If you scrape your knee, do you ask for a bandage or a Band-Aid? Successful companies like Coca-Cola and Band-Aid have one important thing in common: a strong brand positioning strategy. In fact, their brand names have become generic terms for all similar products in their niche.
In this post, you’ll learn the framework for successfully positioning a brand within your ideal market. Below are the high-level topics we’ll cover — but don’t worry — we’ll be getting into the weeds so you have a thorough understanding of how to position your brand.
Effective brand positioning happens when a brand is perceived as favorable, valuable, and credible to the consumer. The sum of those three becomes unique to your business, and as a result, your customers carve out a place for you in their minds.
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 a business increase brand awareness, communicate value, and justify pricing — all of which impact its bottom line.
But not all brand positioning strategies are the same or have the same objective. Depending on the nature of your offering and industry, your positioning and messaging will vary. Let’s go over a few common positioning strategies that can help you get started.
When you’re deciding how to position your brand in the marketplace, you have several options to choose from. You want to tailor your strategy to highlight your product’s competitive advantage and point out your competition’s shortcomings.
Below are a few popular positioning strategies that you can use to differentiate your brand in the market.
There’s a pretty good chance you’ve selected a retailer, restaurant, or another service provider because of its customer service at least once.
Companies in verticals that are known for inattentive support benefit from highlighting their friendly customer service to differentiate themselves. Other companies — with products that are particularly complicated — can highlight their strong support systems to attract new customers.
The most tangible benefit of this strategy is that great customer service can help justify a higher price point. Apple’s products, for example, come at a high premium, but its support staff is friendly and quick to respond.
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 factors like location, ease-of-use, wide accessibility, multiple platform support..
Positioning your product or service as the most convenient will automatically attract busy consumers. And like the previous strategy, it can also justify a higher price point. For example, a Swiffer WetJet is $26, whereas an O-Cedar mop is $10.
But in some cases, offering convenience can be costly. For instance, if you’re in the B2B SaaS space, and you offer your product across multiple operating systems, you’ll likely need a strong, consistently available development team to deliver on your promise. Those developers would need to be on call to resolve bugs and other issues for this positioning strategy to work — and the costs to support them might get out of hand.
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 sold a similar product, you might want to offer automatic refill programs or subscriptions to fulfill the expectations your customers have of convenience.
A company uses a price-based position strategy to present its product or service as the most affordable option. When you position your product as the cheapest on the market, you can 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 get prospects to convert.
But this strategy comes with its share of risks and drawbacks — namely, giving prospects the impression of lower production quality.
Companies implement this strategy when they want to emphasize the quality of their product —quality that often 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 service can be shown through evidence of exceptional end results, high ROI, and glowing customer testimonials.
A differentiation positioning strategy relies on a product’s uniqueness or innovative qualities in comparison to the traditional competition. Tesla is a great example.
If you implement this strategy, consumers who value innovation will 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.
This type of positioning is unique because it’s focused on a set of channels rather than a stand-alone tactic. And the channels your brand uses (and doesn’t use) say just as much as your messaging does.
Believe it or not, your brand doesn’t have to show up across each platform. When using this strategy, the key is to choose the channels your target market uses the most. The factors to consider when choosing a social media platform for your brand strategy are:
There’s a chance these three areas could be found on one social platform, but they might be spread across several of them. Once you narrow down where your brand should show up, you can craft your messaging to meet the customer where they are.
These aren’t 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.
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 steps will help you create a brand positioning strategy that’s unique to your business.
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.
Once you’ve determined where your brand stands within the market, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of what your brand means to customers. A brand essence chart can help organize these ideas so that they’re clear and concise. You’ll also be able to use this chart for copywriting and design inspiration.
The brand essence chart is made up of seven components:
Attributes: Think of these as features. For a physical product, this might be a little easier to brainstorm than SaaS or a technology product.
Benefits: What does the customer get to experience as a result of the attributes of your product or service?
Personality: These adjectives describe characteristics of your brand. Don’t be afraid to take out a thesaurus for this part, either. Personalities can and should be nuanced in order to distinguish your brand from the competition.
Source of Authority and Support: What is the foundation of your brand? It might be a long-standing history of expertise in the industry, awards, and recognition by regulatory agencies in your vertical, scientific research, or even unwavering customer support in the form of reviews and testimonials.
