What sets you apart from the competition? Successful companies like Coca-Cola and Band-Aid have one important thing in common: a strong brand. In fact, their brand names have become generic terms for all similar products in their niche. If you cut yourself, do you ask for a bandage or a Band-Aid?
B2B companies with brands perceived as strong generate a higher EBIT margin than others. And if that isn't enough, successful branding yields benefits such as increased customer loyalty, an improved image, and a relatable identity.
There's only one surefire way to build a strong brand: brand positioning. Here's how to successfully position a brand in your market in 2020. In this article, we'll discuss how to successfully position a brand in your market by covering these topics:
- What is brand positioning?
- Why is brand positioning important?
- How to create a brand positioning strategy
- The brand positioning map
- Brand positioning examples
What is Brand Positioning?
Brand positioning is the process of positioning your brand in the mind of your customers. More than a tagline or a fancy logo, brand positioning is the strategy used to set your business apart from the rest.
According to The Branding Journal, effective brand positioning can be described as the extent to which a brand is perceived as favorable, different, and credible in consumers' minds.
Why is brand positioning important?
You have a reputation whether you cultivate it or not, so you might as well create a brand positioning plan that can help you take control of your reputation and brand image.
More than a century ago, a soda company decided to offer a never-before-seen product: the first ever cola drink. In doing so, it successfully positioned itself as the original. Now, Coca-Cola benefits from millions of sales around the world and is a household staple; it's positioned in our minds as the gold standard of soda.
Brand positioning allows a company to differentiate itself from competitors. This differentiation helps increase brand awareness, communicate value, and justify pricing, all of which impact the bottom line.
But not all brand positioning strategies are the same or have the same objective. Depending on your product, service, and industry, your positioning and verbiage will vary. Below, we go over a few common positioning strategies that can help you get started.
Types of Brand Positioning Strategies
- Customer Service Positioning Strategy
- Convenience-Based Positioning Strategy
- Price-Based Positioning Strategy
- Quality-Based Positioning Strategy
- Differentiation Strategy
When you’re deciding how to position your brand in the marketplace, you have myriad options to choose from. It will depend on what your competitors offer, but in all cases, you’ll tailor your strategy to highlight your product’s competitive advantage and indirectly or directly point out your competition’s shortcomings.
Below are a few popular positioning strategies that you can use to differentiate your brand in the market.
Customer Service Positioning Strategy
We’ve all selected a retailer, restaurant, or other service provider because of their customer service.
Companies highlight their prompt, friendly customer service to differentiate themselves in verticals that are known for inattentive support. Other companies highlight their strong support system if their product has a particularly complicated implementation phase.
The most tangible benefit of this strategy is that great customer service can and will justify a higher price point. Apple’s products, for example, come at a high premium, but their support staff is friendly and quick to respond. These service interactions also are an integral part of the flywheel — an initially unhappy customer may turn into a promoter if they have a great service experience.
Be diligent with this strategy: If you advertise your great customer service but don’t deliver, you’ll invite bad reviews, angry tirades over phone and email, callouts on social media, and even Better Business Bureau complaints. Be sure to equip your team with the right customer service software to deliver on your promise.
Convenience-Based Positioning Strategy
A convenience-based positioning strategy highlights why a company’s product or service is more convenient to use than the competition’s. This convenience can be based on location, ease-of-use, wide accessibility, multiple platform support, and more.
The convenience may also be because of the product’s design. For example, Swiffer® advertises its WetJet™ product as a convenient alternative to a traditional mop because of its disposable mopping pads.
Positioning your product or service as the most convenient will automatically attract busy consumers. It will also justify a higher price point. For example, a Swiffer WetJet is $26, whereas an O-Cedar mop is $10.
On the other hand, offering convenience can be costly. If you’re offering a service on multiple platforms or in various cities, you’ll need strong logistics and software development teams to deliver on your promise. Developers should always be at hand to resolve bugs and other issues for this positioning strategy to work.
The last item you’d need to check is whether your product is truly convenient. The WetJet mop, for example, could potentially be inconvenient because customers constantly have to go to the store to buy refills. If you sell a similar product, you’d want to offer automatic refill programs or subscriptions.
