When you spill coffee on your shirt, do you reach for a tissue or a Kleenex?
Have you ever thought of pausing music and instantly thought of hitting the “pause” on Spotify, even if you weren’t using it?
Brands like Kleenex and Spotify have masterfully achieved what every business dreams: being the first name that pops into people’s minds when considering a product or service. This top-of-mind recognition is a testament to the might of an effective brand positioning strategy.
What is brand positioning?
Brand positioning is the process of carving a unique space for a brand in the consumer's mind. It highlights a brand's distinct value and distinguishes it from competitors by showcasing its unique selling proposition (USP). In essence, it's why people choose one brand over another.
Carving out a distinct brand position isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a cornerstone of sustained success. Brands that maintain a consistent identity witness an average revenue growth of 10-20%. The benefits? Enhanced customer loyalty, a polished brand perception, and an unmistakable identity make you stand out in a crowded marketplace.
In the last fifteen years, I’ve collaborated with many small business owners and marketers to fine-tune their brand positioning. And I’ve personally launched many businesses and developed brand positioning for each of those businesses.
This guide draws from those real-world experiences, valuable feedback, and enriching conversations with thousands of entrepreneurs. The guide will equip you with actionable insights and a brand positioning framework to bolster your brand’s standing in your target market.
Brand Positioning: The Ultimate Guide
Why brand positioning is essential
Brand positioning isn’t just a buzzword—it’s an essential step in your brand strategy. It goes beyond just getting your brand noticed; it’s about making it memorable and meaningful. A standout brand is a beacon for consumers in a sea of choices. Here are fifteen reasons why brand positioning is essential:
- Clear differentiation from competitors. In a saturated market, brands need to stand out. Brand positioning provides that unique identity, setting a brand apart from its competitors. Netflix prioritized streaming and original content, differentiating itself from traditional cable and other streaming platforms. Bose headphones are positioned as a premium product, focusing on superior sound quality and noise cancellation, making them distinct in the crowded audio market.
- Helps in targeting the right audience. Brand positioning sharpens the focus on the target demographic, ensuring marketing efforts are more effective and directed. Etsy positions itself for artisans and craft enthusiasts, attracting a niche audience looking for unique, handcrafted goods. Whole Foods Market targets health-conscious consumers by positioning itself as a provider of organic and natural products.
- Creates emotional connections. Positioning can evoke emotions, creating stronger bonds with consumers. Airbnb promotes a sense of belonging, targeting travelers looking for authentic local experiences rather than just a place to stay. Hallmark cards have positioned themselves around emotions, the go-to for expressing feelings during special occasions.
- Guides marketing strategies. A clear positioning statement informs all marketing decisions, ensuring cohesion and effectiveness. Mailchimp positions itself as a user-friendly email marketing tool, guiding its marketing strategies around simplicity and accessibility for small businesses. Coca-Cola has consistently positioned itself around happiness and togetherness, guiding its ad campaigns, event sponsorships, and product launches.
- Allows for premium pricing. When a brand is well-positioned as premium or unique, it can command higher prices because of perceived value. Apple positions its products as innovative and premium, allowing it to price higher than many competitors. Rolex watches are positioned as a luxury status symbol, justifying their premium pricing.
- Improves brand recall. Effective brand positioning ensures that people remember your brand over competitors. Amazon is often the first brand people think of for online shopping due to its positioning as the “everything store.” McDonald’s often comes to mind first due to its widespread presence and consistent branding when people think of fast food burgers.
- Enhances brand credibility. A well-positioned brand appears more credible and trustworthy in its niche. LinkedIn is seen as the go-to platform for professional networking, enhancing its credibility in the job market and B2B sector. Consumer Reports has positioned itself as an unbiased product review source, leading consumers to trust its recommendations.
- Facilitates brand expansion. Strong brand positioning can make entering new markets or launching new products smoother. Initially positioned as a search engine, Google leveraged its strong brand to enter various sectors like smartphones, cloud services, and more. Virgin Group used its brand equity from the music industry to venture into airlines, telecommunications, and even space travel.
