What is brand positioning and how can you benefit from it?

What is brand positioning and how can you benefit from it?

8 minute read

What is brand positioning and how can you benefit from it?

8 minute read

What is brand positioning and how can you benefit from it?

Afoma Umesi

GatherContent Contributor, Writer
By several estimates, we’re exposed to thousands of brand messages per day. So why can we recall so few of them? Because we subconsciously filter most of them out. And we do it by asking the exact same questions our audiences use to evaluate our brand messages.

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  1. “What do you have to offer me and why should I care?”
  2. “What do you offer that’s different or better than alternatives and why should I care?”

Answering insufficiently will land your message among the thousands your audience automatically ignores. That's where brand positioning comes in.    

What is brand positioning?

It's how you present what you're about, who you serve, and what you offer. And its goal is to influence your audience's perceptions and behaviors for the better. When done right, it helps you:

  • Attract the right people—the ones who are most likely to want what you offer
  • Show why your products, services, or experiences are the right fit for your audience
  • Turn them into customers, clients, and loyal supporters

But how? Through differentiation. But that doesn't mean you must be doing something groundbreaking to be successful. Sure, it can be an advantage if you are. But Brittany Wong of Happyland Creative set the record straight on overthinking positioning.

"Many business owners feel they have to have a completely unique business concept. The truth is you just need to have a deep understanding of your target audience so you can position your business uniquely for them. If you're trying to be too unique or broad, you risk losing out on business because people don't understand what you're trying to do."
Brittany Wong
Owner, Founder, and Creative Director, Happyland Creative

The takeaway? How you present your brand can make as big of an impact as what the brand consists of.

Why is brand positioning important?

Brand positioning helps you capture the attention, earn the trust, and meet the needs of ideal customers.

Many brands position themselves as having something for everyone. And, as a result, they struggle to please those extremely broad audiences.

The alternative is catering to the needs, interests, and values of a smaller, more targeted audience. As Thom Baker explained, the result is finding “people who are more receptive to your message, meaning you spend less on marketing and sales.” This is the case because:

"You've already greased the wheels by aligning what they think of your brand with what you want them to think. So this leads to more market penetration in your niche with customers who will be willing to pay more."
Thom Baker
Brand Strategist and Brand Designer, Thom Baker

But let’s take this explanation further. Content is one of the main ways brands communicate their positioning to audiences. So what’s the effect of thoughtful positioning on content strategy?

Thom explained, “If you know who you’re talking to, what they're interested in, and focus on that, you can develop content that resonates. Even better, you can create an audience who take part in a dialogue with your brand, generating ideas or content for you.”

Smart positioning helps you build relationships with the right people and reduces friction as you do. But it also informs content strategy. In turn, your content creates audience discussions. And those discussions create more opportunities to strengthen, reiterate or adapt your positioning.

See Also: Is it time to revisit your strategy? GatherContent has a great checklist and template to make strategy development easier. Grab the free Content Strategy Roadmap now!

How to create a strong brand positioning strategy

We’ve covered the what and the why. So, the next logical question is, “Where do you start with brand positioning?”

1. Define the foundation of who you are

If you’ll be repositioning an existing brand, how do you currently differentiate what you offer? Why does your brand exist? What core values and beliefs drive what you do, and how do those align with the values and beliefs of your audience?  

First things first, get clear on the core of your brand. What you come up with in this stage will serve as an anchor later. It'll protect your uniqueness, keeping you from being overly influenced by competitor research, for example.

2. Size up the competition

Think about direct competitors (e.g. similar services for the same audience) and indirect ones (e.g. DIY solutions). How are those brands or solutions positioned and how do their audiences respond? What do they offer that’s different or not as effective as what you offer?

Determine competitors’ positioning and look for ways you can be different. Keep an eye out too for competitor weaknesses that you can turn into opportunities. For example, could you emphasize a core value you and your audience share more than competitors do?

3. Research your ideal customers

Next, do market research on your target customer. And I’m not just talking about gathering demographic info; you’ve got to get into the mind of the target market.

Who are your ideal customers and how can you attract them? What needs or desires are they trying to fill and why? Figure out how they talk about the problems you solve, how they feel about brands or solutions like yours, and so on.  

Good to Know: A technique like perceptual mapping can help you visualize how customers perceive brands in your industry. It can help you more easily spot gaps you could fill to gain a competitive advantage.

But, of course, more customer info doesn’t automatically equal great positioning. (Even if that info is from actual conversations with customers.) Success lies in using what you know about your audience differently than competitors. So look for aspects of your competitors' approaches that ignore audience facts. Or that miss the mark on addressing their needs, desires, or concerns.

