Sunday, May 30, 2021

Brand Positioning 101

Earlier, I discussed the unique value proposition (UVP) concept, ie a special aspect of your offering that provides true or perceived value (emotional and functional benefits) to consumers. However, this post will extend that discussion to consider how your brand's UVP fits or is positioned within the context of your competitive market landscape. When measured properly, brand positioning aka benchmarking can even allow you to plot your and competing brands on a single graph using each brand's score where each score is based on consumers' perceptions of UVP. The scatter plot graph will therefore allow you to see the relative position of each brand. To further clarify; the graph would represent said 'market landscape' and the UVP score of each brand would be positioned as a plot point (perhaps using the brand's logo) on that graph.

On that basis, can you now see how 'brand positioning' may be understood to be the strategic process of creating competitive advantage in consumers' mind, especially at the 'evaluating alternatives' phase of their buying decision? Continual horizon scanning and proactive brand positioning or repositioning are the cornerstones for creating and maintaining a premium brand.

Why is brand positioning important?
The point of brand positioning is answering the question 'What value proposition sets (or can set) you apart from the competition?' Let's face it! If a brand is to be competitive to enjoy high income streams from an appreciative market, it needs bragging rights, about something.

Just imagine how, if your brand positioning makes you a clear outlier, your brand will be more 'recognizable' or better yet, can be 'recalled' (the 2 measures of 'brand awareness'). In turn, a brand with greater brand awareness is one that is sought after more.

As discussed previously, de-commoditizing, aka differentiating your product, even if it is an otherwise boring commodity allows you to communicate value and justify your price. 

Brand positioning is the sine qua non for effective market communication. It is afterall a means of using your bragging rights to establish your brand as a leader its unique way within the collective consumer mind. 

Differentiate on the basis of attributes that your customers use  for measuring significant value 
When customers compare brands, they do so on the basis of single variables (at a time) that are meaningful to them. For instance, legal customers may use the extent to which lawyers listen to them analytically, a form of customer service. A car buyer would not have the same criteria for a car salesman, even if he is concerned with customer service. In short, the positioning must be customized for each industry, segment, brand, product, etc.

Some attributes that are commonly used for brand positioning include the following. 
  • product quality
  • customer service
  • convenience
  • price
  • differentiation
To illustrate, the quality-based positioning approach, companies may highlight their superior quality through product performance (perhaps in resolving a pain point), compliance with well established industry standards for quality (like ISO certification), exceptional craftsmanship, raw materials that meet well esteemed specifications, sustainable practices, small-batch production, ... in short, whatever it is that defines 'quality' in their industry. 

What attributes are important in your industry? How does your brand offer something that feels like a breath of fresh air to customers? For instance, if your industry offers a product  or service whose implementation or use are renowned as being complicated, does your brand offer strong customer support that makes the process much easier? 

Think insurance policies and their tedium! This is arguably the reason why Geico selected their famous 'grunt test' campaign. They wanted to show the world how their sign up process was so easy, that even a grunting cave man can understand it.

Attributes of focus should also change with emerging market trends. However, attributes can be anything that really matters to your consumers. Was your brand the first of its kind which is a fact that your customers value? Are you just the most popular? Are you the only one that responded to certain events that are near and dear to the hearts of your target market? Have you done a SWOT analysis of your competition and want to use a campaign to directly call out a competitior's weakness?

Most industries have multiple key attributes that can be simultaneously represented on 'perceptual maps' like below. Like in this example, consumers rate each key attribute so that brand managers can observe the relative position of all competing industry players. Each brand manager then contemplates "Do I like my current brand position?" "Is there a gap in the market that I can fill?

In the example above, taste and being natural are the 2 key attributes for 3 key players in the sugar industry. A gap exists in the quadrant for more tasty and less natural, which would be better than Equal's current position of low ratings on both attributes. Should Equal fill that gap? However, the brand manager may also consider shifting the brand's positioning to the right if trends emerge in which consumers are happy to sacrifice taste for more natural products. If Equal's brand manager wants to respond to that trend, that brand may produce a variant that is more natural, perhaps only to a marginal extent to perhaps offer a natural option that is likely more affordable than Truvia. 

