“If you’re not a brand, you’re a commodity.” Robert Kiyosaki – author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”
Branding is what separates Beats By Dre headphones from the crummy $5 headphones you buy at CVS on your way to the airport. Same product, but one is a nameless throwaway brand and the other is a contemporary example of best-in-class branding that was acquired by Apple for $3,000,000,000.
Yeah, that’s a “3” followed by nine zeroes. Which company would you rather own?
What Is Branding?
Branding is your identity, it’s who you are, the summation of all of the attributes you have chosen for your company that help you stand apart from the competition.
Defining your brand isn't something that can be done by one person and it can’t be completed during a single strategic meeting or brainstorm session. Rather, it's a collaborative effort between you, your audience, your customers, and the market in general.
In fact, the most critical outcome of your branding efforts is determined by the market. This is called Brand Positioning. Positioning is the perceived value of your company and its offerings.
Keep reading to learn the importance of developing your brand and outlining the Brand Positioning Strategic Process. Then we'll create your Brand Positioning Statement to guide your brand development and provide the foundation and strategic direction for your marketing strategies.
Why Is Brand Positioning Important?
This is what the SaaS Marketing Industry landscape looked like in 2011:
This is what it looks like in 2022:
You better have a damn good plan to stand out from all these fuzzy little logos, all of which are “indispensable” and “game-changing”. During times of rapidly-changing conditions, for example in the uncertain world of marketing strategies in the 21st century, people gravitate towards brands that they can trust. As products keep changing and new updates flood the market, they’ll take comfort that your brand has firm values and can be counted on as their lighthouse guiding them in a rapidly changing world.
Outlining The Brand Positioning Strategic Process
If you’re not deliberately crafting your brand and consistently re-affirming your values to your target audience, it will happen on its own. This is not something you want to leave to chance. Luckily, for most of your competitors “branding” is what’s happening to their company while they’re too busy adding new features, raising money or “growth-hacking”. But you’re much smarter than those jokers, so you’re in full control of your company’s brand positioning. Are you sure?
Remember, the market determines you brand’s positioning relevant to your competitors, not you. The best thing you can do is to try to make a unique and desirable impression in the mind of your target audience. Through your actions (marketing and otherwise), you need to reaffirm that message inside their mind over and over and over again, and until they are ready to accept it as truth. That’s called building trust and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Before you can determine how you “want” your customers to perceive your brand, you need to identify how your brand is currently positioning itself in the market. Unless your brand is currently in the idea stage, you most certainly already have brand positioning in the market. So how do you find out how your brand is currently positioned? By asking your audience – all of the people and organizations with whom you have a relationship, ie: your customers, your suppliers, your vendors, your investors, your advisors, your employees and your mom and her friends – all of your stakeholders matter and their opinions should be considered when determining your current positioning.
Next, you need to do the same exercise for each of your direct competitors. It’s critical to understand how each one of your competitors is positioning (or, more accurately, “trying to position) their brand in the marketplace. Here’s a template to get you started:
As you develop your Brand Positioning Worksheet, patterns will begin to emerge. Where is your brand relative to the competition? Are you identical, competing for the exact same audience? Furthermore, gaps will appear. Look for critical niche markets that are being ignored by the competition. Who’s needs are not being met by the current players?
Armed with this new information, you can develop a unique and value-driven brand positioning target. You are now ready to create your Brand Positioning Statement and test it on your target audience.
Creating a Brand Positioning Statement
Did you do your homework?
If you completed your Brand Positioning Worksheet, you should now have a bird’s eye view of your industry and where you stand relative to your competitors. This is a critical step because it provides a solid understanding of how your audience perceives you and offers insight into niche markets that are currently being ignored by your competition. Plus, it give you the framework necessary to structure your Brand Positioning Statement.
When developing your Brand Positioning Statement it’s important to first consider the following:
These are undoubtedly difficult questions and the answers should be developed in a collaborative fashion together with your audience, current clients, employees and the other key stakeholders of your brand. This is not a “top-down” process. It’s an “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right b, a, b, a, select, start” process. Hat tip: Contra (but seriously, this is a holistic process)
However, as you begin collecting your answers and completing the self-discovery process, you can begin working on your Brand Positioning Statement. Here’s your outline followed by 2 examples:
“For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.”
– Amazon’s actual Brand Positioning Statement from 2001 (we know it’s old because they call us “World Wide Web users”).
“To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers, when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car, you save money while reducing your carbon footprint.”
– Brand Positioning Statement for Zipcar circa 2000.
Once you develop your own Brand Positioning Statement, it’s absolutely critical to test it. No matter how much planning and research and customer interviews you completed prior to writing it, you can still miss the mark. Go out and make sure your target audience, employees, and current clients also believe you did a good job and created a well-aligned brand statement. If not, go back to the your brand promise and try again using their feedback
Now comes the hard part: Actually living your Brand Positioning Statement and executing on your brand promise. If you don’t deliver on the qualities you have chosen to represent your brand, your Brand Positioning Statement becomes more wallpaper and you can hang it up nicely next to your mission, vision and values in your lobby entrance. The brands that truly live their statement day in and day out are the ones who will build the longterm relationships founded on trust that will keep them successful for years to come.
Hat Tip: Jack Trout and Al Reis’s classic book “Positioning” and Cult Branding Company.