Brand Position: The Confusing Concept That Makes You Money
Ever wonder why some brands stand out while others fade into the background?
Ever wonder why one type of car is known for safety while another is thought of as hardworking and dependable – perfect for someone who loves value? Both vehicles have wheels, an engine, and a steering system. They are similar in nearly every way that counts… and yet we think of them differently. What sets them apart? Brand Position.
Brand Position (or positioning) is the context we wrap around our products and services. It’s the atmosphere we create in our store, the way we talk about what we do, and the perception we create in the minds of customers and potential customers. Positioning is the magic that sets your business apart in the marketplace and makes your work stand out as “different” from your competition.
Here’s another example to help illustrate this point. In my local area, there are several coffee shop options. Let’s talk about four of them and compare their brand position so we can unpack this positioning stuff and make it real to you.
- Option One :: National Chain – This coffee shop is nationally recognized and if I used the name, you would immediately picture in your mind the one near you. I’m sure you have one; they are everywhere. When I walk in, I know what to expect and I’m greeted with a slightly trendy, professional vibe that makes me want to grab my coffee and get to work.
- Option Two :: Midwestern Chain – My town also has a shop from a chain that is found in Michigan and the Midwest. This shop offers similar stuff as the one above, but has a friendly, warm, and slightly off-beat atmosphere. When I walk in, I pause to read the signs and take in the tongue-in-cheek humor before ordering my coffee and plugging in my laptop.
- Option Three :: Local Shop Downtown – I live in a tourist area with a lot of summer visitors and a beach vibe. Right in the middle of the action, near the boardwalk and marina, there is a local coffee shop full of tasty treats, multiple drink options, and small memorabilia from local artists and craftspeople. #vacationland
- Option Four :: Local Gathering Place – Also downtown, but a bit further from the action, there is a small coffee shop where people gather. Mornings find it filled with friends enjoying a coffee while they chat together. Visit in the afternoon and you’ll think you’re at an afterschool club. The local teens gather here to do homework, gossip, laugh, and snap photos.
Now, all four of these great shops sell coffee, tea, and snacks. They each have booths and wifi and clean, comfy restrooms. Parking is easy and the prices are pretty similar. What sets them apart? Brand position. Starting to make sense???
Getting intentional about how your brand is positioned.
Wondering why you have difficulty getting new customers and clients? Not sure why price seems to be the biggest difference between you and your competition – at least in the minds of your potential customers? You have a positioning problem. < — Something I see all the time!
Most of us just fall into a brand position over time, especially as our businesses grow via word of mouth referral. Our success depends on what people think about us and tell others about our work.
We passively let our reputation develop over time, and as a result, our brand position often feels (a) general and bland or (b) pinchy because it doesn’t quite fit our vision and values. Yuck!
Effective marketing requires us to get intentional about brand position and take an active role in creating context around our work. This can feel a bit intimidating, but don’t worry… I’ll walk you through some things to consider what will help you get started.
How do you engage with customers?
You might not think of your business in terms of a relationship…and yet the relationship between your customers and your team is vital to loyalty and overall profitability. As humans, we are naturally driven by relationship and social construct, and we evaluate our experience with a business on both a logical and an emotional level.
The logic flows out of the value your product or service provides. The emotion flows out of the overall experience created by working together.
This is why we place value on the packaging of a product we purchase, the greeting we receive as we enter a store or restaurant, and the warmth of our customer service experience when we call the help desk or place an order. The quality and tone of these experiences create an emotional context of engagement that matters to your brand.
Think about the tone you want to create with customers. Do you want to be thought of as warm, friendly, and approachable – similar to a close friend or family member? Would you rather create a type of luxurious experience for your customers similar to being pampered at a spa or cared for by a member of the Downton Abbey staff?
Think also about the way your team engages with one another as they collaborate. Do you have a highly energetic and innovative culture or one that thrives on good-natured humor and friendly competition? Are your employees characterized by positivity and kindness, driven by achievement, or thoughtful and intentional in the face of new challenges?
What values are most important to you?
Some years ago it was super fashionable for businesses to create a mission statement and a list of core values they could share with both potential customers and their internal team. Initiatives like these resulted in a lot of dry statements that really didn’t mean a lot in terms of day to day operations. Relax, that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Rather than gathering a list of core values, take some time to identify the guiding principles that are most important to you as a business owner and leader. What means the most to you personally and professionally, and how do you want your business to be characterized in the world?
My business is built on gratitude, generosity, and candor as three of our core values. This means – in a very practical way – that my business approaches challenges and opportunities with gratitude, gives generously of our time and resources to our clients and one another, and communicates openly and honestly even when topics are difficult to navigate or emotional.
If you work with us, you can expect to be treated with grace and thankfulness, to receive a generous return on your investment, and to get clear and direct advice and guidance. These values are important to me as a person… and they are essential to the way I want my business to engage in the world.
What about you? What values do you want to promote inside your business? How do you want people to think of your organization and what it represents?
What do you do better (or differently)?
The last factor to consider focuses on your competitive position. You offer products and services in a competitive market. Unless you have a patented product or an incredibly innovative service, you have competition. Other businesses do what you do and serve the same customers. Your brand position includes consideration of how you want to set yourself apart in the market.
Maybe you offer a product or service that is pretty common and well-defined, making it difficult to claim your product is unique. When your widgets are identical to the business across the street, you need to focus on the customer experience you create and the values you project.
Maybe your widgets last longer, do more, or look better than the other ones on the market. Possibly you package your widgets with a special widget holder or a video guide or a service plan that exceeds the industry standard. There’s a differentiator you can highlight and promote.
Be careful to consider your business from your customer’s perspective and not your own. You might believe your coffee shop offers the best brew in town, but that’s pretty subjective. What do your customers say about your stuff? What keeps them coming back? Sometimes it’s not the coffee (or whatever you think is different) that builds loyalty and sets you apart. Your loyal customers likely have a different opinion of your value.
Creating (and living inside) your brand position.
So, let’s take this exercise out of the hypothetical and make it real – -> because that’s where the power is for your business. Brand position is most transformative and impactful when you live inside it as a part of your day to day operations.
Confused? Here’s what I mean.
If your brand position is built on friendly customer service and warmth, you must ensure that every single engagement with your customers is friendly and warm. Even when there is a problem. Even when the customer is wrong. Even when it’s two minutes to closing time.
Did you build your brand position around candor, as I did? Then you need to give clear, direct feedback to your team and to your customers. This means speaking openly to resolve problems and telling customers and clients the truth even when it hurts a bit. It also means accepting candid feedback from your colleagues, customers, and staff… even when it offends you.
Every single interaction with a customer or potential customer is important to your brand position. Living inside your brand means filtering engagements – including articles, social media posts, marketing material, and internal communication – through your brand position.
Your brand is kind. Are you always kind? Is your team?
Your brand is environmentally conscious. Do you waste paper or other resources?
Your brand is innovative. Do you encourage creative problem solving and ideation?
Living inside your brand position means walking the talk. When you are intentional about putting your brand into practice, you create authenticity and a powerful image that will transform your marketing efforts – and ultimately your revenue.
Positioning gives people the context they need to remember you.
Rather than drifting into a brand position that feels vague and undefined, focus on creating a defined and intentional brand position for your business. Know who you are… and know who you are not. Then adjust your communication and marketing efforts to align with the position you create. This is the key to a memorable brand… and it’s a powerful way to simplify your marketing approach and grow your business.
Not sure how to make your brand memorable? Let’s talk.