4. Solidify your positioning plan

Compile intriguing, unique findings from your self-reflection, competitor analysis, and audience research. Then, look for combinations of those points that no direct competitors are using. Why combinations?

A single value proposition like being the most cost-effective may not be a strong enough leg to stand on. For instance, what’s the most affordable now can easily be replaced by a cheaper alternative at any time. So, if you hang all your hopes on that angle, you’ll be redoing your positioning strategy before you know it.

But if you position your brand as 100% customer-centric in a complicated and costly industry? To illustrate, let's say you choose to focus on the combination of:

  1. Affordable pricing
  2. Unmatched user-friendliness
  3. And 24/7 customer support

In that case, you’ll have a much better shot at standing out. Not to mention earning your target market's respect and, eventually, their business.  

5. Write a concise brand positioning statement

There's a simple formula for summing up your larger positioning plan.

Who you serve + what you offer and its main benefit for your audience + what sets you apart from competitors.

Good to Know: A positioning statement isn't the same as a mission or vision statement. Both important parts of brand strategy, those focus on the purpose and larger goals of your brand.

A positioning statement highlights why you—not competitors—are the right choice for your target market.  

6. Test, implement, and test your new positioning

At this point, many guides will tell you to roll out your new positioning and gauge audience response. But they’re missing a crucial step.

Testing should begin before total implementation. Especially if yours is a larger brand with many marketing channels and lots of content. After all, it can take a lot of resources to update everything. And it’d be a waste to pour time and energy into it without first knowing if you’re on the right track. So do customer interviews, user testing, and data analysis before the full rollout.  

So, I say, “Test, implement, and test again.”

3 effective brand positioning examples and why they work

Now, let’s see some examples of strong brand positioning in the real world. (And not from the usual brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Amazon that marketers use all the time as examples.)

Forward

It’s a common viewpoint that the healthcare system treats symptoms rather than addressing or preventing root cause health issues. Forward takes advantage of this perception. It positions itself as the go-to for preventative care and, as a result, long-term health.

Forward Brand Positioning Example
An example of how prevention-focused company Forward differentiates itself from treatment-focused companies

And Forward goes into specifics to back up its claim of dedication to long-term health. It lists:

  • The doctor-led programs available
  • The kinds of health issues Forward docs can create personalized plans for
  • How its support is superior to the traditional experience

Lesson: Look for opportunities to fill gaps or address common concerns in your industry. And be specific about how that sets you apart.

Nationwide

Lack of trust is one of the top issues facing insurance companies. So how has Nationwide become (and maintained its spot as) a market leader on the insurance and financial services scene? By positioning its brand as being people-centric. The tagline “Nationwide is on your side” is a good case in point.

Nationwide Brand Positioning Example
An example of Nationwide’s people-centric positioning

The company makes its audience feel like Nationwide has its best interests at heart. This fosters a sense of trust that smaller competitors especially struggle to match.

Lesson: Look for ways to make your branding and overall customer experience feel more personal and human.  Make it clear that your interest in your audience is genuine.

University of Louisville

“UofL is a vital ecosystem that creates thriving futures for students, our community, and society.” That’s the University of Louisville’s brand positioning statement based on “vitality” as a core value. That word isn’t directly used in the University’s content. But it inspires both internal and external communications.  

University of Louisville Brand Positioning Example
UofL’s explanation of its branding, along with its positioning statement

The brand personality, voice, and language convey energy, growth, resilience, and success in a way that’s unique to UofL. And it no doubt attracts enthusiastic students who are seeking an environment that will help them thrive.

Lesson: UofL shows that brand positioning doesn’t always have to be in your face. It can be subtly incorporated into your messaging...as long as it's present at every touchpoint. This will create and maintain a strong link between your brand and your positioning in customers’ minds.  

Good to Know: GatherContent’s Content Templates are a lifesaver for keeping your content on-brand, especially if your company has many content contributors.

You can embed guidelines including direction on branding into them. That way, it's always available to team members involved in content creation.

Successful brand positioning is priceless

Differentiation is the name of the brand strategy game. Plus, it makes content marketing easier, providing a built-in way to stand out, increase brand awareness, and earn your audience’s trust. As a result, you can move them through the funnel faster and with less friction.

So, whether you’re developing a new brand positioning strategy or tackling repositioning, follow the steps above.

Do internal research and reflection to define the foundation of your brand. Do external research on your competitors and target market. And pinpoint the combination of selling points that will give you the greatest competitive advantage. This is the way to build a successful brand and, by extension, a successful content strategy.

