How to Strategically Position Your Brand

Strategic Positioning / Brand Positioning

Many people believe that if you have a great product or a great service, you don’t need marketing. They like to cite American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who supposedly said something like:

“If a man build a better mousetrap, though he live in a cottage, deep in the woods, the world will beat a path to his door.”

First of all, the quote is wrong. Here’s what Emerson actually said:

“If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.”

That sounds great. It seems to imply that if you have a great product or service, you won’t need to worry about marketing. But reality is a little different.

You can have the greatest product in the world, the most superb service, but, if no one knows about it, you will have a warehouse full of excellent products, and you will be sitting around your office, waiting for the phone to ring.

This is where companies make a big mistake with their marketing. It’s important to have great products and great services. But too many companies delude themselves by thinking, “If people knew how great our products or services are, they’d buy us every time.” They try to market themselves by saying things like: “We’ve got the best quality, the best product, the best service, the best people.” I’ve got three words for you: waste of time. Yes, all those things are important, but they won’t help you be successful with your marketing.

It’s not about the product; it’s about the positioning. Strategic Positioning or brand positioning is a statement of who you are. It is what your target customers think about when they hear your brand name.

There are two important questions you should answer:

  • What word or words do you own in your target customers’ minds?
  • Where can you be perceived as a leader or as meaningfully different in some way?

Red Bull owns the words “energy drink.” 1-800-GOT JUNK? owns “junk removal.” What words do you want to own? What will make you stand out from the herd?

Seth Godin in his book The Purple Cow says that you should stand out from the herd of competitors the way a purple cow would stand out from a herd of cows. That’s not just a little different. We’re talking “dramatically different,” and that takes courage.

The old rule of marketing was that you played it safe. You created a good enough product or service, and then you sold it with PR and advertising. You took out ads, you spent money, and you tried to drive customers to your business that way. That used to work, but it doesn’t anymore.

Today, you need to create remarkable products or services that your target market customers will seek out and talk about. They will spread word‑of‑mouth about your brand.

You’ve already made the critical decisions about how you’re going to deliver value to your customer. You chose a Value Discipline. When you made that choice, you had to think about who your ideal target market customers are, and what they currently think of you and your industry. Now it’s time to decide how you’re going to market yourself to your target market customers.

It starts with being dramatically different. You’re either a Purple Cow of a product or service, or you’re a commodity. But that’s only part of the challenge. You must also be dramatically and meaningfully different to your ideal target market customer.

One of the best examples of how this works is an advertising campaign run by Dove, a brand owned by Unilever.

Traditional ad campaigns for what are called “Health and Beauty” products feature young, blemish-free, gorgeous models. They imply that if you use the product, you, too, will appear young and blemish-free and gorgeous. The Dove “Real Beauty” campaign was very different.

They showed pictures of older women, for example, and asked you whether you thought they were “Wrinkled or Wonderful?” and “Gray or Gorgeous?” and “Fat or Fabulous?” When they showed the pictures and choices to both men and women, two-thirds of the respondents didn’t like the campaign at all. As for choices, two-thirds of the men picked “wrinkled” or “gray” or “fat.” In other words, two-thirds of people in the USA would probably not like the campaign or buy Dove soap. Men almost certainly wouldn’t buy Dove soap. But those people weren’t Dove’s ideal target market customer.

Marti Barletta, writing for the website MarketingProfs, described the campaign and the results. She says:

“Within six months, sales of Dove’s firming products increased 700 percent in Europe, and, in the US, sales for the products featured in the ads increased 600 percent in the first two months of the campaign.”

Just being good is not enough. Your competitors are good. Your customers won’t even start down the path to buy your product unless they think you’re remarkably, distinctively, and meaningfully different. You don’t win the marketing battle with the best product or service. You win the marketing battle with Strategic Positioning. So let’s think about how you can position your company.

There’s no one best way to position your company so you appear distinctively different from your competition. You need to choose a position that sets you apart in a way that appeals to your ideal target market customer. There are six basic ways to achieve that:

Position your company based on price point.

Walmart, for example, offers “everyday low prices.” Price positioning can work the other way, too, when people use a high price as an indicator of high value. Consider this story told by Dr. Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

The owner of a jewelry store that specializes in Indian jewelry purchased some good quality turquoise pieces and priced them reasonably, based on her experience. But, even though the store was full of tourists, those pieces didn’t sell. That happens in retail.

The store owner did what store owners have probably done since the beginning of commerce. The night before she left on a buying trip, she wrote a note to her staff, directing them to display the turquoise pieces prominently and to cut the selling price in half. She imagined that customers would snap up the jewelry at the low price and she could move on to other things.

