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Why Brand Positioning Matters

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

How to position your product as the only choice for customers...

The OGs of “positioning”, Al Ries and Jack Trout, believe that the customer has a finite amount of space in their head where they can remember products. For each category (a category meaning smartphones, sportswear, etc.) there’s room for maybe 3 brand names.

If your brand doesn’t occupy one of the 3 top slots in your category, it’s time to start thinking about how you can deposition a competitor who is.

When considering positioning, let’s bring to mind the car company, Volvo. Take a second: What word springs to mind when you think of Volvo?

Ask most people this question, and they will say “safe”. Through clever branding, Volvo now owns the word “safe”. Over decades, they have carved out their position as the safest car manufacturer; the car that sensible people buy, people who prioritise their family’s security.

The thing is… Volvo hasn’t been the safest car manufacturer for years. Honda has owned that accolade for more than a decade. The honour of safest car is currently held by Genesis, a South Korean luxury car manufacturer.

Volvo’s brand is so well positioned in our minds as the “safe” car option, that it doesn’t need to be true anymore for us to believe it.

I think the modern consumer has room for multiple brands per category, but if we consider the first ones that pop into our head, we will find a hierarchy.

Let’s see if you agree. What are the brands that pop into your head when you think of :

  1. Smartphone manufacturers?

  2. Fast food restaurants?

  3. Sportswear brands?

In each category, did you find it easy to come up with brands? Did the 1st one spring to mind? Was the 2nd hot on it’s heels? Maybe the 3rd brand trailed a little at the back?

Now, compare your answers to mine:

  1. Apple, Samsung, Huawei

  2. McDonalds, Burger King, Subway

  3. Nike, Adidas, Patagonia

We may not have had the exact same answers (and why would we? We are different people, with different demographic profiles) but maybe 1 or 2 of our answers are the same. Maybe one of the 1st brands that came to mind matches.

If we posed this exercise to a group, there’s a high chance we would be able to map out a hierarchy of brands that take the podium places almost every time.

So how do we get our brands into the podium places? You may be thinking “I can’t compete with the market leaders in my category”, but you don’t have to. Let the big players compete with themselves. Perhaps even look at them for inspiration on successful de-positioning: like the high profile dethroning of Snapchat by Instagram (with their introduction of Instagram Stories).

The big players are competing for the mass market. You are competing for your niche market. You don’t need to get into the minds of everyone, just into your target audience’s. Who are the people that can’t live without your product?

To do this you need to define – in detail – who your ideal customer is. What is the profile of the person you are targeting? Get into the nitty gritty. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do they wake up to the alarm clock on their iPhone or Galaxy? Their Apple Watch or Fitbit? Maybe they wake up to their kids jumping on them?

  • When they pick up their phones, what app do they open first in the morning? Is it passive usage (reading/viewing) or active (writing/posting)?

  • Do they listen to Spotify or Apple Music when they make their breakfast? Do they listen to playlists, albums, podcasts, audiobooks, or the radio?

  • Do they even make breakfast? Do they grab something on-the-go? Do they intermittent fast?

You get the jist… get into your customer’s head.

Now we know know more about our target audience, it’s time to figure out how we position our brand.

Consumers buy the cheapest option, the quickest option, or the perfect option.

If you can’t be the cheapest or quickest (and honestly you don’t want to be, it’s commoditising your product category), be perfect. Perfect for your niche audience. Speak to your customer in a way that makes them feel like you understand their needs. Do this because it’s true. You are targeting the people who can’t live without your product. Your product was made for them. Tell them why.

If you struggle with this, look deeper into your customer profile and really get into their heads. Who are these people who can’t live without our product? Mould your marketing strategy and make your product perfect for them. The customer profile informs:

Who they are Where you market to them How you market to them Why you market to them

If this is a struggle, ponder questions (like the “morning routine” above) and re-evaluate your customer profile. Identify a profile that you can create a brand around.

Find your position, and own it in your customer’s mind.


Takeaway Questions:

Evaluate the current positioning of your product. Does this positioning serve your audience? Have you truly identified an audience?

How do your competitors position themselves? Are there any niches undefended you could command?

Should you concentrate on defining your current position or try to de-position one of your competitors?


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