Once you and your positioning team have determined what the positioning for your brand should be and identified the points of difference, points of parity, and maybe even a brand mantra, consider checking your work with the following approach I learned from branding expert Kevin Keller.
Write up your key points of difference and points of parity (and your brand mantra if you have it) where you can see them together, representing the sum of your positioning. When you look at these pieces as a whole, does your chosen positioning pass the following three-question test?
1. Is this positioning desirable to your brand community?
Does the positioning reflect characteristics your brand community would want? It isn’t enough just to be different—the positioning should show that you are different in a way that people would value.
2. Is this positioning deliverable by the brand?
Does your brand experience already deliver on this positioning? If not, and if you’ve identified aspirational points of parity or points of difference, can you make changes to the organizational strategy that will ensure this positioning will reflect the actual brand experience at some point in the near future? If your brand can’t deliver on the positioning, it won’t feel authentic to your brand community and may actually do some damage if people perceive it as false or misleading.
3. Is this positioning differentiated from your competitors?
Does this positioning distinguish your brand from everyone else in the competitive frame of reference? Even if the positioning is desirable and deliverable, if it is indistinguishable from the positioning of your competitors it won’t be effective.
Desirable, deliverable, and differentiated: great positioning will be all three at once.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you that brand positioning not effectively communicated and embedded both inside and outside your organization will definitely not make a sound.
So how do you ensure your brand positioning exercise isn’t in vain? How do you communicate your positioning both inside and outside the walls of the organization? In these next two brand positioning tips, I’ll try to answer that question. Today, we’ll tackle how to embed the brand positioning within your organization.
So here we are. Your positioning exercise is complete. You’ve identified one or more competitive frames of reference. You have clear points of difference distinguishing you from competitors. You’ve articulated the points of parity you need to achieve. And perhaps you’ve even decided on a brand mantra. Now what?
For most organizations, the next step is to build a plan to embed the positioning internally. Unless you work in a small firm, I’d recommend you don’t build this plan alone. Instead, convene a strategically-chosen team of folks to help you build the right plan for your organization.
Who should be on this team? I’d pick a group of 10 or less people from the following two sources:
When it comes to positioning terminology, I sometimes get questions like “what is the difference between a brand mantra and a brand essence?” or “is a point of difference the same thing as a key differentiator?”
I have standard terminology I use for brand positioning projects, which you can read more about in my Brand Positioning Tips. I picked up most of these terms from Dr. Kevin Keller, one of the world’s foremost brand positioning experts, and the brand positioning guru we used for a lot of our Red Hat positioning work.
Kevin uses terms like point of parity, point of difference, competitive frame of reference, and brand mantra to describe his positioning process. I like these terms and they have become comfortable for me to use in my positioning work.
But often, I’ll be working with a client who approaches positioning from a slightly different point of view. Perhaps they’ll talk about what I call a brand audit as a brand diagnostic or they’ll refer to the brand mantra as the brand essence.
When working with clients on positioning projects, I operate using the when in Rome principle. I use their words instead of mine. Why? Because they are just words, after all.
What really matters is whether we agree on what the heart and soul of the brand is and what makes it different from other similar brands.
Using Kevin Keller’s terminology to describe your brand positioning won’t automatically make it good brand positioning, and some of the best-positioned brands I have ever seen were probably developed by people who had never heard of a point of parity.
So use whatever words you like as long as you understand the concepts.
In the classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Jack Trout and Al Ries, there is an ongoing thematic—the overwhelming value of being #1 in a market. The reasoning? It is extremely hard to dislodge the company that captures a position in the minds of target customers first.
Think about how long Coca-Cola has been the #1 cola (since the 19th century) or Hertz has been the #1 car rental company (since 1918) and you’ll get a sense for how difficult it is to displace the top brand in a market.
As we’ve learned in previous brand positioning tips, a key part of the brand positioning process involves deciding on the competitive frame of reference or references in which you’d like to position your company or brand. I emphasize references because one thing to consider is whether, in addition to positioning your brand in an existing market (where you may not be #1), you should be creating a new market in which you can be #1, because there is no one else in it yet.
