Brand Positioning 101

by | Mar 16, 2023 | Branding, Essays

The way your brand is positioned in the market ultimately determines how your ideal customers think about you and your product or service.

It defines your category, determines your competitors, and shapes how you deliver for your customers.

Done well, it can even allow you to charge a premium for your product or service and still have customers lined up to buy from you. Just ask Apple.

In other words, brand positioning is the foundation to building a brand people love.

Before we dive into the steps to create your brand position, we need to align on what brand positioning actually means.

What is brand positioning?

The most widely accepted definition of brand positioning comes from the work of Jack Trout and Al Reis in their 1981 book “Positioning: The Battle of Your Mind”.

Brand positioning is about owning a unique position in the mind of the potential buyer.

Simply put, positioning is how you differentiate yourself in the mind of your ideal customer in a way that creates a strategic competitive advantage.

Marty Neumeier, director of transformation at Liquid Agency, uses this illustration to better explain brand positioning.

marty neumeier positioning

Inside the mind of your ideal customer are a series of categories, one for each type of product or service they may need.

The goal of brand positioning is to own your category in the mind of your ideal customer — so when they need what you sell, your brand is the first one that comes to mind.

As I like to tell our current and prospective customers, brand positioning embeds your name in the back of people’s minds as THE solution to turn to.

That way, when they are ready to buy, your brand is the one they remember.

Easier said than done.

Why is brand positioning important?

Brand positioning is an essential step to differentiate your product or service from your competitors.

It answers the question every potential customer asks when they come in contact with your business:

Why should I buy from you?

When there are thousands of options to choose from, all available in a matter of seconds from Google, brand positioning helps your ideal customers understand why YOU are the right choice for THEM.

Understand, it can take you years, if not decades, to fully own that category in the minds of your ideal customers.

Even if you never get there, you can still benefit from having a strong brand position.

  • People think of your brand first when they are ready to buy
  • It’s clear why they should choose you as opposed to the competition
  • Ability to charge a premium for the same product or service
  • Faster decision-making about your product or service
  • More top-of-funnel activity from your marketing efforts
  • Stronger connection with your ideal customers
  • Direction for marketing and sales strategies
  • Clearer messaging that drives conversions

Ultimately, positioning your brand gives you a stronger competitive advantage.

Steps to create your brand position

Positioning your brand begins by gaining a deeper understanding of your:

  • Market – your industry and competitors
  • Ideal customers – who you are targeting
  • Solution – the need you are serving
  • Why – the reason people should believe you

Each element plays an important role in determining the holes in the market and how you can differentiate your brand.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Research

Brand positioning requires a lot of research, both internal and external, so it makes sense to start there.

There are three key elements to research:

1. Your Ideal Customers

Brand positioning is ultimately about owning a category in the mind of your ideal customers.

It makes sense, then, that to position your brand correctly, you need a deep understanding of them.

We recommend uncovering their:

  • Desired outcome — what are they hoping to achieve with a solution like yours.
  • Desired experience — how do they want to engage with a solution like yours.
  • Motivation — what causes them to put money to solving their pain.
  • Distinctiveness — what sets them apart from people you don’t want to work with.

These attributes should be on top of the typical characteristics you find in a customer persona, such as demographics, psychographics, beliefs and values, and personality.

The more you know about your ideal customers, the easier it will be to position your brand in their minds.

You can research them in a number of ways, including surveys, social listening, focus groups, data mining, and the like.

The best method of research we’ve found: interview them.

You’ll be able to dive deeper into their answers to uncover the real reason why they chose you — and why others like them will choose you in the future.

Don’t be afraid. This is a crucial step in the brand positioning process.

2. The Market/Your Competition

Next, you want to research your competition.

You won’t be able to effectively differentiate your brand if you don’t know what already exists in the market.

