• Brian Fleming

Building your brand: Positioning

Part 6 in our series on building your small business brand.




Let me tell you a story about a friend of mine. When he was a kid in Ireland, he got a job selling programs for the Ballymena Agricultural Show. The deal was simple: he bought the programs for 50 pence and sold then for a pound. He spent the first few hours wandering the showgrounds without much success, when he got the idea to position himself by the entrance to the parking lot.


People entering thought he was there to direct them to a parking spot and would roll down their window, at which point he would offer them a program to buy. In this way, he offloaded his entire stock in minutes and went back to buy more. In the end, he made ten times as much as the other kids wandering around the grounds.


This is what we’re talking about when we talk about positioning.


In my friend’s case, he positioned himself geographically, but there are loads of ways to position yourself and differentiate your brand in the mind of the target audience so that it occupies a distinct place on the market.


Why it’s essential


If my example isn’t enough to convince you why positioning is essential, remember that to stand out from the competition and make an impression on customers, your brand needs to first differentiate itself from its competition. That’s what positioning is.


What it covers


Positioning covers your positioning statement, creating market positioning maps, creating perceptual positioning maps and a perceptual positioning diagram, defining your positioning goal and determining your positioning strategy.


How you’ll use it


You’ll use your brand positioning internally to guide it in its branding and marketing efforts and externally when creating all of your branding, marketing and communication collateral.


How you’ll create it


Positioning Statement


The first thing to do is to write out your positioning statement. Do this by completing the following statement based on everything you’ve already done so far:


“[Your brand] provides [target group] with [core emotional benefit] by [top brand features]. It does this by [main points of differentiation].”


That’s your starting point.


Market Positioning Maps


Next, we want to determine where you are on the market. You do this by drawing an x-y axis with four quadrants. Choose a scale for each axis that realistically represents the market you operate in and encompasses the full range of your competition.


Some examples might be name recognition vs. quality or affordability vs. customization, as you can see in this example:


In this example, your brand is obscure and expensive, but high-quality and tailor-made. Your competition, on the other hand, is well-known, affordable, of moderate quality, but cookie-cutter.


Your greatest weakness compared to the competition in this example is your obscurity. Your greatest strength compared to the competition is that your product is tailor-made. That’s what you’d want to promote.


Create as many of these maps as you find useful, then position your brand and its direct and ultimate competitors on each map. This will give you a good picture of where you stand on the market and in what areas you can compete or where you need to change in order to compete.


As a next step, do the same with maps that only encompass you and your direct competition, leaving your ultimate competition aside. This could mean, for example, narrowing the market down into the niche you operate on, the geographic area you operate in or the types of customers you’re targeting. These more narrowly-focused maps will give you a good idea of the space you’ll be fighting for.


Ultimately, you’ll want to use the maps that position you most favorably to guide your branding and marketing. To do this, select those individual axes that position you most favorably and combine them. For our purposes, we’ll consider up and right to be favorable, and bottom and left to be unfavorable.


Based on our previous examples, you’d want to create the following favorable map, as we did for one of our clients.


Here we position your brand as tailor-made and high-quality. See how this positions you more favorably compared to your competition.


Now, use the maps that don’t position you favorably to reevaluate your offer and/or products/services and to develop a strategy that will improve your position on those maps.


Again, to help you do this, select those individual axes that position you least favorably and combine them. This will give you an honest picture of where your brand is right now.

Here’s how it would look using our above example.


You can see from this that you would need to improve your name recognition and either make your product more affordable or position it so that the price is justified. To do this, we use perceptual positioning maps.


Perceptual Positioning Maps


Perceptual positioning maps look the same as market positioning maps, but here you’ll want to choose only scales based on the benefits your brand offer that position you favorably.

Doing this will show you your brand’s strengths and how it can define and differentiate itself, i.e. the perception it can create in the minds of targets.


You’ll want to create two to four maps like this. Here’s how we can do that with the above example, where we now take the price x-axis and choose a y-axis that inverts it.


Now, it may be debatable whether “hand-crafted” is worth the extra cost, but there’s certainly a large segment of society that values hand-crafted products and are willing to pay for them. It’s this segment you would want to target, since this is where your competition is weakest. And it’s within this segment that you can also work on your glaring weakness – your name recognition.


And while you’ll probably want to use targeted marketing to improve your name recognition, you could use a perceptual map to turn your obscurity into a positive trait (provided, of course, that your assertion is true), as follows.


Here we’ve turned your obscurity into an asset rather than a liability. But as I said, only do this if it’s true. I’m a 100% believer in authentic branding. That means being true to the brand and not making stuff up.


Perceptual Positioning Diagram


Next, we want to take the scales you selected for your perceptual positioning maps and create a Venn diagram from them, as you see here.


Here we have:

  • Hand-crafted

  • High-quality

  • Tailor-made

  • Elite

And in the center, we have your brand as it is now. That’s what your brand is and what you want to promote in all your messaging and communication.


Next, we want to look at what your brand wants to become.


Positioning goal


To do this, return to your market positioning maps and look at your current position there.

Now choose the position you want your brand to occupy and write it down. This is your positioning goal.


If you want, create Venn diagrams of both your current and your desired positioning. This will show you where you are along your path, especially if you do this exercise every year.


Positioning strategy


Now that you know how you need to position your brand, your need to develop a strategy for getting it there.


There are four main positioning strategies.

  1. Category or benefit Focused. In this strategy. you focus on your brand being top in a particular category or provides a unique benefit. In this example it could be “hand-crafted”.

  2. Customer Focused. In this strategy, your brand is for a particular type of person. In this case maybe for “the best of the best”.

  3. Business Focused. In this strategy, your brand does business in a particular way, for example, “Every customer gets a hand shake and good look in the eye”.

  4. Competition Focused. The last strategy is show how your brand is different from the competition, where you can actually turn a negative into a positive, for example, “There’s a reason you haven’t heard of us”.

Now, select the strategies that most obviously reflect your brand as it currently is. If only one applies to your brand, then it’s obvious that this is your strongest positioning strategy.

If several or all four apply, write each one out as it applies to your brand and write down their relevant strengths and weaknesses. Then rank the strategies from strongest to weakest. Choose the strongest as your positioning strategy.


If none of the strategies apply, you’ll need to rethink your offering so that at least one of the strategies holds true, otherwise customers will have zero reason to choose your brand.

There you go, you’ve worked out your positioning. This is what you want to communicate on your website, Facebook page, in your brochure, in ads, on landing pages, and so on and so forth.


As with everything when building a brand, nothing is permanent, so you’ll want to return to this regularly to see what has changed or to reevaluate your positioning.


In the next post, we’ll work on your unique value proposition and unique sales proposition.

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