If you are considering a shift in direction, or looking to strengthen your brand, use this process to align your team and set a clear direction.
What is Brand Positioning?
Brand is really business speak for ‘reputation’ – and most would agree; having a good reputation is good for business.
But a good reputation for what?
Brand positioning is the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of your customer.
Pulling a brand positioning strategy together involves defining how you want your business to be perceived in the future – and setting out how this will be achieved.
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room,”
Why Do I Need a Brand Strategy?
Building a strong reputation isn’t something that happens overnight. Brand building is a long-term game which requires consistency and discipline.
It’s also every bit as much about what you do, as what you say. When it comes to brand, actions speak louder than words. This means that brand is everybody’s job. It’s as much the responsibility of your leadership team, as it is your front-line teams’, as it is your marketing department’s.
So to deal with something that involves so many people, over a long period of time, in a dynamic and unpredictable environment, you need a plan. Something that gets everyone is on the same page, with a common purpose and striving toward common goals.
Your positioning strategy is that plan - and not having one in place is a recipe for misunderstanding and inefficiency.
It’s the journey, not the destination
The aim of this process should not be to create a document. Developing your strategy should be a dynamic process in which you will understand and refine all of the core elements of your brand's current and desired position.
The aim should be to create prepared minds within your business – building a team, and then an organisation, that has a deep, shared understanding of its core business, market environment and customers. Prepared minds that allow leaders and teams to innovate, make decisions and solve problems when it is needed most – when opportunities present themselves or in times of crisis.
The first step is to commit to the process. Given that the strategy is going to shape how your company moves forward, it’s critical it has full buy-in and involvement from the senior leadership team.
The work of implementing a positioning strategy will involve most parts of a business, from marketing and communications through to sales and operations. However, the development of the strategy can be driven by a smaller team, so long as they can reach out to a wide range of staff, customers and other stakeholders to get input at relevant points along the way.
This strategy team will act as a collaborative ‘driving force’ to champion the process and make things happen. If an external agency is brought in to do some aspects of the work, then it will be the strategy team who will facilitate any engagement and help maximise the benefits of any investment and collaboration.
From the off, it is vitally important that the reasons for embarking on this journey are well understood and shared with all relevant stakeholders. A successful brand is a powerful unifying force that can bring all parts of a business together behind a common purpose.
With your team in position, the next step is to take a good look at your organisation and its business strategy.
As your positioning strategy will be concerned with what the future reputation of the business, it is imperative that you have a clear and shared understanding of your company’s plans, goals and objectives right at the start.
In short, you need to really know your business strategy before you can start to build your positioning strategy. What’s more, communicating the business strategy will be a core element of bringing everyone within the business along on the journey.
Auditing your business strategy
A company’s business strategy, if it exists at all, can take a wide range of shapes and sizes: From a compelling, high-level vision to detailed financial analysis and projections. The first job for the team, is to get all aspects of the business strategy in one place, shaped up and easy to understand.
How you tackle this will depend on your starting point, but the basic approach should look something like this:
Divvy up the work (normally by whose day job is most relevant to the subject).
Pull together available information.
Make sense of findings and present them to the strategy team.
Discuss, analyse and argue until there is an acceptable level of agreement.
Tighten up and agree core elements for communication.
Use models as thinking tools
Whenever we are running a client through this process, we find that using tried and tested models and auditing tools helps to make sense of things and to stimulate insightful conversations. These models can help everyone involved in the strategy development process to visualise aspects of their company that are often hidden. The models can be thought of as thinking tools – they will help you to explain things and create insightful narratives about how things work.
Here are some useful models for consideration when auditing the different aspects of your business:
Identifying key segments
5C situation analysis
SWOT analysis (Andrews)
80/20 principle (Pareto)
Core ideology (Collins and Porras)
The five forces (Porter)
C/D mapping (Bagga and Dawar)
Value Disciplines (Treacy and Wiersema)
Step three involves thinking about the vision of your brand and the position that you want it to occupy not just in the market place but also in the minds of customers. This involves bringing your customers centre stage and building your positioning around the insight that this provides.
This is the heart of the strategy development process. It is a process that involves sharpening your understanding of what will make people become your customers, champions and loyal supporters.
