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Brand positioning

What is brand positioning, and why is it important? What steps can businesses take to create the most effective brand positioning statement and strategy?

Faced with more choices than ever before, today’s buyers can be tough to pin down. Getting their attention and standing out from the crowd doesn’t usually happen by chance. Businesses that successfully create a strong position for their brand aren’t only more likely to connect with customers, but also better prepared to build the kind of relationships that drive sales and long-term growth. 

Brand positioning is more than a necessary tool to spur sales and growth. It’s also a key component in offering a superior customer experience and helping ensure loyalty. Done right, it can control how customers see and think of you. And to achieve that, brand positioning needs to be a priority throughout every aspect of an organization, from the sales messaging to the day-to-day lives of employees. 

If that sounds like a big task, it is — but there’s also a growing field of best practices to draw on to see it through. With that in mind, here’s what businesses should know about brand positioning, and what steps they can take to succeed at it. 

What is brand positioning?

Brand positioning is the process of defining a brand — in the minds of consumers, in relation to the market and competitors, and within the larger public consciousness in general. The most effective brand positioning involves creating a specific and unique place in the market that best reflects a company’s unique selling proposition (USP) while also aligning with its target audience and customer base.   

As part of a larger branding continuum that extends from brand awareness and brand recognition, brand positioning works to leverage existing familiarity into favorable qualities like favorability and reliability. Because it’s designed to communicate each business’s USP, precisely which qualities are pursued in brand positioning depends on the specific goals that need to be met. 

In addition to making a brand memorable and unique in the minds of consumers, brand positioning is also an ongoing process that needs to be monitored and adapted to the changing needs of the organization and target customers. As such, it’s best approached as part of a holistic process that also includes market segmentation, brand awareness campaigns and more.

What’s the difference between brand positioning and differentiation?

How is brand positioning different from differentiation? Brand differentiation refers to how a product or commodity is distinguished within a marketplace, i.e., how it stands in relation to the competition. Brand positioning, on the other hand, is a larger process that includes differentiation among a host of other factors. 

In other words, brand positioning is a way to leverage differentiation to a brand’s advantage. It does this in combination with other elements, like who’s being spoken to (i.e., who’s the target audience) and how to best communicate a product’s USP in a way that resonates with them. In other words, differentiation is often just a single aspect of brand positioning. 

For example, Geico and Progressive are auto insurance companies that differentiate themselves as low-cost options within a highly competitive marketplace. But their brand positioning efforts take into account not just that differentiation, but other elements like a specific customer base and an effective use of media advertising in pursuit of a larger overall market share. 

With savvy, TV-focused marketing campaigns that target younger customers, the brand positioning pursued by these companies doesn’t just communicate their budget-friendly appeal, but also other elements like humor, cultural savviness, and the speed and efficiency with which customers can switch to their brands.

Why is brand positioning important for businesses?

Why is brand positioning a worthy investment for businesses? Even the best-designed logo or pitch-perfect tagline are of little use unless they serve a larger purpose, or help meet a larger goal. With that understood, the principles of effective brand positioning should be top of mind at the earliest stage, and used as a guide for all other branding and marketing efforts. 

Brand positioning is a fundamental tool for driving sales by communicating a product’s value and addressing buyer pain points in the most effective way. The better a brand delivers on its unique selling points — or is seen to do so — the more durable its relationships with customers. And creating a base of loyal customers is also an effective way to spread word-of-mouth referrals, which can further boost sales and further strengthen a brand’s position. 

Market surveys have found that a whopping 87% of customers “choose brands that match their personal values,” while 71% avoid them if they don’t. In other words, active brand positioning can affect the decisions of more than two-thirds of consumers. And the more successful a brand is in positioning itself with buyers, the more readily it will withstand changes in the market and customer tastes. 

In a market with many competing products, a strong position can also help a brand stand out, and even justify a higher price point. For instance, Whole Foods can charge more for the same items than other supermarkets thanks to its larger brand position as a source of higher-quality foods.   

In today’s hyper-visible, social-driven consumer spaces, companies that don’t work to actively cultivate positive brand positioning could find themselves with a negative one through inactivity or inattention. In that sense, a brand positioning strategy is a helpful tool for controlling what customers and the general public think of a brand at any given time — and especially in the face of negative publicity or pushback. 

Brand positioning statement

What is a brand positioning statement? A means of putting into specific words a brand’s unique value to its target customers, a brand positioning statement is the cornerstone of all subsequent branding and marketing efforts. It’s the critical first step in adopting and kicking off any larger strategy to support a brand, or any aspect of it — for instance, the introduction of separate products, new offerings, or associated services. 

