Effective brand positioning is a key ingredient to the world’s most successful businesses. This includes both B2C and B2B brands alike.

But while most business leaders have a sense of what brand positioning is, many wouldn’t be able to unpack the concept if you pushed them on it.

Seeing as how your brand is arguably your business’s most valuable asset, it’s critical to understand both what is meant by brand positioning and why it’s so important for the growth of your business.

In what follows, we take a deep dive into all things brand positioning, exploring some of the world’s best brand positioning examples and showing you how to create a brand positioning strategy that will drive business performance.

CONTENTS

What is Brand Positioning?

Ignyte Brand Positioning
Brand positioning is the process of orienting a brand within the competitive landscape, determining how it is perceived by target audiences.

Central to the definition of brand positioning is the fact that brands are perceptions. A company’s brand is the way it’s perceived by those who experience it. This includes employees, investors, the media, and, perhaps most importantly, customers.

Positioning a brand defines the unique place it occupies in the minds of those it serves. How is the brand different than its competitors? Is it a luxury brand or a budget brand? Is it provocative or conservative? Indulgent or practical?

Each of these qualities exists as a spectrum in customers’ mind. Where a brand exists on the various spectra most relevant to its industry determines how it is positioned.

Why Does Brand Positioning Matter?

Ignyte Brand Positioning
As you might imagine, the position your brand occupies in your customer’s mind is incredibly important. Positioning shapes customer preferences, dictates buying behavior, and serves as the basis for brand loyalty.

An effective brand positioning framework enables you to:

Create Positive Brand Associations

When your brand is effectively positioned, customers perceive it as favorable, different, and credible. These associations are critical to customer preference and customer loyalty.

Meaningfully Differentiate Your Brand

Positioning is how you differentiate your brand from the competition. Competitive differentiation communicates value and justifies pricing, both of which impact your bottom line.

Boost Brand Awareness

Effectively positioned brands are more memorable to customers. When your brand is front of mind, customers are more likely to select it when comparing their options.

Facilitate Purchase Decisions

Similarly, positioning defines the unique way your product or service benefits your customer, instilling trust and taking the guesswork out of the purchasing process.

Dictate Pricing Power

Strong positioning clearly establishes your brand’s value in your customers’ minds, making them more likely to pay a premium price over a less effectively positioned competitor.

Clarify Messaging

Finally, clearly defined positioning informs your brand story at all levels. It enables you to craft a consistent, compelling narrative across your brand’s many touchpoints.

7 Types of Positioning Strategies

Ignyte - Brand Positioning - Types of Brand Positioning Strategies
There are many types of brand positioning strategies, each taking a slightly different angle when it comes to establishing the conceptual real estate your brand occupies in the minds of its audience.

The audience you are targeting, the industry in which you operate, and the types of products or services you offer all play a role in which market positioning type is right for your business. Let’s take a closer look at the 7 types of positioning strategies available.

1. Quality-Based Positioning

First up is quality-based positioning. Anchoring your brand’s position around the quality of your products or services is among the oldest and most fundamental positioning strategies. Customers, after all, should be able to trust that your brand will deliver top-notch products or services that are worth the money they’re willing to part with.

As we’ll see in the section below on how to create a brand positioning map, quality—like all of the positioning strategies listed here—exists on a spectrum. On the extreme end of the spectrum are brands like Louis Vuitton and Bentley, whose brands are positioned around luxury experiences. But quality doesn’t have to mean lavish expense. It can be as simple as a reliable product that always works the way it is designed to.

As with any positioning strategy, quality-based positioning is only as good as the brand experience behind it, of course. Brands have to walk the walk if they hope for any positioning to be lasting and impactful.

2. Price-Based Positioning

After quality-based positioning, the next-most common positioning strategy for brands over the past century has been value- or price-based positioning. As much as consumers want the best possible product or service available, they also want to spend the least amount of money acquiring it.

Brands that have successfully positioned around price include Southwest Airlines and the many iterations of dollar stores like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar.

Each of these brands has deftly established itself as a lower-cost alternative to other brands in the space. Southwest created an entirely new industry segment in pioneering the idea of budget air travel. Similarly, dollar stores redefined grocery shopping for a large segment of price-conscious consumers.

Affordability often comes at the expense of quality, at least in many audience’s minds. To overcome this association is the challenge of any brand looking to leverage price-based positioning.

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3. Benefit-Based Positioning

Where quality-based positioning is centered on overall superior performance, benefit-based positioning highlights specific benefits or features of a brand’s offering.

Think of Volvo’s age-old brand promise around the safety of its vehicles. For much of its existence, Volvo’s brand positioning has been laser-focused on this profound benefit. Few benefits are more important to Volvo’s target audience of middle-class families, which is what makes its benefit-based positioning so effective.