What It Says About You (The Customer): Based on the elements we’ve discussed thus far, what does your brand say about your ideal customer? Use inspiration from the personality section to help you complete this section.
How It Makes You (The Customer) Feel: What are some words or phrases your ideal customer might use to describe how they feel when they interact with your brand? This section of the brand essence chart will help you find a niche angle for your brand messaging.
After analyzing yourself, it’s important to analyze your competition by performing competitor analysis. Why? You 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.
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:
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.
Positioning a brand can seem overwhelming at first — with so many touchpoints, it can be hard to prioritize a key message. A brand positioning framework like this one can help your brand positioning strategy.
This framework uses a top-down approach, starting with the big idea first, and ending with sample touchpoints which can be used in tactical instances like social media captions, headlines for blog articles, and advertising copy. Check out the articles below for step-by-step instructions for each section of this brand positioning framework:
There are four questions to answer before creating your positioning statement:
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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’ 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.
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 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.
Popeyes and Chick-Fil-A have one thing in common — fried chicken. Other than that, the brands couldn’t be more different. Popeyes focuses on down-home, southern, cajun-style recipes that pack a punch to your lunch hour. Chick-Fil-A on the other hand, refrains from this edgy vibe and offers wholesome, well-rounded favorites that everyone in the family will enjoy everyday except Sunday.
Popeyes uses a differentiation strategy whereas Chick-Fil-A touts a hybrid customer service / quality-based approach. What’s unique about Chick-Fil-A is that its brand positioning strategies are both overt and covert. You’ll rarely hear the company boast about its stellar customer service like they do the quality of their sandwiches and salads — the company simply lets the employees’ actions speak for themselves.
On the flip side, Popeyes isn’t in the business of exceptional customer service — they’re about on par with other competitors in the fast-food industry. But the company stands out from the crowd as a run-of-the-mill fast-food chain that can hold its weight when compared head-to-head with the industry gold standard that is Chick-Fil-A.
This long-standing rivalry is a textbook example of brand positioning strategy at work. For some customers, geography might be a barrier to experiencing the Target brand since there are far more Walmart stores across the country. But for the most part, these two retail chains are earning their fair share of the market.
Walmart became the industry standard of convenient and inexpensive shopping for everything from groceries to automotive supplies. The mega-retailer focused less on quality-based and customer service positioning — two of the areas Target adopted.
Sure, you could say “Both stores sell the same items, what’s the difference?” But Target shoppers will gladly point to seemingly longer lines and less organized aisle shelves at Walmart that make for a less-than-stellar shopping experience. Walmart patrons find the low prices and convenience of having a store just a few blocks away to be worth it.
Cashapp and Venmo have become cultural mainstays in their own right. Both brands are synonymous with “I’ll pay you back later,” except with these apps, you can be sure your friends will keep their word by sending a request for the funds you’re owed. While it’s not uncommon for personal money-lenders and borrowers to use both platforms, there is a preference for one over the other based on their brand positioning strategies.
Cashapp is most focused on getting money from point A to point B as quickly as possible. The brand leads its convenience positioning strategy right from the home screen of the app which prompts the user to enter a dollar amount before anything else.
Conversely, Venmo puts the transactional aspect of sending and receiving money on the backburner while connection takes first place. In lieu of the transactional screen, Venmo’s home screen shows a log of all the fund transfers sent among your friends. The social media positioning strategy Venmo employs isn’t isolated to the app — the brand frequently does giveaways on Instagram where its millennial demographic spends their time.
If you thought the market for at-home stationary bikes was a monolith, think again. This segment of the at-home workout equipment market has boomed in the past few years with Peloton leading the way. Although the brand isn’t brand new, it’s one of the youngest players in the industry and is giving seasoned competitors like Bowflex a serious reason to sweat.
Peloton’s brand combines convenience with social media positioning strategies to appeal to younger consumers with more disposable income to spend on workouts. The brand has kept a pulse on trends that make the market tick and offers products and services that meet those needs in what seems like real-time.
The year 2020 changed the way we lived and worked. Virtual connection became the new normal which meant that tools like Google Meet and Zoom were at the forefront of everyone’s minds. While both of them serve a similar purpose — bringing people together over the web — they have stark differences in the way they’re positioned.
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. Use the brand positioning strategies and frameworks outlined in this article to place yourself in the sweet spot of your target market.