A succinct description of a brand’s mission in one or two memorable sentences, a positioning statement should be carefully constructed to communicate the USP in a way that best meets material goals related to sales and growth. A brand positioning statement needs to be clear and concise, while also fulfilling its mission of defining and communicating the brand's value in an effective way.   

Brand positioning statements typically comprise four elements: (1) It must define the target customer and (2) the market category of the product or service being sold. The brand positioning statement must also explain (3) the benefit being delivered, and (4) why it matters to the buyer — i.e., what value is being offered? 

Because brand positioning statements are internal, they’re not often available to the public, and many sources mistake a company’s mission or vision statement as its brand positioning statement. For instance, a statement often attributed to Nike is: “At Nike, we’re committed to creating a better, more sustainable future for our people, planet, and communities through the power of sport.” Yet its actual internal brand positioning statement is likely to be more specific about who it’s trying to reach, and how exactly it’s delivering on those commitments.

Brand positioning strategy

Once a business has its brand positioning statement in place, it can then create and pursue a formal brand positioning strategy, or the framework or action plan for making the desired brand position a reality. Think of this as the narrative behind a brand. It isn’t just the characteristics of the product and service that are being emphasized, but also the brand’s differentiation, target market and USP. 

In other words, how will your company go about making the brand positioning statement a reality in the minds of consumers? The answer to this will serve as your brand positioning strategy. And, although the means for putting it into place will differ for every organization, there are some larger steps that should be included in virtually every brand positioning strategy. These include: 
  • Carrying out an assessment of current position, and how well it meets the definition of your latest brand positioning statement, if applicable. 
  • Clearly identifying competitors, and defining as best as possible your brand position in relation to theirs 
  • Leveraging AI prescriptive knowledge to understand the best channels to reach your target customers, using your brand positioning statement as a baseline 
  • Create a technology blueprint to map out your positioning goals to applicable means of delivery across your most important channels 
  • Task marketing leaders with a formal marketing plan that applies your brand positioning statement to action items 
  • Establish how your brand is perceived among influencers and thought leaders, and brainstorm potential options to improve that perception, or create new ones 
  • Conduct ongoing strategic planning and team-building exercises that help get everyone on the same page as to current brand position, and to get feedback and support on the many challenges associated with brand positioning success 
  • Ensure that your brand position is understood and embraced by all employees, and especially those with customer-facing roles 
  • Make sure that the brand position statement is reflected in all aspects of your company’s communications, from advertising to packaging and from external communications to internal newsletters 
  • Prioritize continuous evaluation and improvement to determine if and when repositioning may be needed to better meet the company’s larger objectives or new market opportunities 
“Many marketers have relegated the practice of brand positioning to a communications exercise that informs brand awareness and demand generation investments at the very front of the revenue cycle,” writes Stephen Diorio at Forbes

“Instead, marketers need to be building and extending winning brand positioning though even stage of the revenue cycle – like a green thread – consistently developing, strengthening, and delivering the brand position, promise, and value story in all facets of the firm – from product development to real estate decisions to hiring practices to marketing communications.”

Brand positioning examples

Examples of successful brand positioning are easy enough to find — indeed, in today’s highly fragmented marketplace, brands with the strongest market positions always stand out. The most obvious examples are household names like Disney (family-friendly entertainment), Starbucks (quick coffee and healthy lunches) and Tesla (electric car innovator). 

It’s also helpful to think of examples in terms of how one company is positioned against another. In the online dating app industry, for instance, Tinder has embraced the role of brief connections and first dates, while eHarmony has long positioned itself as a source for longer-term romantic relationships. 

While Zoom offers video meetings that are accessible to everyone in virtually any setting, Microsoft Teams pursues a more strictly office setting, in pursuant to its flagship Microsoft Office offering. And, while both Target and Walmart offer big-box retail services, Walmart’s position is lower cost and centered in rural areas, whereas Target’s position emphasizes convenience and urban locations.

Build a better brand positioning strategy with GfK

As we’ve seen, ensuring effective brand positioning is more essential for success than ever before — yet hitting on the right statement and strategy is no simple task! For companies looking to improve or better define their brand position with the help of high-quality research and more effective marketing, the right expertise can make all the difference. 

At GfK, our Brand Intelligence solutions are designed to help today’s leading businesses better understand the finer points of branding, and how to achieve their goals in this essential area. If you’re looking for ways to develop a stronger brand or better connect with customers, we’re standing by to help with a suite of branding intelligence solutions to help you build a better strategy.