Price-Based Positioning Strategy
Companies use a price-based position strategy to present their products and services as the most affordable option. When you position your product as the cheapest in the market, you’ll undoubtedly generate a large customer base, because no one likes to spend more than they have to. Offering the lowest price is an easy way to entice prospects to convert.
The one limitation is that a lower price may convey lower production quality, even if that isn’t the case. It can also initiate a price war, though that will only apply in certain industries such as air travel.
Quality-Based Positioning Strategy
Companies implement this strategy when they’d like to emphasize the quality of their product. Often, this quality comes at a premium cost.
The quality of a product can be shown through exceptional craftsmanship, small-batch production, high quality materials, and even sustainable practices that make it more expensive to produce. The quality of a service can be shown through evidence of exceptional end results, high ROI, and glowing customer testimonials.
Budget-conscious shoppers may bypass your brand in favor of a cheaper alternative. But this is where buyer personas would come into play. The income and shopping habits of your target customers would determine whether emphasizing quality (with a higher premium) is the right approach for your brand.
A differentiation positioning strategy relies on a product’s uniqueness or innovative qualities in comparison to the traditional competition. Tesla is a great example — before the Tesla vehicles existed, there hadn’t been an attractive, fully electric vehicle (EV) available for purchase.
If you implement this strategy, consumers who value innovation would be attracted to your brand and product. The one potential limitation is that the public could be discouraged by the lack of history of use. If your product is completely new, consider providing the research and testing that went into its creation. Often, innovation-driven consumers like to know how the new technology or product works.
Other Positioning Strategies
These are not the only strategies out there. You can position your brand as the leader, the first of its kind (the original), or the most popular. You can also position your product as the solution to a pervasive problem.
Another approach is to directly compare your brand to your competitors. In this strategy, you’d directly call out your competition in your ad campaigns and highlight your product’s advantages over theirs.
When crafting your position, be sure to take a close look at your target buyers and their behaviors. Whether they prefer to save, spend money on quality, or have the latest and newest gadget will determine how you position your brand.
Now that you have an idea of the few approaches you can take, it’s time to create a positioning plan that establishes your brand as the friendliest, the most convenient, the cheapest, or simply the best choice compared to other brands.
How to Create a Brand Positioning Strategy
- Determine your current brand positioning.
- Identify your competitors.
- Conduct competitor research.
- Identify what makes your brand unique.
- Create your positioning statement.
- Evaluate if your positioning works.
- Establish an emotional connection with prospects and customers.
- Reinforce your brand's differentiating qualities during the sales process.
- Create value.
- Ensure that customer-facing employees embody your brand.
Creating your own brand positioning strategy involves diving deep into the details of your brand and discovering what you do better than anyone else. These six steps help you create a brand positioning strategy that's unique to your business.
1. Determine your current brand positioning.
Are you currently marketing your product or service as just another item on the market, or are you marketing it as something distinctive? Your current brand positioning gives you important insight into where to go next. You'll need to understand your current position to further analyze your competition.
Start by considering your target customer and defining who they are. Next, identify your mission, values, and what makes you different from the rest of the market. Finally, take stock of your value proposition and your current brand persona and brand voice.
Matylda Chmielewska at LiveChat Partner Program advises, "We all like connecting with brands that sound and feel authentic to us. Instead of building a complex lingo that no one will be able to understand, just talk human. Start with researching who your (ideal and existing) audience is, and use their language."
2. Identify your competitors.
After analyzing yourself, it's important to analyze your competition by performing competitor analysis. Why? You'll need to see who you're up against to conduct competitor research. That research will help you decide what you can do better in your strategy to gain an edge.
There are different methods for determining your competition, including:
- Conducting market research: Ask your sales team what competitors come up during the sales process, or do a quick search using a market keyword and see which companies are listed.
- Use customer feedback: Ask your customers which businesses or products they were considering before choosing yours.
- Use social media: Quora offers a platform where consumers can ask questions about products and services. Search these forums to discover competitors in your niche.