The SWOT analysis of industry players (ie strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) can provide many attribute ideas. 


Repositioning is brand risk management. Brand managers must continuously scan the horizon for changes that warrant significant branding response. Common prompts include changing target market (perceived) needs, improvements in your competitors' UVP, new product substutes and waning consumer interest. 

Case study: Perceptions of the Old Spice brand changed over time. Specifically, the brand was unable to attract younger male demographic because it was associated with 'old men'. To counteract this, the brand changed its image. It appealed to younger men by changing its personality with style elemnts like younger very masculine male models and campaign slogans like 'Smell like a man, man!' are cases in point. This not only changed the brand's demographic by raised sales by 27% within only the first 6 months of the campaign's launch in 2010 but also emerged its category leader as a consequence.

Case study: Starbucks lost over 28% profits over 2 years following the 2008 economic crisis. In the face of economic hardship, consumer attitudes changed. They began to see coffee as a commodity - an ostensible existential nightmare for a brand that built on presenting coffee as a luxury. Consumers were opting for cheaper options like McDonalds coffee. In response to this risk management 'white swan', the brand hired BBDO, an agency that specializes in branding to reconvince the market that their coffee was worth the extra cost. Its campaign included slogans like "If your coffee isn't perfect, we'll make it over. If it still isn't perfect, you must not be in a Starbucks." and "Beware of a cheaper cup of coffee. It comes with the price". In short, the brand used the quality positioning strategy

Case study: McDonalds recognized that consumer perceptions were becoming disfavorable. Specifically, consumers began to perceive it as unhealthy. The brand improved this reputation with healthier options like salads.

The brand positioning statement

A brand positioning statement briefly 1) identifies the target market, 2) describes benefits / value to the target and 3) implies current relative exploitable weakness in your competition or industry. This statement can be used for recreating mission statements for internal and or external customers. 


  • For serious athletes, Nike gives confidence that provides the perfect shoe for every sport.
  • To cultured millenials, Starbucks is a premium coffee house that adds an intimate and valuable experience to a consumer's life style by integrating caffeine with a comproftable environment.

Steps: How to establish your brand positioning

  • Know the key industry attributes and how to measure them.
    • In most cases, a variable is simply a contiuum of the same thing. For instance 'price' is either low or high or range in dollar values. 
    • In footwear, one key attribute is a categorical scale that has 'performance' and 'fashion' on either of its extremes. ('Correspondence analysis' is used for statistically for mapping categorical variables).  
  • Determine your current brand positioning. This can be an informal 'back of an envelope' exercise and or part of a formal beta testing survey. 
  • Analyze your compeitition; identify them and perform SWOT analyses for them (while also incorporating into them considerations of the PESTLE analsyis). In addition to this simple video, see the other more comlex discuss at the end of this post.  
  • Analyze your industry for weaknesses that you can resolve. 
    • When Geico realized that an inherent weakness in its (insurance) industry was that consumers found the standard application process upsettingly difficult, they differentiated the brand by providing the value of convenience with an application process that was uniquely so much simpler that it could even pass a cave man's 'grunt test'.  
  • If any, know your industriy's inherent shortcomings.
  • Know your UVP
  • Create a positioning statement for a promotional campagin. 
  • Establish a suitable positioning strategy. This is particularly important when your attribute-related market positioning is similar to that of competing brands. In such cases, select a strategy as the basis of differentiation. Strategies may be one of the other attributes like one listed above; price, convenience and so on. The price-quality trade-off is very common. 
    • M&Ms emphasized the product quality by stressing the product's durability, safety, reliability. Its tagline "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands" is consistent with that
  • Integrate your brand's differentiating qualities throughout your brand's organization, especially into all elements of the front line including brand personality like brand style, a 'differentiating tagline' and so on.
  • Constantly evaluate how well your positioning is working.
  • Scan the horizon for emerging trends that can change the nature of the market landscape and, by so doing, present new risks (opportunities or threats). 
  • Reposition to adapt to emerging trends and circumstances. This often involves changing key brand elements like the product (qualities), price and even brand personality. 


