Brand positioning is at the heart of marketing. What we communicate about our brands starts with how we position the brand in the marketplace.
Each word on its own holds a lot of meaning. But when you add them together, things can get a little more confusing.
Brand. What are we referring to here? Is this the design: the colours, font, and logo? Or what the brand stands for: the values, mission and vision?
The same is said for Positioning. Do we immediately jump into how our brand is different from the competition? Or are we trying to tell the customer something new about what they think our type of product should be?
You can start to see how brands get this mistaken. And why a lot of business leaders skip over this crucial piece to defining the brand.
To clear the fog around your brand's positioning, I thought having a conversation between two people would highlight this well.
And one of the most insightful ways to have a conversation is with Socrates. That is, using his method of reasoning to arrive at new answers. Better conclusions. Or to uncover hidden assumptions.
The Socratic method is older than Socrates himself.
I know this because kids have been curious as long as mammals have been producing offspring.
No matter where a child is from or what language they speak, they all learn the power of questions. 'Why' is probably the third word out of their mouths after mama or dada.
Asking questions helps the child understand the reasoning behind its parent's rules. Or why some things are acceptable in public and why other things aren't. Like, why does the child have to wear pants in public?
So let's answer this big question, what is brand positioning?. I'll play the student in this conversation and let Socrates be the teacher he is.
Down the rabbit hole
Kellan (student): Why is brand positioning critical for a company's success?
Socrates (marketing teacher): It's the way you tell your brand's message. Describe what it values. And how you compete against other businesses.
Kellan: Why do you need to tell your brand's message? Shouldn't a person simply want a product and know which company has that product?
Socrates: Yes, in a perfect world where there's one product to solve one problem, for one type of person, there would be one product. But, in today's world, there are thousands of products for people to choose from. Because each product helps different people in subtly different ways.
K: So, what exactly is a brand positioning to the customer?
S: You're trying to create something memorable in the customer's mind, so they remember you.
K: Remember you for what?
S: Remember you for when they're ready to buy for when they're prepared to solve the problem they're facing.
K: Geez! I can barely remember to brush my teeth every night. So how can a brand take up space in the customer's mind to remember something?
S: By refining the brand's message into an idea. The same way we attach brushing our teeth every night, and morning, to the idea of our friends not being disgusted by the smell of our breath.
K: Right, when you put it that way, I can see how vital brushing my teeth is to my hygiene and making friends. But what does an idea and messaging have to do with buying something?
S: Well, an idea is one of the easiest ways our minds remember because ideas are very similar to beliefs. After all, what we believe about ourselves dictates how we react to events, and ultimately what our life looks like. We're guided by our beliefs.
K: Okay! Now we're going a bit too deep. All I want to know is how to get someone to remember my product when they're ready to buy?
S: Exactly. And to do that, we must use an idea – a message – that fits a belief in the customer's story. The story a customer is already telling themself about the world.
K: A customer's story?! How do I know what someone believes about the world and themself? People are complex. And there are thousands, if not millions, of stories out in the world.
S: Easy, let's replace the word 'story' with 'worldview.' That is, someone's view of the world.
How someone views the world is based on their beliefs. "I believe brushing my teeth is important to attract a mate." "I believe shoes should express my unique character." "I believe I need a MacBook because I see everyone else using them, so they must be good."
And because stories are based around worldviews, we can narrow down the common beliefs within a group. "People like us think like this."
K: Well, it's even more complicated now. Worldviews? Beliefs? These are big topics. I didn't go to school for psychology, so how can I, a marketer, apply this to my business?
S: You don't have to go to school for this. Observation is one of the best teachers we have. It turns out you're already familiar with beliefs and worldviews. You go through your days, weeks and months subconsciously acting on your beliefs.
The next time you're about to buy something, eat something, stay in or go out, ask yourself why you're doing that thing. At the core of your answer will be a belief you have about yourself and the situation.
K: So from your example with buying a MacBook, I'm buying the computer because it's in line with a belief?
S: Yes, of course! On the surface – whether or not you're aware of it – you believe you need to buy a computer because you don't have one. Or, you believe a new one is better than your old one.
Either way, you've said to yourself, "I believe I need this MacBook because it's a tool that will help me with coding or designing websites." Which is true.
And so Apple created a brand position of "helping people think differently; do creative work."
This is why you associate (remember) an Apple MacBook as being the tool to help you with creative work.
K: I get it. I can see how my belief about being a creative person and needing the best tool to get the job done leads my mind to Apple. The company that I believe best matches who I am.
S: To wrap this up, brand positioning is repeatedly helping customers remember a message about a brand.
That message is an idea that someone believes about themself.
Remember, brand positioning is never about your business. It's about the customer and what they believe about your product and what it will do for them.