3. Conduct competitor research.
Once you've determined who your competitors are, it's time to conduct in-depth competitor research. You'll need to analyze how your competition is positioning their brand in order to compete. At its simplest, your research should include:
- What products or services your competitors offer
- What their strengths and weaknesses are
- What marketing strategies they're using successfully
- What their position is in the current market
4. Identify what makes your brand unique.
Building a unique brand is all about identifying what makes you different and what works best for your business. Chmielewska suggests, "Start by defining what 'effective' really means for your brand — and then build its image based on that."
Chances are, after you conduct competitor research, you'll begin to see patterns. You'll start to see some businesses that have the same strengths and weaknesses. As you compare your product or service to theirs, you might find one of their weaknesses is your strength.
This is what makes your brand unique; and it's the perfect starting point for positioning your brand in the market. Take note of your unique offerings as you compare, and dive deep to identify what you do better than anyone else.
5. Create your positioning statement.
It's time to take what you've learned and create a brand positioning statement. According to The Cult Branding Company, “A positioning statement is a one- or two-sentence declaration that communicates your brand's unique value to your customers in relation to your main competitors.”
There are four questions to answer before creating your positioning statement:
- Who is your target customer?
- What's your product or service category?
- What's the greatest benefit of your product or service?
- What's the proof of that benefit?
From there, you can craft a simple but compelling positioning statement. For example, take a look at Amazon's positioning statement: “Our vision is to be the earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Amazon's target customer — although incredibly broad — is anyone. They sell a wide range of products for everyone, which is also their greatest benefit. And the proof? It's all online.
6. Evaluate if your positioning statement works.
Taking the time to position your brand to appeal to a certain customer is just the beginning. Once your positioning statement is created, it's time to test, experiment, and gather feedback from your customers on whether or not your positioning achieves its goal.
As Ryan Robinson of Close.io says, “Investing the time and effort into positioning your brand to appeal toward a specific vertical, type of consumer, or demographic is only a small part of the battle. It's crucial to test, experiment, and actively gather (real) feedback from your target customers on whether or not your positioning is actually having its desired effect. We've doubled down on our positioning by consistently asking for (and listening to) feedback from new customers when they join, and it's clear that both our content and its delivery style remain a key asset for our brand."
7. Establish an emotional connection with prospects and customers.
Connecting with your prospects on a human level before going in for the hard sell builds trust, and helps your prospect have a more positive experience with your company's brand. For example, at the beginning of the sales process, reps should take ample time to learn about your prospects and what problem they are looking to solve by using your product.
8. Reinforce your brand's differentiating qualities during the sales process.
With a strong brand position, the differentiating properties of your company's offering should be easy to understand and refer to. Make sure your prospects understand what makes your brand unique throughout the sales process.
9. Create value.
Your main goal should be to help your prospect solve a problem or overcome a challenge they are experiencing. Ideally, your company's offering is part of the solution.
10. Ensure that customer-facing employees embody your brand.
Customer-facing employees are your company's most valuable ambassador. Prospects should receive an experience that embodies the core values of your company and aligns with the company's brand. For example, if your company takes a light, fun approach to branding, you should incorporate this language into your sales conversations. Having an overly serious or stiff tone would not be authentic to your company's brand.
Brand Positioning Map: The Power of Perception
If you want to see how your brand compares to others in consumers' perceptions, a brand positioning map can help. According to the American Marketing Association (AMA), “Perceptual brand mapping is the visual plotting of specific brands against axes, where each axis represents an attribute that is known to drive brand selection.”
Image source: American Marketing Association
A brand positioning map consists of attributes that are important to your target audience. To do mapping right, it's best to have multiple versions of the map based on different sets of attributes. By placing your brand and your competitors on your map, you'll see who's more competitive in a certain area over the rest.
The attributes used in the map come directly from the values your customers hold dear. The perception of your product or service is linked directly to those values. Brands focusing on shared values win, in the end.
As Harvard Business Review states, “Build brand loyalty on shared values with your consumers. It is not the number of interactions a buyer has with your brand, but the quality and relatability of the interaction.”