For more expert insights on content strategy, sign up for GatherContent’s free weekly newsletter. If you do, you’ll be the first to know about new tutorials, expert interviews, and even masterclasses!

  1. “What do you have to offer me and why should I care?”
  2. “What do you offer that’s different or better than alternatives and why should I care?”

Answering insufficiently will land your message among the thousands your audience automatically ignores. That's where brand positioning comes in.    

What is brand positioning?

It's how you present what you're about, who you serve, and what you offer. And its goal is to influence your audience's perceptions and behaviors for the better. When done right, it helps you:

  • Attract the right people—the ones who are most likely to want what you offer
  • Show why your products, services, or experiences are the right fit for your audience
  • Turn them into customers, clients, and loyal supporters

But how? Through differentiation. But that doesn't mean you must be doing something groundbreaking to be successful. Sure, it can be an advantage if you are. But Brittany Wong of Happyland Creative set the record straight on overthinking positioning.

"Many business owners feel they have to have a completely unique business concept. The truth is you just need to have a deep understanding of your target audience so you can position your business uniquely for them. If you're trying to be too unique or broad, you risk losing out on business because people don't understand what you're trying to do."
Brittany Wong
Owner, Founder, and Creative Director, Happyland Creative

The takeaway? How you present your brand can make as big of an impact as what the brand consists of.

Why is brand positioning important?

Brand positioning helps you capture the attention, earn the trust, and meet the needs of ideal customers.

Many brands position themselves as having something for everyone. And, as a result, they struggle to please those extremely broad audiences.

The alternative is catering to the needs, interests, and values of a smaller, more targeted audience. As Thom Baker explained, the result is finding “people who are more receptive to your message, meaning you spend less on marketing and sales.” This is the case because:

"You've already greased the wheels by aligning what they think of your brand with what you want them to think. So this leads to more market penetration in your niche with customers who will be willing to pay more."
Thom Baker
Brand Strategist and Brand Designer, Thom Baker

But let’s take this explanation further. Content is one of the main ways brands communicate their positioning to audiences. So what’s the effect of thoughtful positioning on content strategy?

Thom explained, “If you know who you’re talking to, what they're interested in, and focus on that, you can develop content that resonates. Even better, you can create an audience who take part in a dialogue with your brand, generating ideas or content for you.”

Smart positioning helps you build relationships with the right people and reduces friction as you do. But it also informs content strategy. In turn, your content creates audience discussions. And those discussions create more opportunities to strengthen, reiterate or adapt your positioning.

See Also: Is it time to revisit your strategy? GatherContent has a great checklist and template to make strategy development easier. Grab the free Content Strategy Roadmap now!

How to create a strong brand positioning strategy

We’ve covered the what and the why. So, the next logical question is, “Where do you start with brand positioning?”

1. Define the foundation of who you are

If you’ll be repositioning an existing brand, how do you currently differentiate what you offer? Why does your brand exist? What core values and beliefs drive what you do, and how do those align with the values and beliefs of your audience?  

First things first, get clear on the core of your brand. What you come up with in this stage will serve as an anchor later. It'll protect your uniqueness, keeping you from being overly influenced by competitor research, for example.

2. Size up the competition

Think about direct competitors (e.g. similar services for the same audience) and indirect ones (e.g. DIY solutions). How are those brands or solutions positioned and how do their audiences respond? What do they offer that’s different or not as effective as what you offer?

Determine competitors’ positioning and look for ways you can be different. Keep an eye out too for competitor weaknesses that you can turn into opportunities. For example, could you emphasize a core value you and your audience share more than competitors do?

3. Research your ideal customers

Next, do market research on your target customer. And I’m not just talking about gathering demographic info; you’ve got to get into the mind of the target market.

Who are your ideal customers and how can you attract them? What needs or desires are they trying to fill and why? Figure out how they talk about the problems you solve, how they feel about brands or solutions like yours, and so on.  

Good to Know: A technique like perceptual mapping can help you visualize how customers perceive brands in your industry. It can help you more easily spot gaps you could fill to gain a competitive advantage.

But, of course, more customer info doesn’t automatically equal great positioning. (Even if that info is from actual conversations with customers.) Success lies in using what you know about your audience differently than competitors. So look for aspects of your competitors' approaches that ignore audience facts. Or that miss the mark on addressing their needs, desires, or concerns.

4. Solidify your positioning plan

Compile intriguing, unique findings from your self-reflection, competitor analysis, and audience research. Then, look for combinations of those points that no direct competitors are using. Why combinations?