Understand your customer
The first thing you need to do is to understand your customers, specifically the customers you want to target to grow your company. You will have looked at issues such as customer segments, profiles and demographics in the audit step – now take this further and really get inside the minds of our customers – what is it that they really want? What influences their decisions?
There are two key tools you can use here:
Developing customer personas involves distinguishing the motivations, needs and wants of a range of potential customers. The process of creating these personas provides really valuable insight and deep understanding of how customers think and act. It allows brands to be aligned with customers’ goals.
Creating a customer persona
Use personas to provide valuable insight and understandingFind out more
Customer empathy maps
A customer empathy map is a human-centred model that helps you to become better engaged with customers and to get an understanding of what emotions they are feeling when they interact with your brand. Creating a map challenges you to assess how your customers think and feel, what they see, say, do and hear and what pain and gain they might experience.
Customer empathy maps
Find out how to use a customer empathy map to engage with your customers and assess what they think and feel.Find out more
It is obviously important to speak to customers to corroborate your assumptions and theories (and this is part of what you’ll do in step 4), but using tools such as buyer personas and empathy maps is an unmissable opportunity for staff engagement and thought and, as such, a vital part of the strategy development process.
This work will allow you to build a deeper understanding of your customer’s thinking, the issues that they need help with, and the ways they make buying choices. This insight will ensure that your strategy focuses directly on the customers you want and addresses the specific needs and ‘pain points’ that they face.
Create a focus for value
Next you need to consider is how your brand creates value for your customers. According to Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema’s widely used framework ‘Value Disciplines’, there are three generic ways in which a company can differentiate itself from its competitors in terms of the value it offers. These are:
1. Operational excellence
2. Customer intimacy
3. Product leadership
They argue that no one company can be all things to all men. Any company can realistically only aim to beat its competitors in one of the specific value disciplines (while being competitive in the other two). This focus will make it easier for your customers to understand why your brand is the best choice.
Value disciplines tend to be baked-in to the DNA of a company – it’s just that they are often not spoken about in such specific terms. The key thing here is to be clear which value discipline sits best with your organisation and to use this as a guide when moving through the brand positioning process. You need to be honest here. You might want to be a customer intimate business, but if it’s not at the core of your business, no amount of window-dressing will convince your customers you are.
What's your value discipline?
Find out how to discover your value discipline with our helpful guide.Find out more
Rank your benefits
Next, think about the features that your products and services offer. Ask yourself what type of benefits these features provide – are they purely functional (i.e. helping someone do something quicker) or are they emotional (e.g. making someone feel better about themselves). Remember, a strong brand is one that creates a strong emotional connection.
“A strong brand is one that creates a strong emotional connection.”
Now determine which features and benefit are most important to your customers and which connect with them most strongly. Those on the top of your list should be the ‘pillars’ on which you build your strategy.
Rank your brand's benefits
Determine what will connect with your customers most stronglyFind out more
Set out your position
The next step is to articulate your brand position and set down why customers will choose you. You’ve already done the leg work here, the purpose here is to distil this thinking down into a single sentence or two. This Brand Positioning Statement should show what you can do for your customers and why you are uniquely placed to do it best.
Ask yourself five questions about your positioning statement. Is it strategic? Relevant? Distinctive? Credible? And Defensible? Answer yes to all five and you’ve got a statement you can live with long-term.
Make it memorable
With your value discipline, brand pillars and positioning statement in your pocket, now’s the time to really sharpen things to a point. Many successful brands stand for one thing in the customer's mind. For example, think of Google, Volvo and Heinz and you’ll probably immediately think web searches, safety and tomato ketchup.
This 'one thing' is your core selling idea – it gets to the heart of why people should buy from you. It should draw on your value proposition and the emotional benefits you deliver. It should also reflect the key desires and pains of the market segment you’re selling into.
It’s a big ask, but it’s an exciting thing to brainstorm and refine and it’ll give you a long-term goal – to own an idea out there in the marketplace.
Chart it in your marketplace
The insight you’ve gained from thinking about your customers, your value discipline, position and value will help you get a deep understanding of where you want your brand to sit in the marketplace. You can use a positioning map to provide a strong visual representation of this insight.