There are a number of frameworks you can use to analyze your competition, including:

  • SWOT Analysis
  • Porter’s Five Forces
  • Strategic Group Analysis
  • Growth-Share Matrix
  • Perceptual Mapping
  • Business Model Canvas

No matter the framework you use, you’ll want to uncover the following information about your competition:

  • Category – the category they claim to be in.
  • Strengths – what they do extremely well.
  • Weaknesses – the areas where they struggle.
  • Message – how they talk about themselves.
  • Differentiated Claim – what they say they do differently.
  • Price – what they charge for their product or service.
  • Trends They Set – what their competition copies.
  • Trends They Follow – what they copy from their competition.
  • Their Disruptive Idea – how they are trying to disrupt your industry (if anything)

That list may seem overwhelming. We won’t be diving into the nitty gritty of competitive research in this essay, but you can download our Competitive Analysis Template to find a step-by-step system to analyze your competition.

3. Your Business

Lastly, do a deep (and honest) dive into your business.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in client work that you don’t pay attention to the perception your team is creating about your business.

Gather key individuals into the room and uncover your:

  • Category – the category you are in.
  • Strengths – what you do extremely well.
  • Weaknesses – the areas where you struggle.
  • Message – how you talk about yourself.
  • Differentiated Claim – what you say you do differently.
  • Price – what you charge for your product or service.
  • Trends You Set – what your competition copies from you.
  • Trends You Follow – what you copy from your competition.
  • Their Disruptive Idea – how you are trying to disrupt your industry (if anything).
  • Customer’s Journey – how they go from prospect, lead, onboarding, fulfillment, to offboarding
  • Process – what steps do you take to fulfill your contractsWHY – the reason you are in business

This information will help you determine where you currently sit in the minds of your ideal customers and what changes need to be made.

Step 2: Solution

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to tackle the problem — more specifically, what problem is solved by your product or service.

Positioning builds an association in people’s minds between your brand and the solution you bring.

Bring those same individuals back into the room and uncover:

  • The pain points your solution solves
  • The benefits your solution brings
  • The transformation clients go through when using your product or service
  • The one unique thing about your solution (it could be hidden in your process!)

This information will help you craft messaging that resonates with your ideal customers.

Step 3: Why

There are two WHYs you want to answer here:

  • Why you are in business beyond making money (your purpose)
  • Why your ideal customers should buy from you

If you’ve done enough research and a deep dive into your solution, these questions should be easy to answer.

If not, go back to step 1 and interview more of your ideal customers. Why they buy from you is locked away in their minds.

Brand Positioning Statement

Next, you need to communicate your brand position internally to your team and externally to the market.

A brand positioning statement makes this possible.

Simply put, a brand positioning statement is a short, strategic statement that communicates the value your brand brings to whom (a particular market) and how.

There are multiple templates you can use to craft your brand positioning statement.

We use the Onlyness Statement model.

Developed by Marty Neumeier and explained more in his book ZAG!, an onlyness statement is based on the idea that:

If your company is strategically positioned correctly, you should be ‘the only’ (something) in your specific category.

An onlyness statement includes 3 main elements:

  • Offering – a short description of your product or service
  • Category – what category you fit in
  • Benefit – the benefit you provide

Once you have those elements, put them in a statement like:

Our [OFFERING] is the only [CATEGORY] that [BENEFIT].

We’ve adapted Marty’s onlyness statement to read slightly different.

Using the same elements, plus a descriptor of your ideal customers and how you provide the benefit, our onlyness statement reads like this:

For [ideal customers], [your brand name] is the only [category] that [benefit] [how].

shft onlyness statement template

Brand Positioning Statement Examples

Here are some examples of brand positioning statements we’ve created here at SHFT.

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Do What You Say

One mistake businesses make when creating their brand position is to say something they don’t actually do.

When crafting your brand positioning and your brand positioning statement, make sure you can actually deliver on your promise.

The temptation will arise to make your brand and your offer sound better than they really are — or to say you are the only brand that provides a specific benefit even if you aren’t.

Fight that temptation.

Nothing will ruin your brand position and trust with your ideal customers more than making a claim you can’t follow through on.

Don’t want to go it alone? Our brand strategy offers will help position your brand as the only choice for your ideal customers.

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