- Boosts customer loyalty. Customers are likelier to stick with a brand they perceive as having a unique value proposition tailored to their needs. Spotify has positioned itself as the most personalized music streaming service, ensuring users stay loyal to curated playlists. Loyalty cards from coffee shops like Starbucks reinforce a positioning centered on customer rewards and consistent value.
- Promotes brand advocacy. Happy customers of a well-positioned brand are more likely to promote it to peers. Dropbox initially grew by word-of-mouth, as its precise positioning around easy file-sharing made users recommend it to others. Owners of Tesla cars often become brand advocates, driven by the company’s positioning around sustainable innovation.
- Protects against negative publicity. A solid brand positioning can buffer against isolated incidents or negative reviews. Zoom faced security concerns in 2020, but its positioning as the most user-friendly video conferencing tool helped it retain users. Despite occasional controversies, Nike has maintained its positioning around athletic excellence and social justice, helping to retain its customer base.
- Facilitates partnerships and collaborations. Companies are more likely to partner with brands that have a clear market position, as it ensures aligned interests. Crowdspring seeks partnerships to reach more newly formed businesses, and its strong positioning as a design and naming solution makes it attractive to potential partners. PepsiCo’s precise positioning in the beverage industry facilitates collaborations with food chains for exclusive deals.
- Simplifies decision-making. With precise brand positioning, businesses can make decisions aligning with their brand identity, ensuring consistency. Instagram’s focus on visual content guides its feature rollouts, like IGTV or Reels. LEGO’s positioning around creative play influences product designs and collaborations, like the LEGO Architecture series.
- Optimizes ad spend. By knowing the target audience, brands can ensure more efficient use of advertising budgets. Facebook Ads allow businesses to target specific demographics, interests, and behaviors, ensuring the right audience sees the brand message. A cosmetics brand like L’Oréal will advertise in fashion magazines, targeting its primary audience more effectively than in a general news magazine.
- Encourages innovation. A firm brand position can inspire the development of new products or services that align with the brand’s core values. Duolingo’s positioning around fun, free language learning led to innovative features like Stories and Podcasts. Dyson’s position around innovative design and engineering pushes the company to invent novel products like bladeless fans and cyclonic vacuum cleaners.
It’s not just about standing tall; it’s about standing distinct in a landscape dotted with contenders.
Brand positioning strategies
Brands and marketers employ various strategies to carve out their unique space in the market. Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or a budding entrepreneur, understanding these strategies can be the key to setting your brand apart from the rest.
1. Customer service positioning strategy
Present your brand as a beacon of exceptional customer service to differentiate yourself in the market.
With easy returns and quick responses, Amazon’s “we’re here to help” approach has set a high standard in e-commerce customer service. Nordstrom is often celebrated for its outstanding in-store customer service, where returns are easy and sales associates go above and beyond.
2. Price-based positioning strategy
Showcase your brand as the most budget-friendly choice in the market.
Websites like AliExpress offer a vast range of products at competitively low prices. Walmart’s “Everyday Low Prices” campaign provides consumers with affordable options.
3. Convenience-based positioning strategy
Promote your brand as the go-to for effortless and time-saving solutions.
Amazon Prime offers fast shipping, suggesting customers can get what they need faster than elsewhere. Drive-through services at fast-food chains like McDonald’s offer a convenience angle, targeting those on the move.
4. Differentiation strategy
Position your brand as a unique or innovative choice in the market.
Spotify introduced personalized playlists, setting itself apart in the crowded music streaming industry. Dyson vacuums brought innovative design and technology to the market, differentiating from traditional vacuum brands.
5. Quality-based positioning strategy
Highlight the superior quality of your product or service, even if it means a higher price.
Blue Nile, an online jewelry retailer, emphasizes the premium quality of its diamonds and craftsmanship. Rolex watches are synonymous with luxury and precision, justifying their premium pricing.
6. Social media positioning strategy
Choose specific social platforms to engage with your target audience, building a brand identity tailored to each channel.
Fashion brands like Fashion Nova have grown exponentially using Instagram, targeting the platform’s younger, style-conscious audience. Coca-Cola’s global social campaigns often extend offline, with QR codes on bottles leading to online interactive experiences.