  • Avoid brand extensions that are generally unsuccessful and, over time, may even dilute the power of your brand position in the mind of consumers. Line extensions may include extending the product mix to include other types of products. The risk appears to occur when brands attempt to do something contrary to the key characteristic  that helped to gain its position with clarity in the minds of consumers. Examples include the following. 
    • Bayer's was a leader as a pain relieving medicine because of 'Aspirine'. However, a subsequent attempt to use the well established name to introduce an alternative non-Aspirine pain reliever 'Bayer Migraine' failed.
    • Dial was a well established brand for soap. However, when it introduced deodorant, the deodorant failed.
    • My gag reflex is still strong every time I remember the case of Colgate, a well established brand renowned for clearn dirty mouths that then attempted to use their name Colgate for food products. Am I the only one that has this strong a reaction? Possibly not because the new food product was unsuccessful.

  • You can use perceptual mapping not only for single brands against others but also for different iterations (formulas, colors, etc) while doing new product development. Furthermore, you can make the graph three dimensional to include the variable of unassisted brand recall if respondents needed to name the competing brand. The plot for each brand will not be a dot but a circle whose size reflects the number of times it was recalled.


      • Positioning is very important in the 'evaluating alternatives' phase within the customer's buying decision process.
      • 'De-commoditizing' aka differentiating your product,
      • Unique Value Propositions (UVP)
      • Branding 101
      • Brand core values
      • Brand personality
      • Brand mascot
      • Brand awareness & brand awareness srategy
      • Emotional marketing to emotionally engage your target market.
      • Industry analysis
      • Packaging design strategy
      • LIfestyle branding strategy
      • SWOT analyses of key players in different industries.
        • When completing your SWOT analysis, pay special attention to the strengths of your competitors, especially the leaders. Those strengths should not be the basis on which you should try to compete with them. You will need to find some alternative.
      • Protecting your intellectual property
      • Product demand matrix is essentially another type of brand positioning tool. However, its two variables are price and number of customers demanding the product. It therefore plots sales channel locations where your and competing brands may enjoy demand that corresponds with your product offering based on its level of high endedness and price. It is useful for figuring your more direct competitors and provides an opportunity to know which competitors to observe for inspiration for packaging, pricing and so on.
      • Perceptual maps. When analyzing your perceptual map, see if the plots exist in all or most quadrants. This is favorable to a straight line. For instance, in simpler plots, price and quality are commonly used as the 2 attributes, However, since these variables are often highly correlated in the minds of the market, the plot essentially measures only 1 (and not 2) variables. In such a case, all of the plots form a clear straight line, often a diagonal one. This type of result is not ideal as it suggests that the research process was not designed to get maximum value from the data. To counteract this issue, it is advisable to use variables that are not as highly correlated. Having said this, note that patterns with wide gaps do not necessarily indicate this issue. In some cases, they suggest a gap that can be exploited or one tjat is undesirable. Examples of undesirable gaps include cases in which manufacturers will not make expensive products to be sold cheaply .... or customers won't buy expensive products that are low quality.
      • The other way. Can you plot how you perceive key characteristics of your target market personality type? ... If your target's problems are special or outlying somehow, you might have the opportunity to personalize your messaging even further. For instance, Skinny-fat solution, a muscle building plan might signal to its target by saying, "It's hard enough for regular guys to build muscle. But us; the skinny-fat guys? It's impossible with the typical advice ..." Notice how this brand is making a very clear distinction between the regular segment and its own. It also shows how the competition is failing this niche. "... This is why I don't follow typical advice. Instead, I use my own 3-step system. Want to learn 
      • Abovementioned case studies in other content
        • Bayer's
        • Colgate
        • Dial
        • McDonalds
        • Nike
        • Old Spice
        • Starbucks
      • Internal links: brand position statement;
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