A single value proposition like being the most cost-effective may not be a strong enough leg to stand on. For instance, what’s the most affordable now can easily be replaced by a cheaper alternative at any time. So, if you hang all your hopes on that angle, you’ll be redoing your positioning strategy before you know it.

But if you position your brand as 100% customer-centric in a complicated and costly industry? To illustrate, let's say you choose to focus on the combination of:

  1. Affordable pricing
  2. Unmatched user-friendliness
  3. And 24/7 customer support

In that case, you’ll have a much better shot at standing out. Not to mention earning your target market's respect and, eventually, their business.  

5. Write a concise brand positioning statement

There's a simple formula for summing up your larger positioning plan.

Who you serve + what you offer and its main benefit for your audience + what sets you apart from competitors.

Good to Know: A positioning statement isn't the same as a mission or vision statement. Both important parts of brand strategy, those focus on the purpose and larger goals of your brand.

A positioning statement highlights why you—not competitors—are the right choice for your target market.  

6. Test, implement, and test your new positioning

At this point, many guides will tell you to roll out your new positioning and gauge audience response. But they’re missing a crucial step.

Testing should begin before total implementation. Especially if yours is a larger brand with many marketing channels and lots of content. After all, it can take a lot of resources to update everything. And it’d be a waste to pour time and energy into it without first knowing if you’re on the right track. So do customer interviews, user testing, and data analysis before the full rollout.  

So, I say, “Test, implement, and test again.”

3 effective brand positioning examples and why they work

Now, let’s see some examples of strong brand positioning in the real world. (And not from the usual brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Amazon that marketers use all the time as examples.)

Forward

It’s a common viewpoint that the healthcare system treats symptoms rather than addressing or preventing root cause health issues. Forward takes advantage of this perception. It positions itself as the go-to for preventative care and, as a result, long-term health.

Forward Brand Positioning Example
An example of how prevention-focused company Forward differentiates itself from treatment-focused companies

And Forward goes into specifics to back up its claim of dedication to long-term health. It lists:

  • The doctor-led programs available
  • The kinds of health issues Forward docs can create personalized plans for
  • How its support is superior to the traditional experience

Lesson: Look for opportunities to fill gaps or address common concerns in your industry. And be specific about how that sets you apart.

Nationwide

Lack of trust is one of the top issues facing insurance companies. So how has Nationwide become (and maintained its spot as) a market leader on the insurance and financial services scene? By positioning its brand as being people-centric. The tagline “Nationwide is on your side” is a good case in point.

Nationwide Brand Positioning Example
An example of Nationwide’s people-centric positioning

The company makes its audience feel like Nationwide has its best interests at heart. This fosters a sense of trust that smaller competitors especially struggle to match.

Lesson: Look for ways to make your branding and overall customer experience feel more personal and human.  Make it clear that your interest in your audience is genuine.

University of Louisville

“UofL is a vital ecosystem that creates thriving futures for students, our community, and society.” That’s the University of Louisville’s brand positioning statement based on “vitality” as a core value. That word isn’t directly used in the University’s content. But it inspires both internal and external communications.  

University of Louisville Brand Positioning Example
UofL’s explanation of its branding, along with its positioning statement

The brand personality, voice, and language convey energy, growth, resilience, and success in a way that’s unique to UofL. And it no doubt attracts enthusiastic students who are seeking an environment that will help them thrive.

Lesson: UofL shows that brand positioning doesn’t always have to be in your face. It can be subtly incorporated into your messaging...as long as it's present at every touchpoint. This will create and maintain a strong link between your brand and your positioning in customers’ minds.  

Good to Know: GatherContent’s Content Templates are a lifesaver for keeping your content on-brand, especially if your company has many content contributors.

You can embed guidelines including direction on branding into them. That way, it's always available to team members involved in content creation.

Successful brand positioning is priceless

Differentiation is the name of the brand strategy game. Plus, it makes content marketing easier, providing a built-in way to stand out, increase brand awareness, and earn your audience’s trust. As a result, you can move them through the funnel faster and with less friction.

So, whether you’re developing a new brand positioning strategy or tackling repositioning, follow the steps above.

Do internal research and reflection to define the foundation of your brand. Do external research on your competitors and target market. And pinpoint the combination of selling points that will give you the greatest competitive advantage. This is the way to build a successful brand and, by extension, a successful content strategy.

For more expert insights on content strategy, sign up for GatherContent’s free weekly newsletter. If you do, you’ll be the first to know about new tutorials, expert interviews, and even masterclasses!

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