Positioning: The Foundation of Your Brand

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To many people, “branding” means a logo, color, symbol, or tagline – like Coke’s red can or McDonald’s golden arches. But a brand is much more than a logo. It’s all the emotions, experiences, memories, expectations, and interactions customers have with a company. It’s how employees dress, greet customers, answer the phone, and address problems; it’s what’s written on the company’s invoices or in email signatures. Branding is how the company represents itself in every communication with customers. Most importantly, it’s how customers feel after dealing with your company.

And fortunately, we know that purchase decisions are not always based on price. People are not always rational and will pay extra for a better experience. A study by B2B consulting firm Walker found that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by Econsultancy for Digital Marketing Trends revealed that 65 percent of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising. So if customers consistently have negative experiences with your company or product, they’re probably not coming back, no matter how cool your logo or catchy your slogan.

What is a brand?
A brand is a promise a company makes to its customers. Customers rely on a brand to provide the same experience, the same quality, and the same level of service every time. A brand tells customers what they can expect and what differentiates your company from the competition.

How does a company determine its brand? Much like marketing planning,
it’s a process requiring research, self-reflection, and brutal honesty. Branding starts with identifying your company’s position in the marketplace by answering some tough questions:

  • What is the point of differentiation for your company?
  • What makes you better than your competition?
  • Why do your customers choose to do business with you?
  • What do you offer customers that your competition doesn’t?
  • How are you perceived by customers, relative to the competition?

The answers to these questions determine your position – what you do and who you are internally that makes you special in customers’ eyes. And it’s the foundation for all your messaging, including the external expression of your position – your brand.

Do your research
To understand how your business is perceived, don’t count on your own insights or hunches; ask your customers, suppliers, vendors, and anyone with whom you do business. What you learn may be very different from how you perceive your brand or how you wish it was perceived.

Once you know why customers do business with you, you can build on those strengths and even enhance them to build customer loyalty and drive sales. Playing on your existing strengths also adds credibility to your messages.

Once you’ve assessed the existing brand, analyze your strengths and weaknesses relative to the competition. Determine if you should change your business practices, especially if your research unearthed some unpleasant surprises. For example, if you claim to offer quality workmanship, but customers feel otherwise, you need to either stop touting workmanship or improve your quality. Or you can change the message to focus on a more authentic advantage.

Build a positioning strategy
Now it’s time to develop a positioning strategy. The goal is to find that space your company or product will occupy in the consumer’s mind and then write a positioning statement that reflects that space or position. The four basic elements of a positioning statement are:

Target market
What characteristics, personality traits, occupations, income levels, genders, values, opinions, attitudes, and interests do your best customers have in common? This gives your brand personality, creates an image of the typical customer, and often implies an emotional or social/psychological benefit. For example, your target market might be “discriminating architects, designers, and contractors.”

Frame of reference
This is the role, context, segment, or category in which your business operates. This clarifies the relationship between your organization and something that is relevant in your target audiences’ lives. Your frame of reference might be “custom antique and reclaimed wood flooring provider.”

Point of differentiation
A point of differentiation is the unique benefit(s) you offer your target audience, a strong, memorable reason you exist. This reason should have an obvious, strong appeal to the target audience and be based in fact, attractive to the target audience, and ideally original (you are the first one to claim it). A point of differentiation could be “When you buy our wood, you buy a piece of history.”

These are the actions or reasons that your target audience should believe your claims. Support statements should help answer the customer’s question, “What’s in it for me?” by providing an emotional or social/psychological benefit. Support should include three to five points that can’t be copied by the competition. These will be your key messages. Support might include a statement like, “We personally meet with the owners of every barn we dismantle to learn the story behind the wood,” or “We research the ownership history of every barn and make copies of any deeds or building plans we find.”

Positioning Statement Template
The following might be a positioning statement for a high-end, reclaimed wood flooring company:

Especially for discriminating architects, designers, and contractors, ABC Flooring is the custom antique and reclaimed wood flooring provider of choice that gives customers a piece of history because they personally meet with the owners and research the legal ownership of every barn they dismantle to learn its story.

Try to write a positioning statement for your company with help from others in the company. Once you’re satisfied with it, you’re ready to define or redefine
your brand.

How important is positioning?
Positioning is the foundation of your brand strategy. When your position is clearly defined and communicated both internally and externally, your company’s marketing program will be more focused, effective, and efficient; customer loyalty will increase; and positive word of mouth will generate referrals for your business. In the next issue, we’ll take a closer look at the next step…branding.

Katrina Olson is a marketing consultant, trainer, writer, and principal of Katrina Olson Marketing + Training. Reach her at katrina@katrinaolson.com.

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