Some leading business strategy thinkers refer to this as a “blue ocean strategy” where you choose to create or grow a new market rather than fighting in a competitive one that already exists (a “red ocean”).
From a brand positioning perspective, I often return to a similar principle I call the 1-2 punch.
The 1-2 punch is simple:
Punch 1: Grow the market
Punch 2: Lead the market you grow
Punch 1: You may compete in a frame of reference where you are not #1, but throwing punch 1 means putting your energy into creating or growing a different competitive frame of reference that didn’t exist in the minds of your audience before.
Punch 2: This is where you must really capitalize on the benefits of being an early mover in a market. If you throw punch one (grow the market), but do not effectively land punch 2 (lead the market you grow), you may find yourself in a world of hurt. Let’s look at a few examples:
In previous posts about brand positioning, we’ve talked about points of parity & points of difference, the competitive frame of reference, brand mantras, and the concept of “brand permission” as tools you can use when developing your brand positioning. Today I want to cover one of the biggest positioning mistakes that I see companies make.
I call it island hopping. Let me explain with an example.
Say your company makes dish detergent. You’ve been making dish detergent for 50 years. All you know how to make is dish detergent. Your kids grew up as the famous heirs to a dish detergent fortune. When you show up at parties, people go “hey, look, it’s that dish detergent dude/dudette!” (When your kids show up at parties, people start whispering about videos they saw on the internet, but that’s another story).
Now you hire a new CEO. He has a Harvard MBA. He shows you lots of PowerPoint slides that explain how crappy the market for dish detergent is going to get over the next 50 years. He says you need to diversify into another business, and he suggests the boutique hand soap business is starting to really heat up (after all, who doesn’t want to smell like juniper peppermint citrus after they wash their hands?).
And he’s right. Your kids are spending all your money, and the dish detergent business is going pretty sour.
In brand positioning tips 1-3, we discussed the 4 elements of good brand positioning: points of difference, points of parity, the competitive frame of reference, and the brand mantra. In this post, we are going to switch gears and talk about a subject called brand permission.
When attempting to position your brand in a new competitive frame of reference (or, in non-marketing-ese, when you want to start selling stuff in a new market), consider whether your brand has earned permission to enter that market.
How do you know if you have permission? And who do you need permission from? Well, let’s look at a few examples.
Back in the early 1990s, Clorox underwent a failed experiment in extending the Clorox brand into detergent. There is a nice short writeup of it here. Why did the detergent product fail?
Today we will be covering the 4th element of good brand positioning: the brand mantra.
What is a brand mantra?
A brand mantra is a 3-5 word shorthand encapsulation of your brand position. It is not an advertising slogan, and, in most cases, it won’t be something you use publicly.
In Brand Positioning Tip #1, we covered 2 of the 4 key elements of successful brand positioning done the way Dr. Kevin Keller taught me: points of parity and points of difference. Today, I’d like to highlight the third key element of good brand positioning– understanding your competitive frame of reference.
Competitive frame of reference is a fancy way of saying “the market you compete in.”
This sounds pretty simple, huh? It can be… If you run a furniture store, your competitive frame of reference would probably be the furniture market. If you run a tattoo parlor, your competitive frame of reference would probably be the tattoo market.
Those are pretty cut and dry cases. But have you ever stopped and wondered to yourself, “exactly what market am I competing in?” and realized that you are really competing in a market that is not initially obvious? Or that you are actually competing in multiple markets? If either of these situations are true, you may discover you need to create points of parity and points of difference for each market where you compete.
Here is an common example of a less-than-obvious competitive frame of reference.
What market do you think Starbucks is in? The coffee market? Maybe. In the coffee market, Starbucks competes with grocery stores, fast food restaurants, other coffee shops, and home brewers. Tough market… they aren’t competitive in the coffee market on price, there are probably options that (arguably) taste better, maybe have shorter lines. It’s hard to believe that Starbucks would have grown as big as they are by simply competing in the existing coffee market.