good enough to refresh and energize one of the world’s top pop stars. This easily led some people to assume that Pepsi was superior to Coke and other competitors, even though to this day there is no tangible evidence to prove this. (Since it is subjective to the taste of each consumer, there never will be.)

However, this campaign relied heavily on implying the emotional benefit that you will feel as cool as Britney Spears if you drink Pepsi. Although she didn’t stand up and say something tangible like, “Pepsi has been scientifically proven to be more hydrating,” she didn’t have to. For a significantly less flashy but more tangible example, think about how those off-brand colas lean almost entirely on cost savings for their marketing. You’ll never see them advertised in mainstream media, but if a consumer’s goal is to spend less on groceries, they’ll likely be reaching for the generic version when comparing the prices on the store shelf.

What Do You Do with Your Finished Brand Positioning Statement?  

Once you’ve narrowed in on these critical elements of brand positioning, it’s time to write up the formal statement in the way that makes the most sense for your company. Although your brand positioning summarizes how you want to be seen externally by consumers, it is typically only shared internally amongst company employees and any relevant contracted partners. This ensures a shared vision for the brand and guides strategic planning. The harmony inside the company will result in consumers understanding your brand positioning through all the design and language in your external marketing without ever actually reading the statement itself. 

It is important to know exactly what position your company occupies with respect to competitors because it allows you to really focus on your targeted consumers and their end goal. As they say, you can’t be everything to everyone. This is a necessary first step toward increasing brand awareness, attracting new customers, and building consumer loyalty by creating repeat buyers. If you need further assistance developing your company’s brand positioning, contact us at any time. 


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Topics: branding