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.
What is brand positioning? Why does it matter? In what follows, we’ll answer these questions and more, taking a deep dive into all things brand positioning, exploring some of the world’s best brand positioning examples, and showing you how to create competitive positioning that will drive business performance.
- What is Brand Positioning?
- Why Does Brand Positioning Matter?
- The Insights You Need to Position Your Brand
- 7 Types of Positioning Strategies
- How to Create a Brand Positioning Map
- The 9 Components of Brand Positioning
- How to Write a Brand Positioning Statement
- Brand Positioning Examples
- The Takeaway
What is Brand Positioning?
Brand positioning is the process of defining the space your brand occupies in customers’ minds, especially as it relates to similar brands in the marketplace. Brand positioning is an integral component of brand strategy.
How is your 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 your customer’s mind. Where your brand exists on the spectra most relevant to its industry determines how it is positioned.
As we’ll see, there are many different types of positioning, but they all include the same fundamental components, including the competitive landscape you operates in, the benefits you offer to those you serve, how you’re different from the competition, your brand’s unique look-and-feel, and much more.
Why Does Brand Positioning Matter?
As you might imagine, the position your brand occupies in your customer’s mind is incredibly important. As Wikipedia notes, “positioning is one of the most powerful marketing concepts.”
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 key to 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 in marketing 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.
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.
The Insights You Need to Position Your Brand
The world’s strongest brands are positioned in our minds in ways that feel timeless and intrinsic. Creating strong competitive 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 company itself.
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?
Qualitative and quantitative customer research provides the valuable insights you need to create brand positioning that speaks directly to those you serve.
Understand Your Company
The next insight you need for your positioning is an understanding of your company itself. How your team experiences your brand is just as important to its success as how your customers experiences it, after all.
Just as research is essential for understanding your customers, it’s also key to understanding your team. Internal research in the form of one-on-one interviews and—if you work at a large organization—quantitative surveys is the best way to get these insights
Questions to ask yourself when setting out to understand how your team experiences your brand include:
- What do team members say is our brand’s biggest strengths? How about its biggest weaknesses?
- How are we different than the competition in the eyes of our team
- How does our team describe our core values and company culture?
Data from even the most basic internal research initiative will give you insights you need to create the type of positioning that attracts not just better customers, but also better team members.
Understand Your Competition
The final piece of insight you need is a deep understanding of other competitors in the space. This is because understanding your customers isn’t enough; you need to understand the other options they have in the marketplace.
When it comes to competitive insights, questions should answer include:
- Who are our 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 competitive 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.
Once you understand your customers, your company, and your competition, you can use these insights to choose a brand positioning strategy, which will provide a valuable framework for defining the various components of your brand positioning.
7 Types of Positioning Strategies
There are many types of brand positioning strategies, each taking a slightly different approach to establishing the conceptual real estate your brand occupies in the minds of your 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 positioning type is right for your business.
Let’s take a closer look at the 7 types of positioning strategies.
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.
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 Create a Brand Positioning Map
Can’t decide which brand positioning strategy is right for your business? Creating a brand positioning map may give you the insight you need.
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 brand positioning map is a simple four-quadrant graph with an x and y axis, and 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:
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
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.
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.
The 9 Components of Brand Positioning
Once you have a sense of the positioning strategy that’s best for your brand, the real work can begin. The core of any positioning project includes defining 9 components that will shape how customers understand your brand.
The work of defining your 9 brand positioning components should be strategic and collaborative. It’s the kind of work that’s best done in hands-on workshops with key stakeholders throughout your organization. This includes representatives from your leadership team, sales team, marketing department, and even human resources.
When each of these departments has the opportunity to contribute to the positioning process, it results in more authentic, accurate positioning. It also facilitates company-wide understanding and buy-in—because everyone has a stake in the outcome of the brand.
A key outcome of the brand positioning process should be the formal documentation of your 9 positioning components. Known as a brand brief or brand positioning framework, this document should be presented to everyone in your organization (and made readily available after the presentation), so they are intimately familiar with the brand’s positioning.
Let’s take a look at 9 components of brand positioning that should be defined in a positioning workshop and documented in your brand brief:
We’ve already seen why understanding your target audiences is so important. Positioning is ultimately about shaping how they understand your brand. Your target audiences are the top 2 to 4 most important audiences at which your brand and its messaging are aimed. These might include customers, investors, donors, employees, strategic partners, etc.
Target audiences often include specific segments within one or more of these audience types. Your top 3 audiences might be 3 different kinds of customers, for example, segmented by job role, location, product or service, or some other trait. The key is to choose and define the most important audiences for your brand—the type of audiences for whom you’ll create unique, targeted marketing campaigns.
Your brand category is the industry, market, or vertical your brand operates in. The key to defining your brand category is to define it in a way that is not too narrow and not too broad.
The “goldilocks” zone for a brand category is one that provides important contextual information for your target audiences, without limiting the scope or growth potential of your brand.
While they are both automotive brands, for example, a brand like Mercedes Benz is positioned as a luxury automotive brand, while a brand like Porsche is positioned as a performance automotive brand.
Your key offerings are the top 3 to 5 products or services you offer. Narrowing your offerings to as few as possible is a valuable opportunity to focus your brand. If you have a long list of products or services, consider grouping them into higher-order categories.