7. Competitive positioning strategy
Directly contrast your brand against competitors, spotlighting your strengths and their weaknesses.
Mailchimp often highlights its usability and features compared to other email marketing platforms. Pepsi’s “Pepsi Challenge” campaign was a direct taste-test comparison against Coke, aiming to sway consumer preferences.
8. Emotional positioning strategy
This strategy aims to evoke particular emotions or feelings in consumers when they think about a brand. The primary goal is to form an emotional connection, creating brand loyalty.
Many online ads for pet products showcase heartwarming moments between owners and their pets, aiming to tug at the heartstrings of potential customers. Hallmark greeting cards have always positioned themselves around the emotions of love, care, and sentiment, compelling consumers to buy their cards for special occasions.
9. Niche positioning strategy
By targeting a particular market segment, brands can position themselves as the best option for that particular niche, even if they aren’t the most significant player in the broader market.
Etsy has positioned itself as the go-to platform for handmade and unique items, catering to a niche that large-scale online retailers might overlook. Local farmer markets target consumers passionate about organic, locally sourced produce, differentiating themselves from big supermarket chains.
10. Cultural positioning strategy
Tapping into cultural values, heritage, or social movements can make a brand resonate strongly with specific demographic segments or regions.
Streaming platforms like Netflix curate regional content to resonate with local audiences in different countries, celebrating their cultural narratives. Certain fashion brands, like Desigual, integrate various cultural patterns and motifs into their designs, appealing to consumers who appreciate global influences.
11. Environmental positioning strategy
Brands focusing on sustainability and environmentally friendly practices can differentiate themselves in an era where consumers are more conscious about the planet.
E-commerce platforms like EarthHero offer sustainable, eco-friendly products, positioning themselves as a greener alternative to traditional online shopping. Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, is not just selling clothing but also an environmentally responsible lifestyle. They actively promote recycling and environmental conservation.
Understanding and selecting the right positioning strategy can be a game-changer. Brands must continually adapt and refine their positioning in response to market changes and evolving consumer preferences.
How to create a unique brand positioning strategy
Creating a brand positioning strategy is foundational in building brand equity, influencing customer perception, and fostering brand loyalty.
Brand positioning is a game of perception, and brands that are remembered distinctly by their audience enjoy an edge in a saturated marketplace. These steps will walk you through creating a brand positioning strategy tailored to your business’s unique strengths and differentiators.
We’ll delve into the brand positioning strategies of some of the most iconic brands in the market. Additionally, we’ll show how offline and online small businesses can employ these tactics effectively. For our offline example, we’ll use “Brew Haven,” a local coffee shop, while our online example will focus on “GemCrafted,” a boutique e-commerce store offering artisanal jewelry.
1. Determine your current brand positioning
Before you plan where to go, understand where you stand. Gauge how your audience currently perceives your brand. Ask: How are you presenting your brand? Is it a niche player or a market leader? For many years, Toyota positioned itself around reliability with the tagline, “Let’s go places.”
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses position themselves in their respective markets.
Brew Haven: The shop currently markets itself as the “neighborhood’s cozy nook” known for organic blends. They could distribute feedback cards to patrons, asking what words come to mind when they think of “Brew Haven.”
GemCrafted: The online store is seen as a destination for “customized gem pieces.” They could send surveys to their mailing list asking customers to describe their buying experience.
2. Create a brand essence chart
This chart will serve as your brand’s DNA blueprint. It breaks down the core elements of your brand into digestible, actionable insights. Apple revolves around innovation, premium quality, and simplicity, reflected in its product design and marketing.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can create a brand essence chart.
- Attributes: Organic beans, eco-friendly cups.
- Benefits: Health-conscious, sustainable choice.
- Attributes: Customizable, unique designs
- Benefits: Personalized, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces
3. Identify your competitors
Knowing your market landscape will give you the tools to stand out. It helps find potential gaps in the market and areas where you can shine. In the streaming world, Netflix knows its competitors range from Disney+ to HBO Max.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can identify their competitors.
Brew Haven: Nearby chains like Starbucks and local cafes.
GemCrafted: Online platforms like Etsy and other independent jewelry designers.