When she returned from her trip, she was pleased to note that, as she expected, the pieces had all been sold. Then she discovered that her staff had not done what she had asked. Her assistant misread the note, and, instead of cutting the prices by half, the assistant had doubled them. The jewelry sold better when the higher prices sent the message to customers that the pieces were of higher quality. There are many stories like this that marketers tell each other.

One of the most commonly told stories is the one about how Chivas Regal was a struggling brand of Scotch whiskey until they doubled their price; according to this account, unit sales doubled. You may have heard the story yourself.

I’ve used the “Chivas Regal Effect” story for years, and I’m not the only one. It’s referred to on websites, in sober magazines like Time, and even in marketing books. But none of those “sources” give any details.

I believe that it’s important to get the details right, so I went hunting for them. I thought I had them when I found a footnote in one of Dr. Cialdini’s books that referenced the effect. So I followed the footnote to the source, a 1991 book by David Aaker titled Managing Brand EquityHere’s the full quote from Aaker’s book:

“The classic story is that Chivas Regal had been a struggling brand until its managers decided to raise its price to a level far above its competitors. Sales skyrocketed, even though nothing was changed in the product itself.”

Again, no details. It’s true that Chivas’s sales increased dramatically in the 1950s, but I think the increase could have also been caused by other factors that didn’t have anything to do with price: Seagram’s bought Chivas in 1949, and they increased the marketing budget and added distribution muscle. And Chivas was Frank Sinatra’s favorite Scotch, adding the kind of glamour that sells high-priced products.

That doesn’t change the effectiveness of using price to position your product or service, but it does offer a lesson about digging for the facts behind statements that “everybody knows.”

Let’s look at some other ways you can position yourself:

Position your company by creating a new category.

That’s what Red Bull did. Before them, there was no “energy drink” category.

Position your company as something different from the category leader.

In rental cars, the classic Avis advertising campaign, “We’re number two, so we try harder,” is a great example.

Position your company as a specialist.

1-800-GOT-JUNK? is the specialist in junk removal. There are coffee shops all over the USA that sell coffee and a host of other things like hamburgers and breakfast and pie, but Starbucks positioned itself as the coffee specialist, the brand you know offers premium coffee.

Position your company as the master of a distribution channel.

L’eggs was the first supermarket pantyhose brand and became the largest-selling pantyhose brand in the country. Paul Mitchell became a $600-million hair and skincare brand by focusing on the professional hair salon channel. Ping did the same in golf clubs by focusing on the pro-shop channel.

Position your company by being explicit about your target market customer.

Curves is the gym solely for women. AXE (or Lynx, in some countries) cologne positions itself as the cologne that makes young men irresistible.

Find your Strategic Position.

Here are two questions that I recommend to help you identify your Strategic Position:

  1. In what area(s) could you be perceived as the leader of a category or niche in your industry?
  2. In what area(s) could you be perceived as being dramatically and meaningfully different from your competitors?

Strategic Positioning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You have to consider where you are positioned compared to your competition. That means returning to the industry analysis to identify your key competitors, looking at their marketing material, and figuring out what positions your competitors have staked out in the marketplace. Answer the following questions so that you have their positions fresh in your mind when you consider your own position:

  • Who are your key competitors?
  • What strategic position do they claim to own (if any) in their marketing messages?

Now step back for a minute and answer a concept question from the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. They are professors at the INSEAD business school who studied 150 Strategic Moves in 30 industries over a century. They define a “Blue Ocean Strategy” this way:

“The aim of a Blue Ocean Strategy is not to outperform the competition in the existing industry, but to create new market space or a blue ocean, thereby making the competition irrelevant.”

Is there some open ocean, a bit of blue water, that you can claim as your own?

When you’ve done your analysis, it’s time to state your Strategic Position. A Strategic Position is a statement of who you are. Ideally, it conveys leadership or a point of difference. Write it out as best you can. Then refine it into a short phrase.

I use my Twitter Rule. See if you can state your Strategic Position in a short, concise statement of 140 characters or less.

Now here’s a challenge for you: Try the Seth Godin test. State your Strategic Position in eight words or less. Seth maintains that if you can’t state your position in eight words or less, you really don’t have a position.

That’s great, but it’s not nearly enough. The next big step is to look at things from your customers’ point of view and decide the key benefits those customers should expect when they buy your product or service….

Excerpted from the book: Business Execution for RESULTS, by Stephen Lynch


Until next time…