A positioning framework enables you to find the right place for your brand in the marketplace, as well as in the consumer's mind. Ignore it at your peril.

When I say Porsche, you say... fast?

I say VW Bug, you say... quirky?

Corvette? Muscle.

Toyota? Reliable.

And of course, Volvo = safe.

That is the power of a brand positioning framework. Thanks to positioning frameworks, any good brand steward can tell you where in a particular consumer's brain their brand – and competitor brands – have staked a claim.

Yes, I'm talking about the consumer's brain like real estate because that's how brand builders see it. It's a finite, limited resource. Once someone has staked a claim in a particular part of the consumer's brain, you can't uproot them unless they do something exceedingly dumb, or you do something exceedingly brilliant. As British ad legend John Hegarty once said,

“Always remember: a great brand owns the most valuable piece of real estate in the world; a corner of someone's mind.”

Why is it critical to own a piece of this extremely valuable real estate? Because if, one day down the road, the consumer in question decides they want a quirky car, the VW Bug will spring to mind. Ka-ching.

Brand positioning strategies

Creating an effective brand positioning strategy isn't simply a matter of running with what feels right. But it needn't be an ordeal, either. You can start by simply answering these four questions:

  1. Who is it for? Who is the perfect buyer for your product or service?
  2. What are you selling? You can start by literally defining your product or service (not as easy if it sounds – just ask any creator of complex software). But don't forget to describe the job consumers hire your product or service to do.
  3. How does your product or service help? What are the benefits of using your product or service to solve the consumer's very specific problem, instead of turning to competitors?
  4. How do you stand out, and above? How is your product unique, and superior?

Once you've done this, you can take a stab at a brand positioning statement. That is:

For [who is it for], [what you're selling] will [how the product helps] because only we offer [evidence that supports your claim of superiority].

If this feels a bit broad, identifying the right kind of positioning for your brand will make the job easier. Here are the five main types:

  1. Quality-based positioning – If you want to emphasize the premium nature of your product, you can demonstrate this positioning with evidence of outstanding results – optimally delivered via glowing testimonials and case studies.
  2. Price-based positioning – This is the way to go if you want to position yourself as the most affordable brand. This is a powerful position (nobody wants to pay more than they need to) but beware: if you find success, others will begin undercutting you, and so begins the race to the bottom.
  3. Customer service positioning – We've seen brilliant examples of this in categories where customer service seemed impossible – Zappo's making online shoe shopping a high-touch service business, for example.
  4. Convenience-based positioning – This is one of the best strategies in a world where everything has ostensibly already been invented. With convenience-based positioning, you're seen as the brand that makes life easier.
  5. Differentiation positioning – If your product or service is truly innovative, you can position yourself as the first, most original, breakthrough option. Careful though – to many consumers, new also means untested and risky.
The Positioning Matrix: A Beginner’s Guide | CIA
Ever wondered where your product sits in the competitive landscape? Enter the positioning matrix – a tool for visualizing just that.

Visualize it

A picture is worth a thousand words, and when it comes to the conceptual thinking positioning entails, visuals greatly aid the process.

The 2x2 perceptual map – If you've ever used a 2x2 perceptual map, you know it can quickly clarify where you stand in the market in relation to your competitors. Plotting your brand on two axes based on consumer desires (quality vs price, for example) you see where the players stand. Unclaimed territory becomes obvious, as does the messy middle where most brands congregate.

The brand essence chart – The brand essence chart may help you sort the word salad you're creating in your positioning. In a simple infographic it enables you to organize:

  1. What the product does for me
  2. How I would describe the product
  3. How the brand makes me feel
  4. How the brand makes me look to others
  5. Facts and evidence about the brand
  6. Brand personality
  7. Brand essence

Unfortunately, I can’t showcase these visual tools here. Check them out in this blog post.

How to strength-test your brand positioning

There's one simple, obvious way to test if your brand position is powerful: do the right people remember it, and does it answer a need they feel but nobody else can remedy?

Let's break this down into a less fuzzy checklist.

  1. Is your position clear?
  2. Is it single-minded?
  3. Does it empower your team to act in accordance with your positioning, and strive to make it true? If you're Volvo, is everyone enthusiastically working to build the world's safest car?
  4. Is it focused on giving the highest value to your ideal customer?
  5. Can you sustain it?
  6. Can it grow and scale?
  7. Does it enable you to stand apart from your competitors?

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