If someone near you sneezes, what usually follows?
In my experience, what often follows a sneeze is the question, “Do you have a Kleenex?”
What they’re really asking for is a tissue to wipe their nose.
Kleenex started in 1924 as a cold cream remover but became so popular as an all-purpose disposable hankie that the name Kleenex became the generic term for all tissues.
The scenario described here is the ultimate in brand positioning. To have your name be synonymous with the product you sell is about as high as you can go with brand positioning.
But how do you get your brand in this position?
A strong brand positioning strategy.
Let’s dive in.
According to HubSpot, the definition of brand positioning is “the process of positioning your brand in the mind of your customers.”
Cool. That still doesn’t explain what brand positioning means. To what position are they referring? What do they mean by process?
Let’s look at an example.
Think of your mind as an internet search engine like Google.
In the search bar, you type whatever questions you have on any subject, person, place, or thing you want to know about.
Google then lists the absolute best answers they can find.
The top of Google’s list gets the most attention by far. 70%-90% of the search traffic clicks go to the first page.
Our minds work the same way. We don’t need to go further down the list when the first brands that come to mind are precisely what we are looking for.
Whatever product or service comes to mind first will get the most attention—the “position” that brands are battling for in customers’ minds.
We all have unique tastes, likes, dislikes, and personal preferences viewed through the lens of our own life experiences. Because of this, companies need to make an emotional connection with people if they are to have any success at brand positioning.
The “process” that the definition above refers to is a brand positioning strategy, and this strategy is how you’ll make an emotional connection with your audience.
There are many elements to a brand strategy; logos and slogans (which many businesses spend too much time focusing on) are a part of it, but not the only part.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Brand Strategy to fully understand what goes into making a lasting connection with your target audience.
While brand positioning must work in tandem with the other elements within an overall brand strategy, its role is conceivably more pivotal and foundational in the plan to build brand awareness.
Let’s look at the different ways brand positioning is vital to brand strategy.
Each of these factors helps you hold a better position in the consumer’s mind, but why does that matter? Why is it essential to be the number one spot in the consumer’s mind?
Let’s look at an example.
What mountain is the highest in the world?
Everyone knows it’s Mt. Everest.
Now, what mountain is the second highest?
I’d have to Google it.
Who was the first person to walk on the moon?
Who was the second person to walk on the moon?
Who is the greatest basketball player ever?
(The answer to this question is subjective, but branding is subjective, so it works even better as an example.)
I bet if we asked a dozen people this question, we’d get the names of two, maybe three, different basketball players, but I guarantee Michael Jordan would be at the top of the list.
This demonstrates the power of positioning and how difficult it can be to depose the brand that sits in the first position. If you’re not first, you’re second, and no one remembers who took second place.
The idea is to create an environment where your brand falls into the “first” position. The first brand that comes to mind when people have a problem or need a product.
Not all approaches to brand positioning are the same. Depending on your product or service, you’ll want to look at these popular choices and see which works best for you.
The idea behind price-value positioning is to show that you save money by buying at a lower price. This will attract a larger audience but risks presenting your brand as lower quality.
People connect price with quality, so it’s essential not to come off as too cheap. You also run the risk of starting a price war. A race to the bottom doesn’t help anyone, even your customers, since you’ll have to find new ways to cut costs, more than likely lowering quality.
Companies that implement this strategy should have an exceptional product or service. Highlighting quality means that you are justifying the price.
People influenced by quality positioning are looking to buy something that will last a long time. They might have bought a cheaper product before but can see they’ll save in the long run if they buy quality upfront.
This approach leans heavily on how you can fix a problem for people. It focuses less on features and more on your product or service’s result or solution.
As the name states, a celebrity puts their name behind a product, or they might own what they are selling. The idea is that people love whoever is selling the product, and based on their reputation alone, it will move units in high volume.
The best example currently is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He sells a wide range of products; Under Armour athletic wear, Zoa energy drinks, Salt and Straw ice cream, and his brand of tequila, Teremana.
Dwayne’s rock-solid (get it?) reputation makes anything he puts his name on successful. People love him and buy because of his celebrity.
The focus here is on making people’s lives easier. A friend recently told me he hadn’t bought any new clothes in years because he just didn’t have the time to shop. When he started looking online, he found a company that would ship to his house to try the clothes on at home. If he didn’t like the clothes, he could send the clothes back.
The best part is that there was no fee for shipping both ways. The company might have to pay the shipping cost, but when my friend found the clothes he liked, he ended up spending quite a bit of money.
The number of clothes he purchased easily covered the shipping cost, and because of convenience, he was willing to pay a premium price.
We’ve all dealt with a bad customer service experience, and it sticks in your mind for life.
