There are innumerable articles, books and classes devoted to aspects of developing a distinctive brand positioning. And, why not? Your brand positioning should drive all communication, and, as a wise man once told me — EVERYTHING communicates. However, the elements of brand positioning have become disjointed and disconnected over time, as focus shifts form one aspect to another. Also, it feels like brand positioning has become unnecessarily over-complicated by the scholarly focus, causing the project of sitting down to develop a new brand position to end up on the “someday, maybe” pile for many busy CEOs.
Developing a differentiated brand positioning is nothing more than making sure your brand occupies a unique, distinctive and relevant place in your target customer’s mind (get it? Brain, Mind…), so they consistently choose your brand in preference to that of your competition. It allows for consistency of message and experience across time and across management. It articulates your brand’s DNA across all aspects of the brand — from your brand identity/logo to packaging, from creative and media to distribution strategies, and from promotional offers to new product development plans.
It has been my experience a good brand positioning contains 8 basic elements developed together in a cohesive manner, as shown in the accompanying diagram — two that form the “base” or foundation, two on the “left side”, two on the “right side” and two at the “crown”.
Most importantly, a good brand positioning is a “whole brain” brand positioning, meaning it takes into consideration both the emotional (traditionally, the “right brain”) and the rational (“left brain”). In days gone by, marketers primarily focused solely on the rational, relying on their agencies to add a “dash” of emotion. The problem is, the dash didn’t always fit the brand. More recently, the emphasis has become almost completely on the emotional sell. And, while I agree, consumers usually decide to buy based on emotion, I also believe the “left brain” can either seal or sabotage the sale, depending on whether there is a strong rationale for that decision.
As an example, when Dyson® entered the US vacuum cleaner category, it was with an electronic wonder that did for its market what the iPhone® would soon do for mobile phones. Nearly 25 pounds of brightly colored and transparent plastic and steel, pitched by an intelligent sounding British gentleman who told us it was so unusual, it was even on display in a museum. Emotionally, people were sold. The problem was it cost over $500 when you could get a serviceable machine from a recognizable brand at a discount store for under $100. Enter the rational sell. The British guy also told us that its bag-less design and cyclonic what-cha-ma-jiggy meant it “never loses suction.” Ask any early Dyson owner why they bought it, and they’d cite that. They may even have believed it. But, suction is not the reason they “accidently” left it out when company came over — it’s just how they gave themselves permission to do what they already wanted to do.
The beginning two elements of a differentiated brand positioning are too often those “forgotten” by many practitioners:
Next, we move to the rational side of brand positioning because it is the “Foundational” and “Rational” elements that will help us define a relevant emotional hook. Not to carry the brain analogy too far, but think of it as providing for the synapses that connect the left and right sides of the brain. Starting from the emotional side can result in a disconnect to what your brand really does.
With a clear understanding of the Foundational and Rational elements of a differentiated brand positioning complete, we are now ready to consider an emotional benefit that works for our brand. Too often these days, this is where people start…
Like the proverbial “cherry on top”, there are two additional aspects of a differentiating brand positioning that are great to have, but do not necessarily need to be “written in stone” on day one:
So, a differentiating brand positioning is a “whole brain” brand positioning that combines the rational with the emotional benefit, not relying solely on one or the other. It requires a solid foundational understanding of the business you are really in and a description of your target customer that incorporates the catalyst for why they would engage with your category and, thus, your brand. At the post-graduate level, you can add the distinctive personality and the 1-2 word encapsulation of the whole thing — your brand essence.
Finally, how big of a brand do you need to be in order to have a “whole brain” brand positioning? How about an “army of one?” Each of us is individually a brand, and each of us needs a personal brand positioning. In fact, a “Brand Positioning Statement” — the one sentence expression of this exercise — not only make a great test to see if you like what you’ve developed, it can also be the ultimate “elevator pitch” for you or your brand. It goes like this: To (Target Customer), (Your Brand) is the brand of (Business you are really in) that provides (rational promise*) because (reason to believe).
So, now all that’s left is to use your head and get started!
* emotional benefit is often seen, not said