Brand Positioning Examples
- Delta vs. JetBlue
- Billie vs. Gillette
- Chipotle vs. Taco Bell
- Lyft vs. Uber
- Bumble vs. Tinder
- Starbucks vs. Dunkin’
- Spotify vs. Apple Music
- Apple macOS vs. Microsoft Windows
There are plenty of companies that have excelled at brand positioning over the years by building a positioning strategy that rivals the rest. Here are five great examples:
1. Delta vs. JetBlue
Delta and JetBlue have shown who wins when hospitality and high-end rival one another. After Delta stopped serving peanuts and reduced legroom, JetBlue entered the market boasting about its gourmet snacks and expansive legroom. It found success by focusing on friendly service instead of a lucrative frequent-flyer program.
Delta’s vs. JetBlue’s Positioning Strategy
When Delta trimmed some of its comforts, it implemented a convenience positioning strategy. That seems counterintuitive, because who doesn’t find legroom convenient? But Delta flyers have access to more international flights than JetBlue flyers, as well as more routes. Delta is using its extensive network and robust reward program to bolster its brand image.
JetBlue, on the other hand, implemented a customer service positioning strategy, dethroning Delta as the gold standard for customer service. JetBlue’s positions itself in our heads as the friendliest, most comfortable option.
2. Billie vs. Gillette
In recent years, examples of the pink tax — or products geared towards women being more expensive than gender-neutral or male-equivalent products — have been brought to light in the media. One product category that has been plagued by the pink tax is the shaving category, where women's products are often marketed as an afterthought.
Direct-to-consumer brand Billie is tackling the pink tax issue head-on, using a subscription model selling women's razors at half the price of drugstore competitors, offering customers referral credits known as the “pink tax rebate.” Well-known shaving brand Gillette has taken notice, now offering a subscription option for its Venus razors.
Billie’s vs. Gillette’s Positioning Strategy
Billie’s positioning strategy is convenience-based because of its handy subscription format — but it’s also differentiation-based because of its focus on the pink tax. While the product in itself isn’t innovative, Billie’s pricing and advertising strategy is.
Gillette’s positioning strategy is also based on differentiation, although to a less successful degree than Billie. Because of its decades of history, Gillette emphasizes that it is always innovating unlike other razor brands. In its positioning, the brand makes it clear that it’s constantly updating their offerings for a better consumer experience.
3. Chipotle vs. Taco Bell
Chipotle and Taco Bell's fight for market share delivered a study in quality versus quantity. Although Taco Bell is known in the market for Mexican fast food, Chipotle entered the same space by competing on quality instead of price. One of its ads stating, “We're Not Afraid to Say We're Real Chickens” speaks to the company's dedication to successful branding.
Chipotle’s vs. Taco Bell’s Positioning Strategy
Chipotle’s positioning strategy is quality-based. On its website and in-person menu, the brand emphasizes where it sources its food, as well as its use of organic and non-GMO ingredients.
Taco Bell’s strategy is price-based. The brand offers some of the lower prices in this vertical. Its strategy is also convenience-based; Chipotle has no drive-thru, while Taco Bell does.
4. Lyft vs. Uber
Friendly or far-fetched? Which one wins? Although Uber burst onto the rideshare scene quickly, it offered overly-executive rides with sleek branding. Its branding was too luxurious, leaving some consumers turned off. Lyft entered the market promising friendly and fun service instead of far-fetched luxury.
Lyft’s vs. Uber’s Positioning Strategy
Lyft’s strategy is price-based. If you want a quick ride, it’ll be just a little bit cheaper than Uber, with a similar quality of service.
Uber’s strategy is quality-based. The brand advertises features such as Uber Reserve and Uber XL on its website, and while the quality of the service itself is similar to Lyft, the brand exudes a more premium image through their wording and brand colors.
5. Bumble vs. Tinder
Founded in 2014 by Whitney Wolfe after her departure from Tinder, Bumble was positioned as an app designed to empower women to take control when connecting with new people. In addition to its initial focus on bettering the female-user experience, Bumble has expanded beyond the dating category, giving users the option to find friendship and professional connections within the platform. Tinder, on the other hand, focuses on fleeting connections.
