If your brand existed in a vacuum, it’d be easy enough to convey your unique selling proposition to a prospect. You’d be unique because you’d be the only game in town. Your product’s defining features would be yours and yours alone.
If only. What makes brand positioning so fun, though, is that your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You do have competitors. If you’re lucky, you only have a few of them. More likely, you have a bunch. And if you’ve done your homework, you’re acutely aware of one another’s strengths, weaknesses, messaging, branding, campaigns, features, and so on.
Market share is a zero sum game. But brand positioning doesn’t have to be about squashing your competitors. It can — and should — be about positioning your brand and your product to provide the best service to potential customers.
Let’s take a deeper look at the essence of brand positioning and talk about strategies you can use to help your product rise to the top of the heap.
What is brand positioning?
We’ve defined brand positioning as any strategy taken to position your brand and your product to provide the best service to potential customers. Taking it a step further, brand positioning is about defining the most valuable features of your product, and communicating that value to the masses.
Put yourself in the shoes of a customer in your vertical. Why would they spend money on your product over your competitors’? Maybe you’re more affordable. Maybe you have better customer service or content. Maybe your customers rave about the benefits — the way your product makes them feel, and the things it allows them to do — and you’ve spoken about those benefits in your case studies and testimonials.
All the above factors should be considered when manifesting a brand statement, or a positioning statement. Developing a positioning statement isn’t exactly mandatory, but it’s a helpful starting point in the necessary process of communicating brand value — especially when it comes time to riff on that value in your content, website copy, customer marketing, ad campaigns, and more.
There is no formulaic “secret sauce” to crafting a positioning statement, and starting with a template is a bit of a paradox when you’re trying to communicate what makes your brand different. Come up with a statement that’s a few sentences long and communicates key differentiators of value between your brand and your competitors, and you’ll be in good shape.
Helpful ways to start thinking about brand positioning
Let’s talk through some useful ways to think about brand positioning. When it comes time to apply said positioning in your campaigns and messaging, you want to have an intrinsic understanding of what differentiates your product from your competitors’.
[Note: Although pricing is important enough on its own — i.e., separate from positioning — we discuss it here as a lever for positioning.]
Pricing is one of the first and most important ways by which potential customers evaluate your product. For software companies, that could mean leveraging a tiered pricing strategy with different “packages” that appeal to multiple use cases. For agencies and service businesses, it may mean pitching your services a la carte, with select plans for select budgets. For retailers, it may mean running an ad campaign that communicates your sleeper sofa is “half the price of the other guys, with twice the comfort.”
Whatever the case, competitive pricing is less about undercutting competitors than ensuring the price of your product matches its value; and that, again, that value exceeds your competitors’.
A lot of this comes down to margin and unit economics. WeWork, for example, was happy to undercut its competitors and charge a minimum to short term tenants because it had the funding to live on small margins while its competitors went out of business. (As it turned out, their pricing still exceeded their value.)
Be wary, though, of the impact undercutting can have on “watering down” your product’s value. Penetrating the market with a lower price can be an effective way to lure customers away from your competitors. But it can be difficult to raise prices to Y when you’ve already set the market value at X. Lowering prices is a slippery slope.
Come to the table with an understanding of the prices at which your competitors price their products; but above all, focus your pricing efforts on what you think your product is actually worth. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to set your product’s market value a bit higher, and use messaging and marketing to make up the difference.
Pricing is part and parcel of quality — an indicator — but they’re far from the same. Conveying your product’s quality differentiator is a key component of brand positioning. Prospects in the market need to know exactly why your brand and product are different (read: better) than the rest of the field.
Some things to consider here:
- What features does your product have that your competitors’ do not?
- How do those features delight your customers and make their lives easier?
- In what ways is your product more convenient and/or easy to use than those of your competitors?
- If you’re selling a tangible good, what’s the average “lifetime” of your product, relative to the rest of the field?
- If you’re selling software, what’s the average lifetime of one of your customers, and how does that speak to the product’s quality?
- What kind of customer service or support can new customers expect if they purchase?
