What is brand positioning? Why a clear one grows your business.
Brand positioning is the space your brand occupies in your consumers' minds and what comes to mind when they think of you. It is not your product, but rather the benefits and emotions that come with using your product.
Two businesses may evoke various feelings and emotions despite providing the same product or service. Having a clear positioning is essential to capture the portion of the market you want to serve.
How do you determine your brand positioning?
Basically, you can't. Since you have no control over your customers' minds, you can't tell them what to think or how to feel about your product. In the book "Forget the Customer. See the Person" Alex Genov proposes that you can't design a customer experience. You can only create the triggers. This may sound obvious to some, but the service or product a company sells is not strictly related to its brand.
Great businesses succeed because they learn how to add value to their customers' lives and build a brand around that value. What they deliver goes beyond the product or service they sell. More often than not, a customer can find the same products or services from many different sources. Big companies with vast marketing resources can get their message in front of more eyes and position their brands as category leaders.
So, how does a small business position its brand to achieve top-of-mind awareness? Good quality and excellent customer service are great, but it is a given nowadays. The secret is to create a customer experience that revolves around their needs.
How can smaller companies with limited resources compete with the big players? Connect with your customers.
What if you started creating your own instead of trying to be the leader in a specific category? Focus your development and marketing efforts on the particular set of people that are looking for you. How? By appealing to the human side of your customers. Beliefs, feelings, and emotions. Build your brand around those. Why? Because customers are humans, and as such, they relate to feelings and emotions.
Every choice you make in life, including what to buy, can be traced back to your beliefs, desires, and feelings. Price-conscious shoppers? They like to feel clever and make the most efficient use of their money. Luxury shoppers? They care about status, attention, and looking and feeling rich. Wholesale shoppers value their time, so they pay for convenience.
There is no right or wrong belief, only connections between brands and customers, or lack thereof. What matters is to deeply understand what your customers are looking for so you can build that connection and stand out in a saturated market.
Same product, different deliverable.
Let's use cars as an example. There are over 40 car brands in the US alone, and each one sells not a car but a lineup. Not only that, every model comes in different trims, colors, etc., so there are hundreds of options. So how, then, will a customer decide which one to buy? And how can a business become one of the viable choices?
All cars take you from point A to point B; they are all a form of transportation. They can take you to work, school, etc. Why, then, are there hundreds of options? Easy. Because even if they share some core features, they are not all the same. Each car delivers something different. What the customer gets from each brand and each car is very different. What they are looking for and willing to pay is also quite different.
People are willing to pay more for things that meet their needs, both physical and emotional.
Safety vs. Excitement.
If your thing is safety, a new Volvo is a perfect choice. They invented the three-point safety belt, the child seat that faces backward, and other technology to keep people safe. Safety is their thing, and they make sure it's clear they care about it. It is in their mission statement and throughout their communications. Are their cars technologically advanced? Fast? Stylish? Absolutely. Do they market any of those features? No. Because their customers are not looking for them. It's just not necessary when making their choice. Would a parent looking for the safest car for their family care about how fast the car goes from 0-60mph? Or its track performance? Probably not, so there is no point in marketing it.
Does that mean other cars are not safe? Not really. They all have to meet safety requirements set by government agencies. It's just that for some people, safety is not their priority; it doesn't excite them or resonate with them. Brands can't connect with those specific customers on that topic.
Let's now contrast that with Porsche. They cater to a completely different audience, looking for what Porsche means. High performance, an exciting driving experience, aggressive design, heritage, motorsports, exclusivity, etc. Does that mean Porsches are not safe cars? No, they are as safe as most other cars, but that is not relevant to their customers; at least, it's not their priority. They have that safety information on their website, it's just not front and center. As opposed to Volvo, Porsche does talk about horsepower, 0-60 mph times, and top speeds prominently. They could talk about every feature of their vehicles, but it would take away from the essential ones. Essential to their audience, that is. So they create content that positions them as a thrilling, exciting, high-performance brand.
OK, but you don’t sell cars.
Every single service, product, and transaction can benefit from clear positioning. UPS sells global reach. The North Face? Adventure. Dove sells self-esteem, etc. Brands are obviously much more complicated than a single word, but once you know your essence, you can build upon it.
How to connect your target audience with your brand? With a clear brand strategy.
How do you get your potential customers to trust and buy from you, and not the competition? Before creating a logo, brand identity, marketing, or anything else, you need to create a solid brand strategy.
A brand strategy is a north star of sorts that brands can use to align all of their efforts and resources. There are two pieces to this puzzle.
The first step is to deeply understand the essence of your brand—not just your product. Your vision, mission, core values, etc. The reasons why you are in business, besides making money. With this in hand, you can narrow it down to the actual value you provide. In other words, your brand differentiation.
The second piece is to research and understand your customers better than they understand themselves. Have a crystal clear picture of what your customer is looking for and what drives them. What takes them from thinking to feeling? Find the thing (or things) that makes you different and that your customers value.
The overlap between the value a brand creates and what customers care about is where the magic happens.