Your company wouldn’t be in business if it didn’t have some unique advantage over its competitors. That’s not to say that your company kills its competition every time; rather that it has what it takes to win enough customers over from your competitors to make it successful—or sustainable, at the very least.
Do you know your competitive advantages? Where does your brand fit within your industry? Are you bringing anything new to the table or packaging it in a more convenient or accessible way?
By defining your particular brand positioning, you’ll in turn unlock the keys to communicating with your audiences through your marketing programs: where to communicate with them and what to say to prompt a desired action.
In this article we’ll explain just how important brand positioning is as a foundational piece of your strategy and how to go about defining yours. Let’s jump in!
Let the Horse Pull the Cart
Whether you’re headlong into the execution of a marketing strategy or are in the process of planning one from scratch, contemplating your brand position is a worthwhile use of your time right now. Your competitive advantages need to shine through your marketing communications to be able to do what they do, which is pull buyers toward you, away from competitors. So you need to start with a deep understanding of these advantages before you get started with your marketing.
You could do what a lot of brands do and copy the channels and tactics of their competitors. That’s what we would call “putting the cart before the horse.”
The differences you have from your competitors will be the decision-making factors your customers grapple with before buying. Our goal should be to communicate those differences in a digestible way to help buyers make quicker decisions—decisions they won’t regret later on.
That’s a tall order. You may feel small up against the bigger fish in your ecosystem. But your very size might just be your competitive advantage.
A simple example of this is farmers’ markets. You won’t see savvy marketing tactics in play in the promotion of a farmers market (in most cases). However, farmers’ markets of similar sizes with the exact same vendors are still competitors. Their competitive advantages? The date and location of their market.
This brings us back to the question we want to help you answer today: What are your strengths as a company? What do you do that others don't, or can't? Why do you matter? What do people like best about you?
6 Primary Elements of Brand Positioning
To break down brand positioning in the simplest of terms to walk you through the process, we’ll revert to the experts. Al Reis and Jack Trout give us a six-step analogy of sorts that we like to use when thinking about a brand’s position.
1. Find an open hole.
Instead of looking inward at your company to find your competitive advantage, Ries Consulting recommends thinking from the point of view of a buyer. What are they looking for when they buy a product like yours? Laura Ries reminds us, for example, that, while marketers think in terms of “premium brands” or “cost-effectiveness,” buyers are simply thinking about “price.”
Here are some other possible holes in your category besides price:
- Ethically made materials
- Solutions to a problem
Laura Ries also shows us how, when no open hole exists, it might be possible that your company is paving the way for a new category. And what better opportunity is there than a whole category you can own by being the first to define it?
2. Narrow your focus.
Imagine trying to fill a hole in a wall with a towel. You’re not going to stretch the towel flat across the wall. You’re going to bunch up the towel and shove it into the hole.
Poor analogy, I know, because when would you fill a hole in a wall with a towel? But the point is, we’re talking about “filling holes,” not covering them.
So rather than building up many capabilities within your organization, including one that covers the hole you’ve identified in step one, focus on just filling that hole and filling it well.
By narrowing your focus in this way, you’ll be better able to claim that “hole” or position with your product.
3. Choose your name wisely.
The name of your brand has the power to communicate who you are and what you do in and of itself. What more important decision is there in your marketing?
A company name says something about you before your advertising has a chance to speak a word. What is your company name saying about you?
In the case of consumer products where decisions are made much more quickly, the power of a name is even more prominent. But in B2B, too, your company name can be the reason someone returns your sales peoples’ phone calls—or not.
Of course, not all of us have the influence to change the name of our company, but it’s worth considering and revisiting if you happen to gain more influence down the road.
When it comes to inbound marketing, there are no shortage of people or agencies that can design beautiful websites and other marketing assets. But for inbound to really work, your business needs to offer substantive value consistently over time. That value creates a simple yet profound understanding of your value in the minds of your customers and prospects. It's the essence for your relationship. That's why we named our agency The Gist. When your customers and prospects truly get "the gist" of what you do and how you add value, you will command their attention.
