A strong brand should be a top priority for all organizations striving for success, and brand positioning is the one surefire way to build a strong brand. As a brand strategy consultant, clients often begin by asking me the question, “So how do I choose the right position for my brand?”
Exactly what is Brand Positioning?
Brand positioning is the process of positioning your brand in the minds of consumers. Far more than a tagline or a fancy logo, brand positioning is the strategy used to set your business apart from the competition. Without a unique positioning, a brand has little hope of establishing meaningful differentiation within its category.
According to Philip Kotler, considered the father of Modern Marketing and one of the great thought leaders in the field of brand strategy, brand positioning is “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.” Elaborated, brand positioning is often defined as the promise a brand makes to its key stakeholders.
In my book, The Indispensable Brand, there are numerous examples of how much has changed in the world of branding since the Ries and Trout groundbreaking brand positioning model from the early days of brand management. The essence of their work led to a positioning model that consisted of four components: the target audience, a frame of reference (often, but not always, a product or service category), benefit, and proof points. Together, these components help marketers define who they intend their brand to serve, how they want customers to think about their brand, what the brand intends to provide its customers, and tangible evidence—reasons to believe that the brand can deliver on its stated promise.
Today, however, consumers are more sophisticated and demanding. Distribution channels are more abundant and convoluted. Advertising and promotion look nothing like they did in years past, and brands themselves are larger and more complex than ever. For those important reasons we need to revisit how we think about the framework for brand positioning.
Drawbacks of the current definition of Target Audiences
The first component considered during the establishment of a brand positioning should be the target audience. There is a good reason for this. Because who you want to reach remains a vital component of any brand positioning model, it stands to reason that marketers need to know the people and entities their brands are intended to serve before addressing any other aspects of positioning. As the name implies, the target audiences component represents the “who,” as in the stakeholders the brand is intended to serve. Target audience remains an essential part of the brand positioning model, but it needs to be considered more expansively.
Traditional considerations of this component often fall prey to two potential shortcomings. First, the target audience need not be singular. In fact, it is almost naive to believe a brand today has only a single target audience. Additionally, a target audience need not necessarily be customers. Although customers remain a critically important target for virtually any brand, most companies have additional stakeholders who can dramatically affect the company’s destiny and who should be considered when positioning brands.
In support of multiple Target Audiences
As mentioned earlier, the current definition of target audience assumes a brand operates in a world in which there can be only one target. No brand should ever try to satisfy everyone; however, target markets may contain different audiences. The notion that brands can only target a single group is unduly limiting.
In the car industry, this is seen with target markets for a pickup truck. Overall, the market is looking for a multi-purpose vehicle that can withstand hauling, towing and rugged journey. But the audiences in the market vary. One audience may purchase for personal use. Another audience may purchase for business use. Also, the needs of each audience may vary:
- Personal use: Brand specific; desire a premium package with all features and an impressive body design
- Business use: Fuel efficient, base model features, a bigger engine for hauling
The point is that no two purchasers will be the same. But, the brand identity must span all audiences. Think about Built Ford Tough—the message can appeal to both audiences—personal and business—in its own distinct way. Regardless of the medium, your brand message needs to be consistent and achieve the goals specified to gain loyalty, increase sales, or drive awareness.