Or consider Sensodyne. Not many brands are so closely associated with such a unique product benefit. For people who are suffering from tooth sensitivity, there’s really only one brand that will be front of mind as an effective remedy. As with Volvo, Sensodyne has successfully positioned itself in the minds of its audiences as the go-to solution for a very specific problem.

4. Leader-Based Positioning

Leader-based positioning is all about situating your brand as the undisputed leader in its respective market. This is obviously not a positioning strategy that works for most brands. By definition, leader-based positioning is limited to just one or two brands in every industry or vertical (who is the actual “leader” in any industry is difficult to quantify, after all).

Leader-based positioning is also a tenuous strategy, as you never know when the winds of the market will shift, propelling one of your competitors into a more dominant position. And when a brand that’s gone all in on leader-based positioning unexpectedly loses its lead, it can be expensive to overhaul the many brand messaging and marketing assets that are no longer relevant.

All of that said, for those brands who do leverage it successfully, leader-based positioning can be a powerful angle. All things being equal, an audience who perceives a brand as the number one provider of its respective products or services has little incentive to buy from another brand. There must be good reason, the thinking goes, that your brand leads the field.

5. Competitor-Based Positioning

If you can’t claim to be leading the pack among your competitors, you can always pick one to position yourself in opposition to. Competitor-based positioning is where a brand draws a distinct comparison between itself and another brand, pointing out the downsides of its competitor to highlight the upsides of its own offerings.

Apple, for example, has long positioned itself as an artistic outlier brand, encouraging its customers to “think different.” But there was a stretch there where it explicitly positioned itself against its more popular PC competitors.

Remember the “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” commercials? By personifying its brand as a hip, snarky young man in comparison to a stodgy, conservative nerd, Apple was implicitly asking audiences who they’d rather be associated with.

6. Lifestyle-Based Positioning

When it comes to branding, there are functional benefits, there are emotional benefits, and there are self-expressive benefits. Lifestyle-based positioning highlights these last two types of benefits, appealing to audiences’ emotional connection to, and desire to be associated with, a distinct kind of lifestyle.

Think of Corona, whose commercials invariably feature sunny, tropical beaches, lounge chairs, and buckets of ice-cold beers sitting in the sand. Corona’s advertising implies that to taste its beer is to taste a worry-free lifestyle of barefoot leisure and relaxation.

Or take a brand like REI, whose lifestyle-based positioning is all about exploration and adventure. REI has masterfully associated itself with outdoor pursuits like camping, hiking, rock-climbing, and mountain biking. The thrill of an adventurous lifestyle is built into the very fabric of the REI brand.

7. Disruptive Positioning

If competitor-based positioning is about defining your brand in opposition to the competition, disruptive positioning is about defining your brand in opposition to industry norms.

If there is one industry where disruptive positioning has (ironically) become almost de rigueur, it is technology. As the digital economy ballooned throughout the first two decades of the twenty-first century, digital incursions into legacy industries rewrote customer expectations in almost every sector.

Netflix disrupted the entertainment industry, Uber disrupted the transportation industry, AirBnB disrupted the hotel industry, PayPal and Venmo disrupted the banking industry, DoorDash disrupted the restaurant industry. The list goes on.

While there is no shortage of examples, successfully leveraging disruptive positioning requires a revolutionary approach to whichever industry your brand operates in. As with any brand positioning framework, it isn’t enough to talk the talk—your business model has to walk the walk as well.

How to Build Strong Brand Positioning

Ignyte Brand Positioning
The world’s strongest brands are positioned in our minds in ways that feel timeless and intrinsic. Creating strong positioning isn’t magic, though. Like all things branding, it starts with good old-fashioned brand research.

There are three fundamental areas of understanding you need before you can position your brand. You need to understand your customers, your competitors, and your brand’s value proposition.

Understand Your Customers

If positioning is the process of situating your brand in customers’ minds, it stands to reason that you need to understand your customers to effectively position your brand. Specifically, you need to know things like:

  • Who are your most valuable customers?
  • What are those customers’ goals and motivations?
  • What are their needs and challenges?

The only way to get the answers to these questions is with thorough customer research in the form of initiatives like customer interviews and surveys.

Qualitative and quantitative customer research provides the valuable insights you need to create brand positioning that speaks directly to those you serve.

Understand Your Competition

Once you understand your customers, you need to understand the other options they have in the marketplace. Questions you need to answer include:

  • Who are your top competitors?
  • How are they positioned?
  • How do they differentiate themselves from the competition?

A competitive brand audit is the best way to answer these questions. By assessing the visual and verbal identities of your brand’s top competitors, you can understand how each is positioned within the competitive landscape.

