Brand positioning represents the actual foundation of brand strategy. According to Philip Kotler, known as the “Father of Modern Marketing,” 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.” Brand positioning is often defined as the promise a brand makes to its key stakeholders that informs every aspect of brand development, including:
- The basic product or service offering
- The visual and verbal communications and expressions that support it
- The experience it delivers to stakeholders
A great brand positioning is:
- Single-minded — have one consistent theme woven throughout
- Compelling — motivate stakeholders to act a certain way or feel a particular emotion
- Differentiated — stand for something unique in stakeholders’ minds
- Credible — have realistic and believable promise for that brand
The roots of brand positioning go back to when Al Ries and Jack Trout proposed the concept in an article entitled, “Positioning Is a Game People Play in Today’s Me-Too Marketplace” back in 1969. Ries and Trout offered up the notion that positioning happens in the minds of the target market (i.e., perception is reality).
Although Ries and Trout consistently expanded their thinking on brand positioning over the years, much has changed in the world of branding since the 1960s. Consumers are more sophisticated and demanding. Distribution channels are more abundant and convoluted. Advertising and promotion look nothing like they did historically, and brands are larger, intercultural, and far more complex.
The caveat is that stakeholders are more than just customers, and a brand’s promise does not necessarily need to center on a customer benefit.
Two notable drawbacks of the Ries and Trout models that our brand consultants most confront, include the target audience and the brand promise. First, as discussed in our previous posts, A Modern Approach to Identifying Your Target Market and In Support of Diversified Target Audiences, the current definition of target audience is too limiting. It assumes there can only be one target for any given brand, and that the target needs to be a customer (or customer segment). Second, the promise component is too narrowly defined. Many marketers assume the brand promise must be a benefit—and a customer benefit at that—as opposed to another meaningful point of difference, such as a proof point, a purpose, or other factors.
Brand Promise: A Primary Point of Difference
Promise is the distinctive payoff a brand provides to its intended targets. It should also represent the brand’s primary point of difference. The traditional positioning model assumes the promise is a benefit (i.e., what the customer derives from purchasing the product or service). However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Independent of—or in addition to—a benefit (a “what), many successful brands offer promises that are about:
- A purpose (a “why”)
- A process (a “how”)
- Relevance to a niche audience (a “who”)
Regardless of the type, the key is the brand promise should represent something compelling about—and distinctive to—the brand.
Transforming the Decades-old Shaving Sector
A decade ago, if you needed a razor, you headed to your local drugstore. Now, numerous companies that will deliver razors right to your front door—usually for less money than you'll pay in-store.
Shaving firm Harry's, formed six years ago, helped to shake up the men's grooming market by selling goods directly to consumers via a subscription service. Harry's sells men's razors, face washes, lotions, and women's products (under its Flamingo line), over the internet, with customers signing up to a certain number of blades each month.
In a 2018 report on the shaving sector, market research firm Euromonitor said companies such as Harry's have been able to shake up the market by creating one-to-one brand relationships with consumers. Since its founding in 2013, Harry's has captured about 2% of the $2.8bn men's shaving industry. The major razor brands that dominated the market for decades marketed their products' technology. However, new consumers (especially young buyers) "look for a solution, not features," according to Euromonitor.
The evolution of the commercial and consumer environments should prompt marketers to revisit the historical brand positioning model and modify it accordingly to serve us better. These complex times call for a brand positioning model that is more relevant in addressing a more dynamic, digital world of activation—more widely applicable in serving all business functions.