4. Create a visual “hammer.”
In the same way that your brand name defines you, so does your logo. Some people are verbal learners while others are visual. But ALL people use a mixture of the two to some degree in memory recall. Not to mention, your messaging will appear in a variety of places where visuals play better than words.
In sum: logos matter. Ries calls this the “hammer” (and you might say that Ries’ visual hammer is a hammer) because a logo further defines your brand in buyers’ minds. It “hammers” it home.
What does your logo say about your brand before you have a chance to speak with prospects? Is it time for an upgrade?
The paper plane icon in our logo is designed to represent the journey of designing a system of "incoming" leads and business opportunities, but in a playful way. At the end of the day, creating content and connecting with your audience(s) isn't rocket science. And when done right, it should be fun, too.
5. Coin a “verbal battlecry.”
Once you’ve defined yourself through the basics of your name and logo, now you can begin to define your brand in more and more detail with each subsequent marketing message, starting with a slogan (“battlecry”).
Ries recommends rhyme, alliteration, double-entendre, repetition, and reversals for truly memorable slogan writing. But it's also important your tagline or verbal battlecry reinforces what your business does and the value it delivers.
"Inbound Outfitters" has proven to be a simple, yet effective way to reinforce our brand value. The Gist is strictly an inbound marketing firm. And we "outfit" our clients with strategies and tactics that help them attract, engage and delight more customers. The double-entendre happens to make it more catchy and memorable.
6. Choose PR over advertising.
When’s the last time an advertisement alone convinced you to believe something? According to AdAge, 96% of consumers don’t trust ads. Ads are useful tools, but for reasons other than building trust in our audiences. Brands have better luck expressing trustworthiness and changing brand perceptions through public relations efforts according to Ries.
Lucky for us marketers, we have both practices, PR and advertising, in our toolbox. When you’re making efforts to communicate your brand, its position, and beliefs, opt for PR. Hold onto advertising methods for more specific goals.
Documenting Your Brand
It’s one thing to define your brand in your mind. It’s another to document it. Documenting your brand is the best next step to implementing that brand vision and allowing it to become a reality.
Here are two tools we at The Gist recommend developing to ensure your brand is maintained as it’s expressed through your marketing messages.
1. Brand Kit
A brand kit is a document that covers all the details of your brand, large and small. Brand kits are practical for internal use, aiding you in creating consistent imagery for your brand. They also come in handy for outside vendors who may assist you with content creation or other third parties that wish to integrate your brand into their work. For example, think of the many brands that integrate with HubSpot, a relationship between companies that requires respect for one another’s brands in various ways, such as logo usage.
Here are some elements to document in a brand kit:
- Company mission and vision
- Company name usage guidelines
- Primary audiences
- A description of the brand’s personality
- Acceptable slogans
- Color pallet (PANTONE names and numbers, CMYK, and HEX codes)
- Logo files
- Logo usage guidelines
- Typography guidelines
- Imagery guidelines
Many of these attributes are very technical and, therefore, difficult for a marketer to rule on with confidence, so get help from a trusted designer to document them once and for all. You’ll thank yourself later! For DIYers, this guide from 99Designs is a great starting point.
2. Brand Voice Document
A brand voice document can be included in a comprehensive brand kit. However, if content marketing is a significant focus for your strategy, you’ll want to devote some time to a brand voice document specifically, which is why we list it separately.
A brand voice document helps you set the standard for all copy produced in the brand’s name. Again, it can be a lifesaver for outside vendors, allowing them to quickly grasp your approach to content creation and setting clear expectations for them at the outset of a project.
Here are some elements to consider outlining in a brand voice document:
- High-level goals for all content produced by the brand
- Demographics, psychographics, and behaviors of target personas
- A description of the voice’s ideal tone, character, and language
- Writing style (ex. AP style, target readability score, and tense)
- SEO specifications
Defining your brand’s position in the marketplace is the first step toward refining your marketing message. For more guidance on growing your business, subscribe to our marketing insights emails.