More importantly, a competitive brand audit allows you to identity opportunities for differentiation.

Are there positioning opportunities that are not currently owned? What’s missing among the many offerings currently available to your customers?

Gaps within the competitive landscape often represent valuable opportunities for powerful positioning.

Understand Your Value Proposition

The final component of your positioning is an understanding of the unique value your brand offers.

Understanding your value proposition starts with analyzing the data from customer and competitive research. The questions you need to answer include:

  • What do customers value most about your brand?
  • How do customers see you as different from the competition?
  • What is your competitive advantage?

Working with these insights, the goal is to hone the disparate ideas into a singular value proposition that encompasses your brand’s defining benefit.

Once you understand your customers, your competition, and your value proposition, you can use these insights to create a brand positioning map and, finally, develop a compelling brand positioning statement. Let’s start with creating your brand positioning map.

How to Create a Brand Positioning Map

Ignyte - Brand Positioning - Brand Positioning Map
One of the best ways to define your brand’s positioning—as well as the positioning of the brands that comprise your competitive landscape—is by creating a brand positioning map.

A visual outline how your brand is perceived in relation to your most relevant competitors, a brand positioning map is an incredibly useful tool for identifying your brand’s unique strengths, as well as opportunities for competitive differentiation.

A simple four-quadrant graph with an x and y axis, a brand positioning map can be easily created in four simple steps.

1. Select Your Parameters

The first step in creating an effective brand positioning map is to define two values or parameters. The parameters you choose should be informed by both your business objectives and the industry in which you operate.

Think of your parameters as the factors your customers might consider when deciding between your brand and your competitors. Some common parameters include:

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Style
  • Practicality
  • Convenience
  • Selection

If your parameters were quality and price, for example, you would end up with four different quadrants:

  • Low-quality and high price
  • High-quality and high price
  • Low quality and low price
  • High quality and low price

Ignyte - Brand Positioning - Brand Positioning Map - Car Brands

Your parameters should be driven by your customers’ unique needs and challenges, as well as the value propositions you offer to address these needs and challenges.

2. Identify Your Competitors

The second step in creating a brand positioning map is to identify the competitor brands you plan to include beyond your own brand. Aim to identify around 10 competitors to give yourself a comprehensive look at the space.

A competitive brand audit is the best way to both identify your top competitors, as well as better understand how they are positioned in the space.

A brand audit enables you to document and assess how each of your competitors is talking about their brand and their offerings, including pinpointing important elements like positioning messaging, brand benefits, and key differentiators.

3. Orient Your Competitors

Working with the two parameters you’ve defined, it’s time to orient each competitor in its correct place on the map.

Data and insights from your brand audit (including any brand research or customer interviews you’ve done) should inform the correct orientation of each competitor brand.

Orient the brands one by one, adjusting for comparative positioning as you go. Using our hypothetical parameters as an example, any luxury brands that exist in your space would be oriented in the upper right quadrant, while any budget brands would be oriented in the lower left.

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4. Complete Your Map

Your final step in completing your map will be to orient your own brand in its appropriate location. Waiting to add your own brand until the end gives you better visibility into optimal positioning.

Now that your brand is oriented alongside your top competitors, you should have a complete picture of how you’re positioned in the marketplace—as well as in the mind of consumers.

Your brand’s positioning relative to the two parameters you’ve chosen and the other competitors on the map will provide invaluable insight into how best to communicate your brand’s unique value.

Next, we’ll explore how to craft a dynamic brand positioning statement to clearly and succinctly communicate the brand positioning that you’ve established.

How to Write a Brand Positioning Statement

Ignyte Brand Positioning
A brand positioning statement is a one- to two-sentence declaration that communicates your brand’s unique value to your target customers in the context of your competitive landscape.

Specifically, a positioning statement includes the following elements:

  • Competitive context: the business category in which your brand competes
  • Target audience: the type of customer your brand serves
  • Value proposition: the unique benefit your brand delivers
  • Reason to believe: proof you can deliver on what you promise

A typical format for a positioning statement is as follows:

For (target audience), Brand X is the only (competitive context) that (value proposition) because (reason to believe).

For example, back when it only sold books, Amazon’s positioning statement was the following:

“For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.”

Disney World’s positioning statement evokes the magic that is so central to its brand:

“For the young and young-at-heart, Walt Disney World is the theme park that best delivers on an immersive and magical experience because Walt Disney World, and only Walt Disney World, connects you to the characters and worlds you most desire.”