Bumble’s vs. Tinder’s Positioning Strategy
Bumble’s positioning strategy is differentiation. On its website, the brand states, “Bumble was first founded to challenge the antiquated rules of dating.” Indeed, its approach was much more different than any other app’s, with women being the initiators rather than men.
Tinder’s positioning strategy is leader-based; the brand uses its established history and popularity to compel people to join. Though the brand doesn’t identify itself as a leader in online dating (such a tone wouldn’t fit with the industry), it implies its leadership standing by highlighting its number of users and nearly decade-long history.
6. Starbucks vs. Dunkin’
While Starbucks and Dunkin’ seem different, they both target customers who go on a coffee run every morning. While Starbucks’ branding hinges on the in-store experience, Dunkin’s branding focuses on its two principal offerings, coffee and donuts. Its slogan, “American Runs on Dunkin®,” emphasizes the wide-ranging availability of its products. Starbucks, on the other hand, focuses on highlighting craft and offering a more traditional coffee shop experience.
Starbucks’ vs. Dunkin’s Positioning Strategy
Starbucks’ green and brown branding is in direct opposition to Dunkin’s bright pink and orange colors. It shows in their strategies, too.
Starbucks’ strategy focuses on quality. On its Coffee Finder page, the brand states, “Our coffee masters have distilled their years of tasting knowledge down to three simple questions to help you find a Starbucks coffee you’re sure to love.” This sort of verbiage conveys Starbucks’ focus on quality rather than quantity and even availability.
Dunkin’ focuses on both its leadership in the field and wide-ranging availability, and thus their strategy is leader- and convenience-based. “Dunkin' is the world's leading baked goods and coffee chain, serving more than 3 million customers each and every day,” the brand states, highlighting how convenient it is to simply stop by for a coffee fix.
7. Spotify vs. Apple Music
The Spotify vs. Apple Music dilemma has been the subject of infinite attention. If you look it up on Google, you’ll get more than twenty-six million results on the news section alone.
Spotify is known for its high personalization, whereas Apple Music is known for a more premium song selection and, of course, the high-quality Apple brand. Though their offerings are strikingly similar, both brands use radically different strategies to position themselves in the market.
Spotify’s vs. Apple Music’s Positioning Strategy
Spotify uses a price-based strategy. While its premium options are nearly identical to Apple Music’s in terms of pricing, it offers a free plan that makes it more accessible.
Apple Music uses a quality-based approach, touting its 60-million song catalog as a principal attractor. It also offers exclusive content such as videos and on-screen lyrics. In comparison, Spotify only offers this feature for a few songs.
8. Apple macOS vs. Microsoft Windows
Ah, the battle of the operating softwares. And that’s without mentioning the iOS versus Android dilemma.
Apple macOS and Microsoft Windows have been the two principal players in the OS industry for nearly four decades. Apple created a computer that was simple to use; in response, Windows created a similar system with a graphical user interface (GUI) that was more customizable. While its first version saw little success, Windows has retained most of the market share throughout the years and still reigns in the OS industry.
macOS vs. Microsoft Windows Positioning Strategy
While macOS was the first operating system with a GUI, Apple doesn’t position it as “the first” or “the original.” Rather, the brand uses a quality-based positioning strategy to differentiate its OS from alternatives. In some ways, it also uses a convenience-based strategy, since the OS integrates with Apple’s other products.
Microsoft Windows also uses a convenience positioning strategy, but in a different way than Apple does for its operating system. First, Windows can be purchased as a license, and you can use it for a custom-built computer. With Windows, you can also choose a device from any PC manufacturer, meaning that you have a wide range of options. This makes it highly convenient to find, install, and use. And this strategy has worked well, as Windows is the predominant operating system.
These are only a few examples of the way popular brands compete and position themselves in the market. A successful positioning strategy results in increasing market share — or the creation of a niche that only your brand occupies.
Successfully Position Your Brand for Growth
As you can see, a strong brand makes all the difference when entering or competing in any market. A unique brand positioning strategy is critical to making a statement, getting (and keeping) your target audience's attention, and successfully growing your brand.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and was updated in January 2021 for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jan 29, 2021 9:00:00 AM, updated February 04 2021