Brands do not operate in a vacuum – or at least, most brands don’t. If they did, there’d be no need for branding at all. People would recognize the products you produce and sell as entirely unique and innovative, and the brand name that you so painstakingly chose and trademarked would become the default name for all future iterations of the product created by competitors.
Think: Q-tips and Kleenex and Apps, to name a few of the trademarked names that became the the standard for competitors hot on the heels of innovative brands.
Rather, most brands make their entrance into a world crowded with competition. As a result, they spend every day waving and shouting in a crowd of similarly waving and shouting brands to gain the attention of their customers, who are inundated with upwards of 3,000 marketing messages each day.
The only way to avoid this exhausting, never-ending task is to position your brand in the minds of your ideal customers as the only option. That’s accomplished through brand positioning.
According to Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, the seminal work on the subject by Al Ries and Jack Trout, brand positioning isn’t something you do your product or service or company, it’s something you do to the minds of your prospects. You fix your brand in their minds of consumers through differentiation from the competition.
When is it profitable to be second best?
In the book, the authors point to the car rental company Avis’ unorthodox approach to positioning. Though they’ve repositioned the brand in recent years, originally the company chose to embrace their number two position and capitalize on it through a series of brilliant ads. These were designed to appeal to the average working class American who understands what it’s like to have to work harder to make ends meet.
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, within a year of launching the “We Try Harder” campaign, Avis went from $3.2 million in losses to a gain of $1.2 million.
The Avis campaign demonstrates that even an underdog in a crowded market can differentiate itself from the competition, imprint on the minds of consumers, and come out on top. How do you do it?
Know your place in the competitive ecosystem
A brand positioning strategy is like a map. Even the most detailed, accurate map won’t help you get where you’re going if it’s a map of the wrong locale. Knowing where you are now (and where your competitors and consumers think you are now) is critical to getting to the right place. Strategies don’t help unless they’re built from accurate assumptions.
Having a clear idea of your starting point is critical in taking control of your brand positioning. If you’re number two, you need to know that. If you’re number 102, you need to know that, too. If you’re so new and fresh that you’re not even ranking yet, take a deep breath and accept where you are now so that you can make informed decisions moving forward.
Learn your competition’s strengths and weaknesses
Once you’ve got the lay of the land, you need to take the time to learn more about your competition. By studying their websites, their white papers, and their social media presence to determine what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are, you can make their weaknesses your strengths.
Narrow down your audience
Hopefully, you’ve already identified your unique audience, but as you move through the discovery process for your brand positioning strategy, you’ll likely learn that you’d be more profitable and effective if you focused on a smaller subset of the market. If it becomes clear, for example, that all of your competitors are targeting the elite, put your sights on the more practical working class.
VW did a magical job of differentiating itself in a crowded market with the same underdog approach that Avis took. Compare the sleek, boastful ads of Aston Martin and Cadillac with the more pragmatic humble-bragging of VW in these iconic ads.
Identify your unique value to consumers
If you’re sharing the field with several competitors, there’s a good chance you’re all striving to meet the same consumer needs and to satisfy the same consumer desires. Use what you’ve learned in your competition and customer analyses to identify ways that you can differentiate your brand.
In the Avis ads, the proposed weakness of Hertz was the company’s number one status. Just let that sink in for a minute. Has there ever been a more brilliant comeuppance? Being number one, the ads imply, makes a company lazy. Being in second place incentivises a company to try harder, which is great for consumers who want more for less.
In the VW ads, consumers’ desire for sexy status symbols was pitted against a desire to be perceived as sensible and maybe a little revolutionary. Because VW and its competitors each targeted a unique subset of a larger market of car owners and tailored messages for those unique audiences, they weren’t really competing at all.
Craft a brand positioning statement
Your brand’s positioning statement is an internal reminder of the unique value that you offer a unique subset of consumers when compared to the competition. This guiding statement provides a foundation from which to develop many marketing and brand strategies.
Avis’ brand positioning statement might have been:
Avis offers travelers cleaner, faster, and friendlier car rentals because we haven’t gotten comfortable at the top like Hertz.
VW’s might have been:
While VW’s car may not be as elegant or as high-status as its competitors, savvy, discerning consumers benefit from its interchangeable parts, steadfast and economical design, and longevity.
What’s your brand’s positioning in the market? Pinpoint your position and map your way into the minds of consumers with the Business Design Roadmap, a six-week course that guides business owners through the discovery process at a steady, manageable pace. Let’s get started today.
What surprising insights have you gained about your brand positioning through the discovery process?