4. Conduct competitor research
Dive deeper into what your competitors are doing right and wrong. This will allow you to carve out your niche and avoid its pitfalls. Pepsi has consistently observed Coca-Cola’s strategies to pivot and differentiate its branding and marketing campaigns.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can conduct competitor research.
Brew Haven: They might send a team member to other cafes to note drink prices, ambiance, and customer service quality.
GemCrafted: They could order a piece from a competitor to evaluate product quality, packaging, and delivery time.
5. Identify your unique value proposition (UVP)
Your UVP is what makes you, you. It’s a distillation of what sets you apart and why customers should choose you over others. Slack’s UVP focuses on seamless team collaboration, distinguishing it from other communication tools.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can identify their UVP.
Brew Haven: “Handpicked organic beans brewed to perfection in your neighborhood’s coziest corner.”
GemCrafted: “Crafting your emotions into gems – unique, just like you.”
6. Build a brand positioning framework
This is the structured approach to flesh out the critical touchpoints of your brand positioning. Airbnb’s brand revolves around “Belong Anywhere,” showcasing travel as a personal, intimate experience.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can build a brand positioning framework.
Brew Haven: Elevator Pitch: “Organic sips, cozy trips – all at Brew Haven.”
GemCrafted: Message Pillars: “Customization, Craftsmanship, Uniqueness.”
Here’s a framework for crafting a brand positioning statement:
- Brand name: Start with the name of your brand or product. This sets the tone and context for the remainder of the statement.
- Target audience: Identify your core demographic. Be specific. Instead of just “women,” it might be “working women in their 30s.”
- Need/Desire: This is your target audience’s central problem or desire, which your brand addresses. It’s why they would consider turning to your product or service.
- Main competitor or current solution: You are placing your brand in context by identifying a key competitor or the current solution your target demographic uses. This helps in showcasing how you are different or better.
- Key differentiation: This is your brand’s unique selling proposition (USP). What sets you apart from the competition? It could be anything from a unique feature, an exclusive service, or a philosophical stance.
- Reason to believe: This part substantiates your claim. It could be rooted in technology, quality assurance, testimonials, or any other proof point that makes your differentiation believable.
7. Create your positioning statement
A brief declaration of your brand’s unique stance in the market. This is the “north star” that guides your branding efforts. Dove’s positioning is centered on natural beauty, breaking the stereotypical norms of the beauty industry.
A well-crafted statement includes:
- Target audience: Who are you speaking to?
- Market definition: In what realm does your product or service exist?
- Unique Value Proposition: How does your offering stand out?
- Reason to believe: Why should consumers trust your claim?
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can create their positioning statement.
Brew Haven: “Brew Haven isn’t just coffee; it’s where the neighborhood finds its comforting brew.”
GemCrafted: “GemCrafted transforms your visions into tangible gem masterpieces.”
Your brand positioning statement can follow this template:
[Brand name] is for [Target tudience] who [Need/Desire]. Unlike [Main competitor or current solution], we [Key differentiation] because [Reason to believe].
Here’s an example using the framework we shared above and the brand positioning statement for a cleaning business:
BreezyClean is for urban dwellers who seek eco-friendly home cleaning solutions. Unlike conventional cleaning brands, we use all-natural ingredients with biodegradable packaging because we are committed to a greener planet, validated by our EcoPure certification.
8. Evaluate your positioning statement
Test your positioning. Collect feedback and iterate to ensure it resonates with your target audience. Domino’s once repositioned its brand around the quality of its pizzas, driven by customer feedback on taste and quality.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can evaluate their positioning statement.
Brew Haven: They could offer a new signature drink and ask patrons if it aligns with the brand’s promise.
GemCrafted: After rebranding, they could ask customers if the new website aesthetic matches their positioning statement.
9. Establish an emotional connection
People remember how you make them feel. Forge a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your audience. Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign inspires empowerment, courage, and determination.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can establish an emotional connection.
Brew Haven: They could host local book reading events, connecting over stories and brews.
GemCrafted: They could share customer stories about the meaning behind their custom jewelry orders.