Write your brand positioning statement for your brand
Explain what you do, who you do it for, and the benefits you bringFind out more
Visualise your positioning with C-D mapping
Give your brand strategy context using this toolFind out more
You’ve distilled the essence of your brand and worked out how you want to position it in the market. Now for a bit of a reality check – it’s time to find out how much work is in front of you.
To do this, you’ll need to get a real picture of how your customers, employees and other stakeholders view your brand NOW. The best way to do this is through a baseline survey of these aspects.
What’s a Baseline survey and what’s it for?
A baseline survey measures key conditions against which progress can be assessed. It will give you valuable information on where you are in terms of the way people perceive your brand. It will also lay firm foundations for future monitoring and the ongoing evaluation of how your brand strategy is performing.
The complexity of your baseline survey and the number of participants will depend upon your company situation. You'll want sufficient detail to evaluate people’s true perception, along with a large enough sample to ensure that your results are relevant. The steps involved in carrying such a survey are:
Determine what you are going to measure – decide what you want to improve.
Plan how you are going to measure it – decide on the metrics and the best method of collection.
Plan how you will measure outcomes in the future and what KPIs you will report on.
Conduct survey and produce baseline report.
What should I measure?
You need to get a good feel for how well your brand is known and also what people think about it. For example, you might ask people what they think your brand stands for, what word or phrase they might use to describe it, what benefits they think it delivers and what it’s like to buy from you. Ask them to describe what their overall experience of your brand has been like. Don’t forget your staff and what their experience of ‘living’ your brand values is like.
With this in mind, your baseline survey should cover:
Brand Awareness (e.g. what % of people have heard of your brand).
Brand Perception (e.g. what people think of your brand – marks out of ten - and how you compare to your competitors).
Brand Alignment (whether staff think that your brand actually aligns with your business’ values and vision).
Customer satisfaction / NPS / Experience (what people who’ve used your products or services say.)
As you move forward these elements should form the foundations of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you monitor to measure progress. These KPIs will give you invaluable information on how to optimise your approach over time (see step 5).
The final stage is to put together a strategy roadmap that will set down the key elements of the work you need to do to develop and grow your brand. Use the insight you’ve gained in steps 1 to 4.
“Creating your roadmap is just the first step on a long journey, and as you move forward you will be working in a dynamic, ever-changing marketplace.”
Because the world of business is so fast-paced and unpredictable, you’ll need to check the lie of the land. Overall, plan for uncertainty. This means that you should employ planning cycles that set you short-, medium- and long-term goals. In the short-term you can be specific and focus on detail, but keep your long-term plans flexible and inspirational.
Your plan should have:
A clear vision for your brand
Think long-term and prioritise outcomes over outputs. Use the key themes that emerged from your survey, positioning statement and competitive mapping. Ask yourself: How will we know we have got there? What will it look and feel when we get there? What will your customers feel about us? How will our staff feel?
A summary of your current position
This should include your:
Current situation – your brand strengths and weaknesses, advantages and vulnerabilities.
Current Key challenges – your business’ environment and the key trends that are shaping it.
Current Opportunities – where there are easy wins and longer-term possibilities.
Current Risks – who or what should you be worried about.
Year 1 Goals
Articulate what a successful year will look like.
Set out an ambitious but credible shift for your brand positioning.
Set year-one targets against baseline KPIs.
Explore themes for the year.
Shaped-up projects/initiatives for consideration
A 90-day plan
The first 90 days should be all about engaging staff and partners with the plan - and translating what has been agreed in the strategy into the brand identity and messaging. However, make sure you look for quick wins for the customer too. If there were easy wins identified in the strategy development process (for example a change to a front-line process) then make sure this is included in the first wave. Getting wins for the customer and front-line teams early on is important to boosting moral and gaining momentum.
It is vital that your strategy and roadmap should have vision and clarity, it is equally important that it is not too rigid. Remember that deveoping your strategy is just the first step on a long journey, and that, as you move forward, you will be working in a dynamic, ever-changing marketplace.
There will be many unexpected challenges ahead and you will face continual pressure to adapt and improve. Accept and embrace this reality from the outset: listen to your customer, be prepared to change quickly, loosen your grasp on certainty and allow yourself to experiment and learn by doing.