Rules for Brand Positioning: Focus To Win

By Patrick Nycz

It is one big, crowded, crazy-competitive world out there. How does a brand stand a chance?

The Positioning Challenge

This brand is different. It says so right in this ad.

This brand is different. It says so in this ad.

The goal of brand positioning is to determine and crystallize a business’ single, most powerful point of differentiation in the marketplace. Then, use that position as a foundation for all marketing going forward.

For instance, where some cars are known for their amazing mileage (like Prius) or enjoy the status of being one of the top high-end vehicles for the wealthy (like Mercedes-Benz), the Volvo brand chose to be known for safety.

In an over-communicated marketplace, people need clearly defined brands to make buying decisions.

Volvo invented safety. This ad says so.

Volvo invented car safety. It says so in this ad.

A search on the internet showed that questions about a new car’s safety typically ranks in the top 5 to 8 things considered when shopping for a new car.

That means a significant segment of the market ranks safety as the top thing they are looking for when buying a vehicle. Volvo has worked hard for this brand position and here is a testimony to the strength of branding: Volvo is NOT the safest car out there in any category except midsize luxury SUV.

Good brand positioning is sticky.

The “Volvo is the safest car” brand position has been so strong for so long that safety sticks to Volvo like an ant in honey. The Walmart “sticky” brand position is low-price. Starbuck’s is the expensive, premium coffee experience.

A brand’s position cannot be abstract.

Trojan does not sell condems. It says to right in this ad.

Trojan does not sell condoms. It says so in this ad.

To own a good, strong “position,” a brand must be focused, succinct, real, and tangible.

That position is easier to find when a company recognizes what they really sell. For instance, Volvo does very well by acknowledging—and owning—that they sell safe travel, not cars.  Walt Disney does not sell movies and theme park tickets. They sell “magic” in the form of good family entertainment. Nike does not sell running shoes. They sell complete athletic performance. Apple does not sell computers and iPhones. They sell an improved lifestyle. Following this line of thinking, even your local roofing company does not sell roofs.

As soon as a brand dials in on what they really sell, the easier it is to define a tangible brand position.

A brand position must be relevant to the prospect.

A brand position must be relevant to the prospect in the way it speaks to something the target audience cares about.

Defining an audience is the first and most important step in positioning a brand. This goes beyond the top-line demographics that are easy to pick: age, gender and geographical location. Do the homework and dig down into what is driving the target audience. What is the psychographic makeup of our target audience?  What are they thinking? In other words, go past the intellectual “features and benefits” that a brand’s service or product can offer and strive for the emotional connection.

Pampers keep you happy by keeping your baby dry. Says so in this ad.

Pampers keep you happy by keeping your baby dry. It says so in this ad.

The tighter and narrower the focus the better the chance for success. For example, first-time parents research every product that has to do with their new baby. Cribs, strollers, and baby seats typically all have to be the safest and highest rated to be considered for purchase. A brand position may be so strong in the market that there is no question that it will be bought. In diapers, only a few brands recognize the value of keeping a baby dry—to the baby and the parents. Even fewer have a brand value proposition that is above reproach. Pampers Diapers enjoys that kind of brand recognition. The emotional connection here is easy for anyone who has suffered through a baby with a wet bottom or diaper rash: happy baby, happy parent.

A brand position must be relative
to every other competitive option.

Competition is brutal in every category. To stand out, a brand needs to own a position that no one else has. Here are a few examples of slogans that position brands.  Avis tries harder because they are #2 as opposed the the “big guys” who (as Avis insinuates) are too big to care. You can have it your way at Burger King as opposed to (as Burger King would have you believe) the strict assembly-line burger you get from McDonald’s. There is a “Pepsi Generation” as opposed to (as the Pepsi-perpetuated myth goes) the old folks that like Coke. Pork is the “Other White Meat” as opposed to (as the National Pork Council’s facts show, when folks are not choosing red meat they are) choosing chicken for dinner.

Slogans are fun but true brand positioning identifies the brand, the category, the relevance to the target audience and speaks to the relativity of the competition.

Here are a few brands that idc has positioned recently.

granite 2

Granite Management is a property management firm that rents a lot of apartments to students. We suggested the name Granite Student Living to help them own that category. Then we wrote this positioning statement to speak to what students are concerned about when apartment hunting and positioned Granite relative to the competition: more choices. a better experience. It’s simple. The competition does not have near the apartment inventory, nor the support staff to help maintain the facilities. People choosing apartment rental services need to know that.

ParkTudorPark Tudor is a private school in Indianapolis. We wrote this positioning statement to address what parents and students were thinking about when considering their education options—from public schools to competitive private or parochial schools: Exceptional Educators. Extraordinary Opportunities. In focus groups and interviews with parents, students and staff, Park Tudor’s teaching staff is considered the top in the city. At the same time, Park Tudor’s philosophy of educating “whole student” coupled with unique global schooling options make Park Tudor stand ahead of the pack from all competitive options available in Indianapolis.

LCB-web-hdr2Lafayette Community Bank is the only fully locally owned and operated community bank in Lafayette and West Lafayette, Indiana.  It is a bank that focuses on investing in businesses that are based in the region. In fact, all loan decisions are made locally by local people. Therefore it made sense to write the position that only they can own: “Completely invested in your hometown.” This speaks to the local market about where a local business’s money goes when they bank with Lafayette Community Bank as opposed to when they deposit it in the big national or regional bank. It also speaks to the locals that work at all the branches in the city. It says “we live here, too.” We are your neighbors and friends.

The positioning challenge is something the idc team thinks about everyday. We know it’s a big, crowded, crazy-competitive world out there. At idc, it is our job to position and focus our client’s brands to win.


About the Author: Patrick Nycz is the President and owner of idc, an integrated strategic marketing firm. He and his awesome team are currently positioning consumer and B2B brands to help win their categories and grow their business. He spends his days, among other things, as a business owner, marketing strategist, account exec, cheerleader, salesman and excitable creative. Get connected to Patrick at LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter @PatrickNycz or email him at Also “like” idc on Facebook!
This entry was published on February 17, 2014 at 11:17 am. It’s filed under advertising, audience, blog, brand, brand affinity, brand positioning, consumer goods, consumer packaged goods, Demographic, marketing, Patrick Nycz, positioning, retail, strategy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: