How to use brand positioning to differentiate your brand and win

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Brand positioning is the conceptual space that a brand owns in the consumer’s mind. It’s what they think of you. Your brand positioning statement defines how your brand shows up in the market. Start by matching what consumers want with what your brand does best. Many brands are negligent in failing to define and differentiate themselves. If you don’t position your brand the way you want, your customers and competitors will do it for you. And, you might not like how they do it. In this article, we will show you a brand positioning process that can work for you. We will show you plenty of examples of brand positioning statements.

What is brand positioning?

To find your ideal brand positioning statement, you want to find the space that is most motivating to consumers. And, find the space that is most ownable for your brand. Our brand positioning statement process starts with a defined consumer target your brand will serve. Then, we focus on the emotional and functional benefits that differentiate your brand. Further, we use support points to help differentiate your brand from competitors.

To illustrate our brand positioning process, click on the diagram above

Where your brand can win

As you dig in on creating your own brand positioning statement, look for the space to play and then the ideal space can differentiate your brand to win in the market.

I introduce a Venn diagram, with three circles:

To illustrate how to use brand positioning to differentiate

It’s all about how to differentiate. To start, the first circle comprises everything your consumer wants or needs. Next, the second circle includes everything your brand does best. Finally, the third circle lists what your competitor does best.

Your brand’s winning zone  (in green) is the space that matches up “what consumers want” with “what your brand does best.” Most importantly, you can own and defend this space from attack. Essentially, you can satisfy the consumer needs better than any other competitor can.

Your brand will not survive in the losing zone. (in red) This space matches the consumer needs with “what your competitor does best.” Consequently, you will fail to differentiate, and your competitor will beat you every time.

What happens when there is a tie?

As markets mature, competitors copy each other. It gets harder to be better with a definitive product win. Many brands play in this risky zone  (in grey). Here, you and your competitor meet the consumer’s needs in a relative tie. You can win the tie with emotions and innovation.

Sadly, I always have to mention the dumb zone. (in blue) Here, two competitors “battle it out” in the space where consumers do not care. One competitor says, “We are faster,” and the other brand says, “We are just as fast.” However, no one bothered to ask the consumer if they care about speed. Both brands end up failing to differentiate and playing in the dumb zone.

Brand positioning statement

There are 4 elements that make up a brand positioning statement. Start with the definition of who will you serve. Then, lay out where you will play, and where you will win. To sum up, use support points for why consumers should believe you.

1. Who is the consumer target?

To start, define a slice of the population who is the most motivated by what your brand offers? However, don’t just think about who you want, but rather who wants your brand.

2. Where will you play?

Next, consider the competitive set that defines the space in the market your brand competes in. Brand positioning is always relative to who you compete against. For instance, a brand is never fast. But, it should be faster.

 

3. Where will you win?

Most importantly, what is the main promise you will make to the consumer target? It should differentiate your brand to stand out as interesting, simple, unique, motivating, and own-able. Do not talk about what you do. (features) Talk about what the consumer gets (functional benefits). And, talk about how the brand makes them feel. (emotional benefits)

 

4. Why should they believe us?

 

Finally, lay out the support points and features needed to back up the main promise. Moreover, these support points should close any potential doubts, questions, or concerns the consumer has after hearing the main promise.

The Brand Positioning Map

Before you get started on the details of your positioning statement, you can sketch out where brands currently play. A brand positioning map allows you see the most cluttered space, and the open space. The brand positioning map provides some direction on where you could establish a unique positioning for your brand. But it doesn’t provide much detail. Our process will help narrow in on the specifics of your brand positioning statement. 

Pick two dimensions that matter to consumers

Below, we can assess the market for sit-down chain restaurants in the US. First, we look at price; high verses low. Then, we might add in flavors; traditional American vs International. 

We see two gaps in the market; high-end International and upper-mid American. And, we see a cluttered mess in the lower end American. 

For example, click on the above brand positioning map to see details.

Consumer target

Focus on those who are the most motivated by what you do. There is this myth that a bigger consumer target will make the brand bigger, so scared marketers targets ‘everyone’. For instance, there seems to be an irrational fear of leaving someone out.

Spreading your brand’s limited resources across an entire population is completely cost-prohibitive. While targeting everyone “just in case” might feel safe at first, it is riskier because you spread your resources so broadly. You will never see the full impact of what you want to see. Moreover, a broad consumer target gives your brand a lower return on investment and eventually will drain your brand’s limited resources. Please focus. Below, you will find a consumer profile that sets up Gray’s Cookies as an example of brand positioning we use.

Building a Target Profile

For example, click on the above consumer profile for one of our brand positioning examples.

Start by defining your ideal consumer target

Instead of thinking about who you want, turn it around and ask who wants us. Decide who is in the target and who is not in the target. Find those who are already motivated to buy what you are offering. 

If you have the world’s best soup, go find those who love soup. Don’t try to convince people who hate soup to buy your soup. 

If you have the world’s longest golf ball, sell to those who already hit it 300 yards. Don’t sell to people who hate golf because it’s expensive, it takes six hours to play, has funny clothes, is too quiet and embarrassing. A longer golf ball will do nothing to counter those who have already rejected golf.

One of the biggest mistakes I see marketers make is picking a target that is far too broad. There seems to be an irrational fear of leaving someone out. While targeting everyone “just in case” might feel safe at first, it is riskier because you spread your resources so thin you never have a full impact on anyone. 

Your fear of missing out (FOMO) on any consumer causes you to miss out on the ideal target. Spreading your brand’s limited resources across an entire population is completely cost-prohibitive and gives your brand a lower return on investment. and will drain your brand’s limited resources.

Focus, focus, focus!

Let’s sort through the difference between a selling target and a marketing target. A selling target is anyone who comes in the door and wants to buy. A marketing target narrows in on those consumers who have the highest likelihood of responding positively to your brand positioning, advertising, and new product innovation.

consumer target

It is fine to sell to “anyone” who comes in the door. No one is turning down a sale. But when it comes to your precious marketing dollars, be afraid of wasting your money that you only spend on those you are confident will bounce back to you. That’s payback. 

Use our consumer benefit ladder to find your differentiation

Turn your brand’s features into consumer benefits. Stop thinking about what your brand does. And, start thinking about what your consumer gets. As a result, your brand positioning statement comes alive.

The 4 steps to build a Consumer Benefits Ladder:

  1. First, leverage all available consumer research to brief the team. Above all, define the consumer target profile with consumer insights, need states, and the consumer enemy.
  2. Second, brainstorm all possible brand features that your brand offers, plus any brand assets. Focus on the features that give your brand a competitive advantage.
  3. Next, move up to the functional benefits. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and for each feature on your list, ask “if I am the consumer, what do I get from that?” Keep asking with answers that differentiate and move into a richer zone.
  4. Finally, move up to the emotional benefits by looking at each functional benefit and ask “so if I am the consumer, how does that make me feel?” Most importantly, keep asking the question until you see a deeper emotional space that you can play in, that will help differentiate your brand.
Our brand toolkit has every PowerPoint slide that you need to run your brand

Our Brand Toolkit package has over 120 PowerPoint slides with templates for brand plan presentations, brand positioning presentations, and business review presentations. We use our Gray’s Cookie as a brand positioning example to demonstrate how to differentiate the brand. 

Avoid ph-at words in your brand positioning

Ph-at Words are vague words that mean so many things, they mean nothing at all. The best examples I have are nice, interesting, or quality. It is interesting that interesting is such a boring word.

Consumer benefits that differentiate

When you define your brand positioning, the specific words you choose must matter to your consumers. Most importantly, your brand positioning statement should leave zero room for interpretation.

This type of thinking is part of our Beloved Brands positioning process. To help, keep reading below, to see how we provide two consumer benefit cheat sheets with 60 functional benefits and 40 emotional benefits to help you write with much more specific words that differentiate your brand.

Consumer benefits

Functional consumer benefits

To help brand leaders kickstart their brand positioning work, I have taken the 9 functional need state zones that expands to over 50 potential functional benefits. As you look through the list, gravitate to the functional benefits you think will fit the needs of your consumers and differentiates your brand by looking for words where your brand does it better than competitors. Start with our words and then layer in your own creative language with the specific category or consumer language.

Functional Cheatsheet

Click on the diagram to zoom in how to differentiate using functional benefits.

Emotional consumer benefits

Below is a list of 40 potential emotional benefits help build an emotional brand positioning statement that differentiates your brand. Most importantly, you want to own one emotional space in the consumer’s heart as much as you own the rational space in the consumer’s mind.

Emotional Cheatsheet

Click on the diagram to zoom in how to differentiate using functional benefits.

The emotional benefit zones include optimism, freedom, being noticed, being liked, self-assured, comfort, be myself, be in control, and knowledge. To own a space in the consumer’s heart, brands should own and dominate one of these zones, always thinking relative to what zone your competitor may own. Therefore, you should not choose a list of emotions from all over the map, or you will confuse your consumer. Use the supporting words to add flavor to your emotional brand positioning statement.

Gray's Cookies benefit clusters

To start, look at the two cheat sheets and narrow them down to potential clusters of the functional and emotional benefits. Match what consumers want and what your brand does best. Take three of the zones from each cheat sheet and add 2-3 support words per zone to create a cluster. Below are key benefit words we will use to set up Gray’s Cookies as one of our examples of brand positioning statements.

Brand Positioning process using consumer benefits that differentiate
Brand Positioning process that differentiate

Turning benefit clusters into benefit statements to differentiate your brand

Next, for each cluster, use the words to inspire a brainstorm of specific benefit statements that fit your brand, using the specific brand, consumer, or category words. For example, we’ll use Gray’s Cookies, which is a fictional cookie brand that combines great taste and low calories. Concerning functional benefits, I have chosen to build around functional clusters, such as healthy, sensory, and experiences, and emotional clusters such as control, knowledge, and optimism.

To illustrate one of our brand positioning examples, click on the diagram.

How to find the winning space that differentiates your brand in the market

I have created a 2×2 grid to help sort through the potential benefits to find the winners, according to which are most motivating to consumers and most ownable for your brand.

To illustrate how to judge the winning brand positioning, click on the diagram above.

 

You will see the same four zones from the Venn diagram are now on the consumer benefits sort grid, including the winning, losing, risky, and dumb zone.

First, you can see the “guilt-free” consumer benefit is highly motivating and highly ownable for the brand, landing in the winning zone. This space is the best to differentiate your brand from others in the market.

On the other hand, the consumer benefit of “new favorite cookie” is highly motivating but already owned by the major power players, so it falls into the losing zone. Then, the “feel more confident” benefit falls into the risky zone. Finally, the benefit of “more comfort in choices” is neither motivating nor ownable, so it falls into the dumb zone.

Support points to the main benefit

I took one logic class at University and the only thing I learned was ‘premise-premise conclusion’. Easy class, but the lesson has stuck with me:

  • First, all fish live in water (premise)
  • Next, tuna are fish (premise)
  • Therefore, tuna live in the water (conclusion)

In a brand positioning statement, the main consumer benefit is the conclusion, with a need for two support points as the premises. The reason to believe (RTB) should never be the conclusion. If pure logic teaches us that two premises are enough to draw any conclusion, then you only need two RTBs. Brands that build concepts with a laundry list of RTBs are not doing their job in making focused decisions on what support points are needed. With consumers seeing 5,000 advertising messages per day, having a long list of support points, risks having a cluttered mess in their brand communications. Claims can be an effective tool in helping to support your reason to believe.

There are 4 types of claims you can use on your brand: 

Process Support

  • To start, look at how your product works differently.
  • Then, showcase what you do differently within the production process.
  • Finally, what added service/details do you provide in the value chain.

Product Claims

  • First, what is the usage of an ingredient that makes you better?
  • Then, look at the process or ingredient that makes you safer.

Third-person endorsement

  • To clarify, who are the experts in the field who can speak on your behalf.
  • To sum up, look to past users/clients with the proof support of their stories.

Behavioral Results

  • To help, look at clinical test results.
  • Most importantly, assess the in-market usage study.
  • Finally, look at before and after studies.

For example, click above to see how claims can help differentiate your brand.

As you narrow in on the main benefit, look at it from the consumer’s vantage and see if there gaps you need to fill in with support statements. Use four types of claims, whether linked to what you do differently in the process, how your product works better, third-person endorsements, or behavioral results. 

For process support, you can explain how your product works differently, showcase what you do differently within the production process, or talk about any added service you provide in the value chain. 

To use product claims, highlight the usage of an ingredient that makes your brand better, different, safer, or cheaper. 

Use third-person endorsements when you have access to experts in the field who can speak on your brand’s behalf or a strong collection of past users/clients who can demonstrate proof of performance based on stories or reviews. And, explore recognized awards, such as J.D. Power or whatever is recognized in your industry. Reach for behavioral results when you have a clinical test, in-market usage study, or before and after studies.

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Example of a brand positioning statement for consumer packaged goods

In conclusion, here is our Gray’s Cookies case study which serves as one of our examples of brand positioning statements

For example, click on the brand positioning statement example above to zoom in.

B2B brand positioning process

We use the same process, but we have changed the functional zones to work for B2B brands. Most importantly, there is plenty of room to differentiate B2B brands. So, looking at this list below, we have adjusted our cheat sheet to include two different zones, which are “drives business results” and “helps you execute.”

B2B Brand Positioning Functional Benefits

B2B Brand Positioning Emotional Benefits

We have also adjusted our emotional zones to include “fit with the company” and “feel recognized.”

As you did with Gray’s Cookies, start by looking at the two cheat sheets and narrow down to potential clusters of the B2B functional and B2B emotional benefits. Most importantly, match what customers want and what your brand does best. I recommend that you take three of the zones from each of the two cheat sheets that will best differentiate your brand, and then add 2-3 support words per zone to create a cluster. Below are the benefit clusters that set up our Gray’s Stage Lighting brand as an example of brand positioning.

Benefit clusters for B2B

B2B Functional Benefits
B2B Emotional Benefits

Taking the clusters and brainstorming brand positioning benefit statements

Example of brand positioning for B2B Brand

Most importantly, we use Gray’s Lighting as a B2B case study that serves as of our example of brand positioning statements

Example of brand positioning for healthcare

For Gray’s QuitFix, the three functional benefit zones include works better, sensory appeal, and helps you be healthier. 

Next, take the supporting words within each zone to build a cluster. 

Using the “works better” zone, we include powerful, details, and performance. For the “sensory appeal” zone, include the words subconscious, taste, and touch/feel. When using the “helps you be healthier” zone, include the words reduces, prevents, weight, and mental health. Take each of the benefit clusters to inspire a brainstorm of various benefit statements. Start each functional benefits statement with “I get.” 

  • For the “works better” benefit cluster, an example of a functional benefit statement is, “I get a smoking aid that successfully delivers the performance for me to quit smoking.” 
  • And, for the “helps you be healthier” benefit cluster, a functional benefit statement is, “I get to control my mental health while quitting smoking.”

Then, explore the emotional zones

The emotional zones I have selected are staying in control, a sense of optimism, and feeling myself. For the emotional benefits, start each statement with “I feel.”
  • Using the emotional benefit of “stay in control,” the emotional benefit statement would be, “I feel in control of my weight and health to help me successfully quit smoking.”

For Gray’s QuitFix, the winning consumer benefit statements are staying in control and the optimism to be successful in quitting.

Example of brand positioning for a technology brand

This same process can work with technology or service brands. With GrayTech, the main B2B benefit to differentiate with is to “make your business more valuable.” 

The brand positioning skills you need to be successful in marketing
  1. Able to define your ideal consumer target. Build out consumer profiles framed with need states, consumer insights, enemies, and the desired response.
  2. Take a consumer-centric mindset to turn brand features (what you do) into functional benefits (what consumers get) and emotional benefits (how it makes them feel)
  3. Find a winning brand positioning statement that is ownable for your brand and motivates consumers to build a tighter bond with the brand.
  4. Develop a brand idea that can be stretched across every consumer touchpoint, including the brand promise, story, innovation, purchase moment, and consumer experience

Use our brand positioning presentation template to showcase your thinking

Brand Positioning template
Have a look at some other brand positioning examples

Most importantly, we know that our brand positioning process works on any type of brand. To illustrate, click on any of the brand positioning examples to explore new ways to differentiate your brand. 

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