10. Reinforce brand differentiation during sales
Your sales team should be well-equipped to consistently communicate what makes your brand unique. Tesla’s sales strategy hinges on the brand’s sustainability mission, innovative technology, and futuristic design.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can reinforce brand differentiation during sales.
Brew Haven: For every sale, emphasize the choice of organic beans and how it’s better for health and the environment.
GemCrafted: During checkout, highlight the exclusivity of owning a custom-designed piece.
11. Create value beyond the product
Offer something more than just a product or service. Provide solutions, experiences, and transformation. Microsoft’s “Empowering” campaign focused on how their technology impacts lives, going beyond just software features.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can create value beyond the product.
Brew Haven: Along with every coffee purchase, provide tips on how to make the perfect brew at home.
GemCrafted: Send a guide on jewelry care and maintenance with every order.
12. Ensure alignment across customer-facing touchpoints
Your brand’s essence should echo across all customer interactions, from sales pitches to support calls. The Ritz-Carlton is renowned for exceptional customer service, with every employee embodying the brand’s luxury and attention to detail.
Let’s explore how two boutique businesses can ensure alignment across customer-facing touchpoints.
Brew Haven: Train all baristas to greet with, “Welcome to Brew Haven, your cozy nook!”
GemCrafted: Ensure that customer service emails and interactions emphasize the uniqueness and customization of products.
So, whether you run a brick-and-mortar store or a digital eCommerce startup, ensuring your brand is rightly positioned and consistently portrayed can create an authentic connection with your customers, fostering trust and loyalty.
Mastering brand positioning: a comparative analysis
To truly understand the art and strategy behind effective brand positioning, one must look at the titans of the industry, those who have mastered the delicate balance between identity, perception, and market demand. In the following section, we will explore some of the most iconic brand rivalries, dissecting their positioning strategies and uncovering the nuances that make each stand out.
Adidas vs. Nike
Adidas and Nike are both behemoths in the sportswear and athletic footwear markets. Each has its distinct appeal and unique approach to brand positioning.
Adidas vs. Nike positioning strategy
Adidas often celebrates its heritage, having a long-standing history in sports. The brand emphasizes its fashion-forward approach, positioning itself as a sportswear and lifestyle brand.
Nike, however, leans heavily into the philosophy of achievement and empowerment, encapsulated by its iconic “Just Do It” slogan. Their brand positioning strategy centers on performance, innovation, and inspiring athletes of every level.
Canon vs. Nikon
In photography, Canon and Nikon are two of the most recognized and respected names. Both offer a range of cameras, from entry-level to professional.
Canon vs. Nikon positioning strategy
Canon focuses heavily on technological innovation and is often the first to introduce new camera features. Their marketing often appeals to the creative side of photography, urging users to “Bring Your Vision to Life.”
On the other hand, Nikon emphasizes its cameras’ precision and reliability. Their brand positioning is about capturing moments with unparalleled clarity and detail, often using the slogan “At the heart of the image.”
Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi
This is perhaps one of the most legendary brand rivalries in history. While both offer carbonated beverages, their brand positioning strategies couldn’t be more distinct.
Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi positioning strategy
Coca-Cola’s brand positioning is anchored around nostalgia, tradition, and universal happiness. Like “Share a Coke,” their campaigns emphasize unity and togetherness.
Pepsi, in contrast, often positions itself as the choice of the newer generation. It’s seen as youthful and modern, with campaigns featuring current pop icons and emphasizing a zest for life.
Airbnb vs. Marriott
Airbnb disrupted traditional hotel chains in the hospitality industry, including giants like Marriott.
Airbnb vs. Marriott positioning strategy
Airbnb’s strategy is rooted in offering unique, local experiences. They emphasize staying in homes and apartments, enabling travelers to “live like a local.” It’s about unique experiences and personal touches.
As a long-standing hotel chain, Marriott positions itself around luxury, reliability, and consistent quality. Their branding emphasizes the comfort and luxury guests can expect whenever they stay at a Marriott property.
Amazon vs. eBay
Amazon and eBay started as online marketplaces but evolved in different directions.