- Is there a ramp-up period associated with using your product? If so, is it shorter than your competitors’?
- What positive qualities are ascribed to your customers by virtue of using your product?
The above are all useful questions to consider when thinking about how to position your brand in the market. Obviously, you need to have an intimate understanding of your own business for the exercise to be effective. But don’t sleep on the importance of understanding your competitors’ messaging, products, and business characteristics as well.
Developing a positioning map
Where does your brand exist on a matrix comparing the most important features of your product to those of your competitors? It’s the job of a positioning map to find out.
A positioning map is similar to a positioning statement, but with a more visual bent. You’re sketching out the delta between your product and the products of your competitors, with vital features existing at the X and Y axes.
Via Innis Maggiore.
The positioning map is a handy tool to identify areas of improvement for your product. In the lens of brand positioning, though, what you really want to identify through this exercise is what your product does better than anyone else’s. These are the strengths that you’ll distill into your messaging when communicating your value proposition to prospects and customers.
Practical ways to apply brand positioning
Thus far, we’ve defined brand positioning and talked about some ways to brainstorm just what it is that defines your brand in the competitive landscape. Now, let’s talk about ways to leverage that knowledge and set your brand up as a clear leader in the vertical.
Leveraging buyer personas
Buyer personas can be effective in a variety of channels, from content marketing, to search advertising, to customer and product marketing, and more. Creating personas is a dynamic step in positioning your brand in a way that’s going to aid retention, generate leads, and help sales reps close deals.
Consider the process that goes into creating a buyer persona. You’re considering the typical pain points of one of your customer segments, and communicating the ways that your product alleviates those pain points.
Defining who would buy your product and why is a crucial precursor to crafting appealing messaging across marketing channels — from positioning your search ad to elicit a click over your competitors’, to talking about your product on your website, to determining what kinds of content to write and what tone to use in that content.
Personas should also inform your customer service. If your customer service is good, it can be a key delineator for your brand. Arming your CS team with an intimate understanding of your customers’ pain points, common characteristics of their businesses, and how to speak to different customer segments will help you prevent churn and retain more business.
Speaking of search ads: What better way to position your brand above your competitors than through ad copy? Your callout extensions should reflect strengths of your product that your competitors can’t match. If your price sets you apart, your price extensions should reflect that. If your competitors don’t offer free shipping, and your margins can support it, try including it in one of your headlines to see if click-through rates increase.
Whether you’re using search, display, social media, programmatic, or print: advertising is one of the most important channels through which you’ll define your brand’s position. Don’t be afraid to harp heavily on the differences between you and the competition. If you can do it tastefully, and if the situation calls for it, explicit references to your competitors can help you win business where otherwise you would not.
Content marketing is generally thought of as synonymous with “blogging,” but for our purposes, think of it as any unpaid messaging you’re getting in front of prospects and customers organically. This could include:
- A one-page sales resource highlighting the key differences between your product and your competitors’.
- A blog post targeting the same keyword as a competitor post, written to position your brand as a better “authority” on that topic.
- A blog post that names your product in a best-of list.
- A prospect-facing webinar that positions your product as a solution to common pain points.
- A case study, sent via an email campaign, that highlights a customer’s recent positive experience with the product.
Done right, content marketing can do the valuable work of filling the top of your funnel while also positioning your brand as a leader in your respective space. And compared to search advertising, it has the advantage of being “organic” — you cannot simply pay to play.
Better brand positioning through informed competitive intelligence
Brand positioning is key to “winning” the zero-sum game of market share — that’s undeniable. To revisit a notion from earlier in this post, though: The point of brand positioning isn’t to beat your competitors. It’s to position your brand as the most relevant and natural solution to your prospects’ pain points.
That doesn’t make the exercise of understanding your competitors’ positioning, messaging, and pricing any less important. And in fact, having that understanding gives you the best chance to position your product in a way that is going to be competitive and fruitful.
That’s where Crayon comes in. If you want competitive intelligence at scale — the kind of intelligence that can help you position your brand effectively — take a spin through our product and get the insight you need to kickstart your brand positioning efforts.
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