Key offerings play an important role in things like brand architecture and website architecture. They should be highly intuitive, mapping to the way customers naturally think about the products or services you offer. A visit to Tesla’s website, for example, makes it immediately clear that the brand’s key offerings are simple: Vehicles, Charging, and Energy.
Your brand benefits are the most important benefits your brand purports to offer those it serves. We usually recommend choosing 5 brand benefits, each of which can serve as an anchor for unique brand messaging aimed at each of your target audiences.
Brand benefits are not necessarily the place to worry about differentiation. That’s what your key differentiators are for. Rather, brand benefits are high-level ideas like speed, convenience, affordability, confidence. Think of your brand benefits as the intersection between the features of your products or services and the pains & gains of your target audience.
Your key differentiators are the 3 most important ways your brand is distinct from the competition. Essential to competitive differentiation, your key differentiators answer the question “Why should a customer buy from your brand rather than one of your competitors?”
Unlike your brand benefits, which are more abstract, your key differentiators should be tied to real-world, tangible offerings. They should speak directly to the needs of your target audience in a way that is compelling and unique.
The most important thing is that your key differentiators are actually differentiated. As we’ve already seen, the best way to ensure this with a competitive brand audit that outlines how your top competitors set themselves apart. While it’s okay to share one or two of your key differentiators with a competitor, you wouldn’t want to share all 3.
Your brand promise is the value or experience you vow to deliver every time your audience engages with your brand. It’s the solemn pledge you make to those you serve.
Your brand promise should take the form of a short sentence aimed directly at those you serve. This can take the form of a tagline, like GEICO’s “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance” or it can be a more implicit through line, like Volvo’s “Safety.”
The most important part of your brand promise is that it is kept—every time. So, whether your promise is centered on safety, quality, service, or some other key area of value, it should be something you are confident you can deliver on.
Delivering on your brand promise is the best way to foster customer trust. And customer trust is the foundation of brand loyalty.
Brand archetypes are timeless characters in a story that every human is familiar with, by virtue of being a human. The idea of archetypes influenced the thinking of everyone from Plato to Carl Jung to Joseph Campbell, the last of whom found that throughout the history of mankind, across cultures and societies, the same story appears again and again.
The characters from this story (what Campbell calls The Hero’s Journey) are embodied in 12 brand archetypes. From the Innocent to the Sage to the Outlaw to the Hero himself, these characters are familiar to all of us, no matter where we live or how old we are.
Brand archetypes are so innately familiar that by identifying which archetype your brand most embodies, you can tell a story that will resonate with audiences on a deep and instinctual level.
Your brand personality is the set of human traits that defines how your brand looks, sounds, and acts. Essentially, your brand personality describes your brand if it were a person.
Defining your brand personality is the most powerful way to bring your brand to life in a way that audiences can recognize and identify with, on a human level.
We usually recommend choosing 4 traits to define your brand personality. Brainstorm which 4 words you’d use to describe your brand if it were a person, and write a short description of each trait.
Your brand personality should serve as creative inspiration (and guardrails) for all your brand’s touchpoints—from your logo and colors to your brand voice and messaging.
Your big idea is a summation of your entire brand positioning boiled down to just 2 or 3 words. It’s the through line that connects your entire brand experience. Your big idea is the very essence of your brand.
Your big idea can take the form of a tagline, but it doesn’t have to. A good big idea is simply stated, highly relevant, deeply human, emotionally charged, and very concise.
Think of Kaiser Permanente’s “Thrive” or Nike’s “Just Do It.” More than just taglines, these ideas speak to the both the purpose and positioning of these brands. They speak volumes with very few words.
How to Write a Brand Positioning Statement
One final component to consider when defining your brand positioning is a simple positioning statement. A brand positioning statement is a one- to two-sentence statement that communicates your brand’s unique value to your target audience in the context of your competitive landscape.
It’s worth taking a moment to unpack what is meant by a positioning statement and look at a couple positioning statement examples.
A positioning statement is a functional summary of your brand’s position in the marketplace that includes four unique vectors:
- Brand category: the industry or vertical 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 template is as follows:
For (target audience), Brand X is the only (brand category) that (value proposition) because (reason to believe).
For our first positioning statement example, let’s look at how Amazon sought to position itself back when it only sold books:
“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.”
Another good brand positioning statement example is Disney World’s, which 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:
- 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.
- Your positioning statement is ultimately a functional piece of messaging whose primary purpose is to inform, not persuade.
- Your positioning statement is only a summation of your positioning; it’s not your positioning itself.
As you can probably surmise from our brand positioning statement examples, while your positioning statement should be both tenable and durable, 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.
As we’ll see, positioning in marketing is a powerful force. It defines how customers understand and experience your brand, determining whether they see you as not just a relevant solution, but one that resonates on a personal, emotional level.
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. Through its product positioning, 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.
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.
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 marketing 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.
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 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.
While there is no definitive brand positioning template, there are important processes, components, and frameworks to keep in mind if you want to create strong competitive positioning. By understanding your customers, your competition, and your business itself, you can position your brand as unique, indispensable, and impossible to forget.