We all strategically position ourselves to appeal to those around us. You might spew fun facts at an office Christmas party to present yourself as “the intelligent one.” Or you might bring the most food to a family potluck to show yourself as “the generous one.” Whatever it is, it’s likely not even a conscious decision. We do this because we all realize one fundamental truth of society: perception matters.
How people perceive you significantly influences how they think about you. And the same goes for your brand. Strong brands have a clear understanding of consumer perceptions and, more importantly, a strategy to influence them.
That strategy is their brand positioning.
Here to help us parse through exactly what positioning is and how to create a brand positioning framework is our resident expert and brand strategist, Frank Rocchio. And lucky for you, we even have him on film…
What Is Brand Positioning?
Frank loves talking about this topic so much that he did an interview with our Director of Sales and Marketing, Amanda Sleger, to help put brand positioning into context.
“Brand positioning, in short, is how you frame who you are and what you do — the 'thing' your brand is known for by prospects and customers,” Frank says.
Positioning is what makes it possible for companies to earn market share in a space with multiple or many competitors. Effective brand positioning not only helps you reach your target audience, it also dictates the customer experience with your brand and the prices people are willing to pay for your product or service.
This might sound like a silver bullet marketing strategy, but curating your brand positioning strategy takes significant time and energy and requires lots of market research.
How to Position Your Brand
So, how does a brand decide on their position? And which comes first, your positioning or your products/services?
“Your product offering influences your position and your position influences your product offering. So the answer to which comes first is very dependent on your business,” Frank says.
For example, if you’re a tech startup, it’s likely you saw a need/opportunity for a very specific thing, had the skill sets or resources to take action on it and, boom, you were in business. In this case, your positioning is chosen for you — it’s the defined opportunity or need. (This will likely be based around a lot of functionality or feature-based elements.)
It’s wise for startups not to get too entrenched in this initial market position, though. Your price points, products and perceptions as a young company likely won’t remain the same as you grow and develop more brand authority in your space.
“Start up and younger companies alike would be wise to hold their positioning a bit more loosely to begin with, and hone that in over time,” Frank advises. “You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself too early while you’re still trying to figure out the best place in the world for your brand.”
However, if your company has been around for a long time, has multiple product lines and quite a few competitors, your situation is a bit more complex. Your brand is already in consumer’s minds and you’re likely aggregating multiple factors like price, features, emotional benefits, credibility and customer service with market insights around unmet needs and new audiences that are fit to support your business goals.
Your positioning simply has more factors to contend with than a young company, which is why finding firm ground is important. You want to attach a specific association with your company name, whether that’s high-quality products, great customer service or environmentally friendly. Find something that resonates with your target customer demographic and position your brand to be a champion in that space.
No matter what size your brand is, however, there will always be three distinct hurdles that your positioning has to overcome.
The Three Hurdles of Brand Positioning
When it comes to brand strategy, there’s a certain spectrum that applies to every business. To succeed in the marketplace, you have to find a balance between the three elements on this spectrum. These are also the hurdles you’ll face when working on your brand’s positioning.
Every brand should measure these three items against their position to ensure they’re set up to succeed:
- Differentiation – What unique challenge do you solve? What unique thing do you offer? How do you stand out from other companies that do similar things?
- Relevance – Does what you offer matter to anyone? Who? How much? Why do they find value in what you do?
- Sustainability – What moats can you create to protect your position? How do you maintain your competitive advantage? Simply put, can you alone own what you do?
“You want to make sure you’re balancing your differentiation strategy with relevance so you stand out just enough to be seen, but not so much that no one finds value in your brand,” Frank notes.
To find that happy medium, you’ll need to consider three things: the challenge, the solution and the audience.
This graphic outlines some questions you can ask yourself as you move through the brand positioning process. All three of these components help you create a full picture of who your brand is and how you want to be perceived.
There are countless examples of brands that have successfully positioned themselves in their markets to become powerhouses of industry — Amazon, Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola, the list goes on. But since we have a particular penchant for marketing, Frank chose to dive into the competitors HubSpot and Salesforce.
Brand Positioning Examples
The easiest way to explain brand positioning is to look at it in action.
“HubSpot and Salesforce are great examples of how positioning can make all the difference,” Frank says. “Two big brand names in the digital marketing world, each with their own platform, CRM and more. The reason they can both exist is because they’re constantly positioning against each other in some way.”
HubSpot is the inbound marketing specialist. They’re all about helping businesses from startups to large companies achieve any and all marketing goals. From its drag and drop web editor to the streamlined dashboards to the archives of templates, HubSpot’s goal is to make marketing easy for its customers, whether they have lots of experience or none at all.
Salesforce, on the other hand, has carved its place in the outbound marketing arena and focuses more on the enterprise-level crowd. They’re targeting big businesses who need complex features and powerful tools to accomplish their goals and reach their target market. Yes, their platform is easy to use and has similar reporting capabilities, but it’s tailored to a more experienced audience.
You can see how there’s some overlap between the business models and services each company offers. But each can exist and earn market share because they’ve done such a good job of identifying their target audience and positioning themselves to solve those businesses’ specific problems.
Although, it is worth noting that if HubSpot wishes to go upmarket (as many companies do in order to grow), it’s likely they’d have to find unique paths through product value, pricing or some other feature to take business from Salesforce.
Is Your Positioning Influencing Perception?
This is the critical question. If your brand positioning isn’t influencing how people perceive your business, then you’ll lose out to the competition time and time again. You have to find a way to position yourself against your product or service offering so you can stick in customers’ minds long after they leave your website or see your ad.
As important as brand positioning is, it’s only one piece of a much larger puzzle. To learn more about how to develop your brand, read our blog about finding your brand’s purpose.