Amazon vs. eBay positioning strategy
Amazon’s positioning has evolved from “the world’s largest bookstore” to “everything you need, delivered fast.” The brand promises convenience, variety, and quick delivery with services like Amazon Prime.
eBay, however, positions itself as a global online marketplace where anyone can sell anything. It emphasizes the excitement of the auction process and the unique finds one can discover on their platform.
Microsoft vs. Apple
Both giants in the tech industry, Microsoft and Apple, have been rivals for decades, each offering a unique computing experience.
Microsoft vs. Apple positioning strategy
Microsoft promotes versatility, especially with its Windows OS, aiming to provide solutions for business professionals and average consumers. They present themselves as user-friendly yet comprehensive for varied tasks.
Apple focuses on design, user experience, and the integration of its product ecosystem. Their “Think Different” tagline encapsulates their emphasis on innovation and individualism.
Audi vs. Mercedes-Benz
Both giants in the luxury car segment offer a combination of performance, luxury, and technology.
Audi vs. Mercedes-Benz positioning strategy
Audi adopts the “Vorsprung durch Technik” slogan, which translates to “Advancement through Technology,” emphasizing innovation and progressive design.
Mercedes-Benz uses “The Best or Nothing,” reflecting its commitment to luxury, top-tier engineering, and timeless elegance.
Under Armour vs. Puma
Both compete in the athletic wear industry, providing apparel and footwear for various sports and activities.
Under Armour vs. Puma positioning strategy
Under Armour focuses on performance and innovation, often positioning itself as the go-to for serious athletes.
While emphasizing performance, Puma often aligns with cultural trends, blending sports with lifestyle and fashion.
Netflix vs. Hulu
These streaming platforms have revolutionized the way we consume entertainment.
Netflix vs. Hulu positioning strategy
Netflix offers a vast library of original and acquired content, emphasizing its global reach and binge-worthy series.
Hulu positions itself as a more real-time streaming solution, providing access to new episodes shortly after airing, along with a growing library of originals.
Chanel vs. Gucci
Both are renowned luxury fashion houses with significant histories.
Chanel vs. Gucci positioning strategy
Chanel celebrates timeless elegance, simplicity, and sophistication, maintaining Coco Chanel’s original vision.
While also rooted in luxury, Gucci often emphasizes its eclectic and contemporary designs, merging history with modern fashion trends.
KFC vs. McDonald’s
Two fast-food chains that have global recognition.
KFC vs. McDonald’s positioning strategy
KFC champions its unique recipe, emphasizing its chicken’s “finger-lickin’ good” taste.
McDonald’s highlights consistency and familiarity, with the golden arches symbolizing quick, reliable comfort food globally.
Adobe vs. Corel
Software companies known for graphic design and multimedia software.
Adobe vs. Corel positioning strategy
Adobe markets itself around comprehensive professional solutions for creators, emphasizing tools like Photoshop and Premiere Pro.
While catering to professionals, Corel also emphasizes accessibility and versatility, with products like CorelDRAW offering a slightly different design approach.
Dropbox vs. Google Drive
Cloud storage solutions allow users to store and share files.
Dropbox vs. Google Drive positioning strategy
Dropbox promotes easy collaboration and a seamless user experience across devices.
Google Drive, part of Google’s ecosystem, highlights integration with its other services like Google Docs and Sheets.
Red Bull vs. Monster
Energy drink brands known for boosting alertness.
Red Bull vs. Monster positioning strategy
Red Bull emphasizes its revitalizing effect, encapsulated in “Gives You Wings,” often associated with extreme sports and activities.
While focusing on energy, Monster often has a more rebellious and edgy branding, appealing to a broader subculture audience.
Colgate vs. Sensodyne
Both are prominent in the toothpaste market, catering to different needs.
Colgate vs. Sensodyne positioning strategy
With its global presence, Colgate highlights all-round oral care, often marketing itself as the dentist’s number one recommendation.
Sensodyne positions itself for those with sensitive teeth, emphasizing its specialized formula to provide relief from tooth sensitivity.
Your brand positioning strategy isn’t just about how you view your brand but how your customers perceive and experience it. It’s an ongoing process of alignment, evaluation, and refinement.
Crafting a compelling brand positioning strategy requires introspection, research, creativity, and an unwavering commitment to your brand’s core values and promise.
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