People won’t be repeat customers after a bad experience unless the brand is the only one to carry a product and that product is excellent.
You can advertise excellent customer service, but you have to back that up. You’ll get backlash if you give people high expectations and don’t deliver.
It’s better to emphasize stellar customer service to your staff, so word of mouth does the work for you. Once your reputation is known for outstanding service, you can start implementing it in your marketing.
Trader Joe’s has fantastic customer service, and they have no advertising. Instead, it's purely by people telling friends and family their first-hand experience.
Not only does this approach speak directly to the people who live a particular lifestyle, but it also speaks to people who are aspiring to live that same lifestyle.
Nike shows a runner getting up before dawn to knock out a few miles before work along with a montage of other “everyday” people doing the same thing; it inspires people to go out and buy their product so they too can experience an active lifestyle.
Alcohol is an excellent example of lifestyle positioning. Advertising will always show attractive young people gathered at a bar having a good time. Anyone who goes out regularly will resonate with this and want to try what they’re drinking.
It doesn’t matter which brand positioning strategy you decide to take for your business; the fundamentals for building that strategy will be the same.
Doing this will require a long hard look at what you do as a company.
Often, questions will come up, and you won’t have answers. This is an excellent opportunity to understand what motivates you and your company. Take the time necessary to get it right, and the ROI will last years.
Understanding your brand’s current position is the first step to building a brand strategy.
It’s like having a map of where you want to go, but if you don’t know your current location, you’ll never be able to plan your route. You might be closer than you think, or you could be miles away.
The other side of the coin to help you comprehend your brand is understanding the brand positions of your competitors.
What are they doing differently from you? What are you doing differently from them? Look for gaps in their marketing, products, and services that you can fill.
Read customer reviews, and if you see a recurring problem they aren’t addressing, be sure to highlight this pain point in your branding.
Differentiating yourself from your competition is one of the primary purposes of brand positioning, and the only way to do this is by studying the brand strategy of your competitors.
When you have thoroughly evaluated the competition, take the time to narrow down exactly what you offer that makes you stand out from the other brands in your market.
What, at first glance, might not seem like a significant differentiator to you could be a massive benefit to your target audience. So do the market research and pinpoint your unique offer.
Now that you know what sets you apart from the other brands in your industry begin your market research to understand how compelling your unique value proposition will be to your target audience.
When you can see how your unique quality can improve the lives of your audience, craft your messaging to plainly and briefly state what you offer. Your brand promise needs to speak directly to your customer’s pain point.
Leverage the power of customer feedback. If you don’t know where to begin, look at the people who use the product or service.
Customers have zero qualms about not pulling punches when reviewing a product. They will say what they think but take it with a grain of salt and use common sense when reading reviews. Some people are just looking to make noise and hopefully get something for free.
Use this information to adjust and build a promise that people can connect with, so your brand is the obvious choice.
Geico insurance is an excellent example of a brand promise that sets them apart; “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.”
Geico saw that people didn’t like being on the phone for an extended time to get insurance, so they promised a short phone call with the bonus of saving an additional 15% during that quick call.
The promise is easy to understand and doesn’t leave any ambiguity about what they offer.
Now that you have your promise, you’ll need to make it a part of your overall brand strategy. This means incorporating it into your messaging so people know right away what it is that you offer.
Remember the Geico promise; it’s straightforward and hits the pain point most people experience when shopping for car insurance.
If you get stuck, don’t try reinventing the wheel; see who’s already doing it well and see how you can incorporate that into your strategy. Don’t blatantly rip someone off, but use it to inspire your marketing plans and make them better.
Executing a brand positioning strategy takes time. The shortest duration of a branding campaign would be a year, but in reality, it never actually stops.
Staying relevant to your audience and customer base requires collecting data over a long period.
Besides the day-to-day work of running a brand campaign, you’ll want to take a hard look at your strategy every quarter or three months.
You need to know what’s connecting with your audience and what isn’t working. You don’t want to waste money on a strategy angle that doesn’t work.
An emotional connection is at the base of all of this. We are not algorithm-based machines that just need the cold hard facts to know the right choice.
We need to be courted and coerced because we decide based on emotions. When a brand speaks to our feelings, we connect with it, and when a connection is made, a good brand position is solidified with the consumer. However, this connection isn’t “one and done” either; it needs to be nurtured and cared for to make it last.
The competition out there is tough, especially if you’re a new brand to the market. As you can see, brand positioning is critical to the success of your business. Whether you’re aware of it or not, every company has a brand position within the minds of its audience, and it’s up to you to choose to influence that position.
Don’t leave it up to chance that you have a good brand position. Instead, make a plan, do the work, and reap the benefits of a well-executed brand positioning strategy.
Wade Nelson & Michael Draper