Building a Great Brand Positioning

It’s one thing to discover your brand positioning, that brilliant, single-minded, salient idea that compellingly distinguishes your brand from the competition. However, it’s quite another to get that idea through the gauntlet of management, employees, stakeholders, over-thinkers and technocrats before it gets to “real-life exposure."  There are many pitfalls all along the way and this will help you to spot them.

What is brand positioning?

A brand’s positioning is the single-minded, compelling idea from which all aspects of the brand emanate: systems, culture, values, products, services as well as communications.

Positioning: It's not what is, it's what could be.

It is not an attempt to capture everything that the brand is.  The positioning statement exists to clearly and succinctly state, in one sentence, what the brand could and should be.  A brand positioning statement is about where you want to take the brand.

Why is positioning important?

Branding is about efficiently establishing favorable images, thoughts and associations in consumers' minds.  The more focused the brand is, the more successful it will be in creating those impressions.   The benefits of positioning are as follows:

  • Enables consumers to quickly discern what makes your brand different.
  • Creates an efficient communications development process.
  • Creates a more aligned and cohesive organization.  Shouldn't everybody responsible for the brand be able to quickly and succinctly state the brand's positioning?
  • Imbues the brand with an aura of strength and confidence. People like brands that know what they stand for.  
  • Provides a reason why.  Products and services have greater perceived value when tied to a higher purpose.

Brand Positioning is Simple But It Is Not Easy

The positioning idea should by definition be simple. We are trying to penetrate the consumer's psyche. Thus, the simpler the idea, the easier it is to remember.  The process of developing a brand positioning is in theory quite simple.  You explore what the brand is all about, you develop hypotheses about what makes it distinct and compelling and, last but not least, you test these ideas in some fashion with your target audience to see what resonates.   The mechanics of the process are somewhat straightforward but what can make it difficult are the egos, opinions, and the general resistance to change you encounter along the way.  And, if you attempt to please everybody along the way you will most certainly fail.  When it comes to brand positioning, "people-pleasers" need not apply.  

Think about it: you are asking brand stakeholders to distill the essence of what they are into a single sentence.   Trying to get any group of people to agree on a simple, single-minded idea is no easy task.  Far too often Magnet, Inc. comes across clients that have worked with so-called "branding experts" who have, after a protracted and expensive process arrived at a turgid, long-winded, uninspiring brand positioning statement that conveniently covers multiple thoughts. I will ask brand stakeholders to tell me what their positioning is at which point they look searchingly toward the ceiling and at each other to find the words.  Someone attempts to recite it, another corrects him and, finally, the senior most person asks the junior most person to get the document containing the sacred sequence of words that is supposed to drive all facets of their brand.  Not only should a positioning be simple, everybody in your organization should be able to snappily recite it with ease. 

With all that said, here are 15 things to think about in the development of a brand positioning:

1) Leadership must be involved.  Positioning is how you plan to face the world. If the leadership is not on board, forget about making any sort of meaningful change.

2) The brand is not about the client. Clients want to impose their agenda, which is more often than not the same as the consumer's agenda.  If you find that your positioning is remarkably convenient to your needs, then I can bet that it's not compelling to your audience.

3) Spread out when exploring. The best ideas come from the most unlikely places. Try the loading dock. Seriously, if your exploratory phase is limited to the marketing department, then you are missing the bits and pieces that makes branding interesting and real.

4) Explore the absurd and amusing ideas. You know the idea that at first blush seems absurd and elicits laughter?  Explore it. There’s usually something there.

5) Include the consumer in the process. "Internal strategizing" is a contradiction in terms. Give your brand to your audience and they'll tell you what you need to know. If you think you are going to find the answer without including your target audience, youare mistaken. 

6) Pull back the camera. A rigid quantitative survey instrument will not give you the "emotional pay dirt." Use lots of divergent thinking techniques and open up the dialog with focus group, in-depth interviews and ethnographic research.  

7) Listen for noises.  Positioning is about sparking interest. Listen for the ideas that make you go “oooo,” “ahhh,” and “aha.”  Use that as your gauge. If your not making people go "oooo" then you're probably missing the big idea.

8) You need more than research.  Positioning development is a science and an art, perhaps more art. It’s the random odds and end and bits and pieces that lead to the big idea.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” - Einstein

9) Inspire.  A great idea put in the wrong hands is a painful thing to watch.  Make sure that whoever is driving the process can stir hearts and minds. Be dramatic.

10) Tell it like it is.   Too many "branding experts" have neither the chutzpah or integrity to tell the client when their ideas are pure folly.  It takes courage to be simple.

11) A positioning statement is not a Christmas tree.  Too many "positioning statements" cover too many thoughts because the branding expert invites everybody to hang an ornament on it.  Positioning by committee is easy to approve but no one can remember the statement. 

12) The idea must have heart.  Make people feel something. Scientific research shows that people act upon ideas that create a “felt shift.”    The positioning statement should be as evocative as the creative that follows. Take it from Carlos.

“Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use.” - - Carlos Castaneda

13) The idea must have creative firepower.  When people start building on the idea, you know you are there. Conversely, if people cannot readily see how the idea would come to life, you probably need more work.

14. Execution is everything.  Positioning is like a combination shot. It all needs to line up just right.

15. Don't take your foot off the gas.  Even the smartest, sharpest idea needs some force to penetrate people’s minds. If it’s the right idea, invest in it.  It will pay you back many times over.