There are a few important things to keep in mind when it comes to your positioning statement:

  1. There’s no definitive positioning statement template. The above is just one format that is commonly used and succinctly incorporates all the critical elements a positioning statement should touch on.
  2. Your positioning statement is ultimately internal messaging that should serve to inform more dynamic and compelling external messaging like your brand’s tagline.
  3. Your positioning statement is only a summation of your positioning; it’s not the entirety of the positioning itself.

On this last point, your positioning should be comprehensively outlined in a brand brief or brand framework, a document that thoroughly details important brand components like your target audiences, brand compass, benefits, brand personality, brand archetype, etc.

Finally, while your brand’s positioning should be designed to be enduring, it is likely to change over time, reflecting changes in customer needs, shifts in the marketplace, and technological advances.

Effective brand management and regular brand audits will help to ensure you stay on top of industry changes.

Brand Positioning Examples

The best way to see brand positioning in action is look at how some of the world’s top brands have positioned themselves.

In each of the following examples, brand positioning comes alive in the brand’s tagline, copywriting, and visual identity.

Apple


By any measure, Apple is consistently among the world’s strongest brands. How do they maintain this status? With clearly defined and powerfully communicated positioning.

Apple’s products are the result of beautiful brand design. They’re distinct from any other competitor in the category. The brand has has defined itself as different, creative, and innovative.

The power of Apple’s positioning, however, is the brand’s ability to transfer the qualities of its products onto its customers. In subtle, highly resonant messaging, the brand tells its customers that if they align themselves with Apple, they too are different, creative, and innovative.

As a premium brand, Apple does not focus on price as one of its key benefits. It has cultivated such brand loyalty that customers are willing to pay more for its products. For many Apple devotees, you couldn’t pay them to use anything else.

Tesla

Ignyte Brand Positioning
Similar to Apple, Tesla is a premium brand that, in most cases, is more expensive than the competition. Price, therefore, does not factor into its positioning.

Tesla’s positioning instead focuses on the quality and, most importantly, innovation of its products in comparison to its competitors.

Tesla cars are high-performance vehicles that leverage industry-leading innovation to offer all the benefits of an electric vehicle with none of the sacrifices on speed or range.

What makes Tesla’s positioning so powerful is that it is singularly unique. Only Tesla owns this position of unrivaled innovation in customers’ minds. What started off as an automotive company has evolved into valuable brand extensions for its target audience.

A customer may buy Tesla car, then decide to install Tesla solar panels on their roof to charge the car, then buy a Powerwall battery storage system to power the rest of their house throughout the year.

The uniqueness of Tesla’s positioning is only reinforced by the eccentricities of its CEO. When customers buy a Tesla, they are in part associating themselves with the madcap visionary genius of Elon Musk, as evidenced in quirky features like the cars’ “Ludicrous Mode.”

Hubspot

Ignyte Brand Positioning
As Tesla and Apple have proved, the best positioning redefines the industry in which the brand operates.

Similarly, by coining the term “inbound marketing,” Hubspot positioned itself at the center of a fundamental shift in the way businesses acquire sales leads.

Hubspot’s positioning is centered on efficiency and user friendliness, putting customers at the center of its offerings. Other marketing automation tools offer similar features, but none are as easy to use.

In evolving from a marketing automation tool to an all-in-one platform including CRM and sales, Hubspot has proven its positioning at every turn, growing to meet user needs in a customer-centric approach that inspires everything from the brand’s messaging to its interface.

Intel

Ignyte - Brand Positioning - Intel
While it is at heart a B2B brand, Intel has long effectively positioned itself as a highly desirable “ingredient brand” in many well-known B2C products. This dynamic brand positioning is an essential part of the company’s success.

Few electronics consumers will not have heard of “Intel inside,” the brand’s sticky messaging conveying the superiority of its processors in desktop PCs, laptops, and other technology products.

Intel’s quality-based positioning has convinced millions of customers over the years to opt for pricier models of computers and gadgets, trusting that their money would be well-spent on products that were faster and more powerful than those without an Intel chip.

Lesser brands may have been pigeonholed by customer perceptions that they were only a chip manufacturer. But Intel has successfully extended its market positioning over the years with campaigns that unpacked how Intel technology makes some of the world’s most amazing experiences possible—from intelligent fashion to space travel.

The Takeaway

The process of situating your brand in customers’ minds, brand positioning is critical to communicating your brand’s unique value to those you serve.

Positioning shapes customer preferences, dictates buying behavior, and serves as the basis for customer loyalty. The world’s strongest brands are positioned in ways that feel timeless and intrinsic, but brand positioning isn’t magic.

By understanding your customers, your competition, and your brand’s value proposition, you can ensure your brand is positioned as unique, valuable, and impossible to forget.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has two decades of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, HuffPost, and Brand Quarterly.