Brand Positioning: How to Look Different in a Sea of Sameness
The soft drink 7Up had been on the market since the 1920s, often languishing in the shadows of better-known, darker-toned colas, such as Coke and Pepsi. Then, in 1967, 7UP introduced the UNCOLA advertising campaign, which sent 7UP sales rocketing nationwide.
The campaign was successful because it leveraged a compelling positioning strategy that went like this: Unlike dark, heavy and syrupy colas, 7Up is the only carbonated soft drink that offers a clear, invigorating lemon-lime flavor that leaves drinkers feeling refreshed.
The positioning strategy clearly differentiated 7Up from the competition (it was light and clear vs. dark and heavy) and how that difference benefited consumers (it made them feel refreshed).
Today, it’s easy to see brand positioning at work in some of the most recognizable brands. For some of these brands, such as Netflix and Whole Foods, the name clearly states the positioning strategy. Netflix is your online home for the best movies and shows. Whole Foods is the go-to destination if you’re looking for natural and organic foods. This is brand positioning stripped to its essence — a powerful, relatable statement describing what makes a company unique in its market.
Sure, most companies don’t have the resources of these big consumer brands, but even small B2B businesses can apply the principles of positioning as they develop their own strong brands. Read on to see how you can do it.
What Is Brand Positioning?
Brand positioning articulates the unique value of your product or service to your customers in relation to your chief competition. A brand positioning statement is typically short and sweet — just one or two concise sentences — but it effectively defines how customers will perceive your brand and differentiates you from your competitors.
Once you define your brand’s position, you’ll have an effective tool to guide all of your marketing going forward, from packaging to promotions.
A brand positioning statement is typically short and sweet — just one or two concise sentences — but it effectively defines how customers will perceive your brand and differentiates you from your competitors.
Why Brand Positioning Is Important
In most markets, there is a lot of competition — and a lot of noise created by marketing messages. If your offering is too close to what your competitors are selling, you blend in. If your voice is too similar, your messages can’t be heard in the din. Instead, you have to stand out by being obviously different in some way that you can easily and effectively communicate to your potential customers. You must give them a reason to choose your brand.
Let’s take our business, Cobalt Communications, as an example. As the agency began to grow and market itself, it was tempting to take a generalist’s position. After all, wouldn’t our potential customer base be larger if we were willing to deliver all types of communications to all types of companies? We realized over time this wasn’t the case. We also realized we had unique attributes that made us different than other similar firms — most notably, our expertise in complex, science-focused content and our experience working in large, complex organizations. We turned these attributes into a strong positioning statement: Cobalt Communications helps healthcare, medical, technology and scientific companies engage their internal and external audiences more effectively because we are experts at communicating complex information within complex organizations. Our tagline, The Art + Science of Understanding, is a creative expression of this positioning.
There’s another reason to hone your brand’s positioning: the more narrowly you can focus your brand’s offerings, the more unique and special they become. Over time, you become the trusted expert in that specific segment of the market. That not only helps you build credibility, but it also lets you ultimately charge more for your products or services.
Last but not least, strong brand positioning helps you inspire consumer loyalty. When you find your niche and fill it well, nothing else will do for customers who value your brand and its offerings.
Strategies for Positioning
Companies typically base their brand positioning specifically on one or more key strategic factors. Let’s take a look at a few.
Price and Value: Many brands differentiate themselves by price or value. For example, a brand with relatively expensive products in its market may label itself as “luxury” or “high-end” while a brand with relatively inexpensive products may take approaches of having “good value” or being “affordable.”
Quality: Another popular differentiator is quality. A brand may sell itself based on exceptional reliability and durability. Think “longest lasting” or “most reliable.” Another way to express this is by offering a specific “warranty” or “lifetime guarantees.”
Benefits and Problem Solving: Honing in on the unique benefits of a product or service can be an effective way to differentiate them. But it’s not just about listing features; strong brands communicate how they benefit their consumer, especially how they solve consumers’ problems. Examples include being the “easiest,” “fastest,” “safest” or “most convenient.”
Competition: Some companies go on the attack with their positioning, directly articulating exactly how they rank relative to competitors. Claiming to be “number one” or the “world’s best” are examples. A few will even specifically call out the competition by name, but that can be dangerous with the potential to quickly morph into negative marketing campaigns.
Timing: Those who make it to market first have the advantage of being able to differentiate themselves as “the original,” “the first” or “the longest-serving.” They can take a preemptive approach as other brands encroach upon “their” market.
User Group: With this approach, a brand differentiates itself by claiming to best serve a niche audience or user. Think of products and services that make life easier for “busy moms” or “prospective homeowners.”
Exclusivity: Brands who offer something truly unique can leverage that uniqueness in their positioning by marketing themselves as “the only” product or service for that particular market.
Special Occasions: Some brands may fill specific needs for customers in special times like a “bride-to-be” or “new graduate,” or they may orient themselves toward people celebrating a particular holiday or special event.
Once you identify the attributes that make you different, it’s time to state them clearly in a positioning statement. We’ll cover that next.
Writing a Positioning Statement
You can write a brand positioning statement for any master brand or one of its sub-brands, such as a product or service launched underneath a master brand. Positioning statements typically include these six elements:
- Identification of the target consumer
- Problem or need of the consumer
- Definition of the offering
- Category of offering
- Brand promise (emotional or rational benefit)
- Compelling evidence why customers should believe that promise
At Cobalt Communications, we’ve created an easy-to-use worksheet to help you draft your own brand positioning statement.
Do We Have A Winner?
Once you’ve come up with your brand positioning statement, set it aside for a day or two. Then take a fresh look, checking to make sure all of the following apply.
My brand positioning statement
- is concise.
- is easy to understand.
- speaks to my target audience of core customers.
- is unique.
- is credible.
- explains how my brand is different and/or offers unique value.
- reflects how I want my customers to perceive my brand.
- is consistent with my brand’s values.
- reflects my brand’s growth plans.
- is flexible enough to accommodate some shifts in my market over time.
- resonates with me, my management team and staff.
- is memorable.
- will effectively guide my brand’s marketing strategy and implementation.
If you’re not able to tick those boxes, it’s time for some more editing. Consider reaching out to others in your company for their input or hire a professional firm like Cobalt to work with you.
Positioning and Repositioning
We’ve already talked about how a new brand should define its brand positioning right out of the gates, but that’s not the only time brand positioning is relevant. Existing brands may have occasions to evaluate and possibly update or even completely change their brand positioning.
Sometimes, current brand positioning just isn’t working anymore, and sales are declining. Maybe there are more/less/different competitors; maybe customers have new or different preferences as time passes and culture shifts; or maybe a new technology or other brand has disrupted your market?
When you reposition your brand, you are effectively trying to change the way consumers perceive your brand.
If your brand finds itself in that situation, let go of any attachment to the status quo and take an honest, fresh look at your brand. It might be best to strengthen your current brand, or perhaps it’s time to establish a whole new position targeting different, new or underserved niches.
When you reposition your brand, you are effectively trying to change the way consumers perceive your brand. It can be risky, but when done well, brand repositioning can breathe new life into an old brand. Agile brands are especially successful with such transformations.
No matter when you do your brand positioning or repositioning, take time to critically think it through and do it right. If you do, marketers may be talking about your brand strategy 50 years from now, like we currently do with 7Up’s UNCOLA positioning.