Perhaps the most important brand management activity is positioning the brand properly. A well-positioned brand addresses important consumer benefits in unique and compelling ways. It also creates an emotional connection to the consumer.
Finally, it provides flexibility for future growth (beyond current product and service categories).
The first step in positioning a brand is in-depth research. The research should provide you with the following:
- Profound consumer insight
- A thorough knowledge of the competitive set
- An understanding of consumer benefits (by segment)
You should identify functional, emotional, experiential and self-expressive consumer benefits. Of those benefits, you should understand which are “cost of entry benefits” and which are “differentiating benefits.”
In-depth qualitative research, including laddering, projective and ethnographic techniques may be required to achieve the desired insight.
Some would argue that a brand could and should only own one key benefit in the consumer’s mind (Al Reis) while others would claim that creating the right mix of unique brand benefits creates a more powerful marketplace position (Martin Callé’s Brand Dimensioning ®).
Regardless, the ideal benefit to claim has the following three qualities: (1) it is extremely important to the target consumer, (2) your organization is uniquely suited to delivering it and (3) competitors are not adequately addressing it.
We believe there are four key components to brand positioning:
- Target customer – the primary audience to whom the brand is designed to appeal
- Brand essence – the “heart and soul” of the brand
- Brand promise – a promise of relevant differentiating benefits
- Brand personality – adjectives that describe the brand as if it were a person
Together, these components define the brand. They are codified in a simple format that provides direction not only for marketing communication and the brand identity standards and systems, but also for all of the organization’s activities.
Some people would say that the best a corporate brand might hope to own is the leadership position in an industry. The brand promise would read as follows: “[Company] is the quality, innovation leader in the [industry.]” I believe that is a very weak positioning. The strongest corporate brands own something more than that in consumers’ minds. For instance, Disney owns “fun family entertainment” while Nike owns “genuine athletic performance.” Nicor owns “unconditional primal warmth” while Hallmark owns “caring shared.”
A powerful brand position should be:
- Believable, understandable, unique and compelling
- Aspirationally attainable
- Admirable and endearing
- Difficult to emulate
- Timeless and enduring
Positioning a brand is complicated. It is an art and a science and is not likely to be well understood or appreciated by operationally oriented people in your organization. It is, however critical to your organization’s long-term success. Position your brand with great care.