You know the old saying: “Behind every great man is a great woman.”
Putting aside the inherent misogyny of that old quote for just a second, the phrase contains a universal truth. One that applies to more than just men and women. There’s much more to any great public success than meets the eye. Everything you see is only possible because of something strong and powerful behind the scenes.
Picture a specific brand in your mind right now. One that you identify with strongly.
What do you see? Perhaps it’s a logo, or a brand avatar, or an app. Perhaps it’s a tagline or a jingle. Maybe it’s even a person associated with the brand, or a physical product.
These are all examples of Brand Identity, or the tangible ways a brand appeals to your senses. From an external perspective, these aspects define the brand. They are the brand, the brand is them.
But to those working on the inside, these aspects of Brand Identity are nothing more than temporary expressions of the real brand. They are merely the end results of a painstakingly thorough branding process. But where does this brand come from? Where does the branding process begin?
The answer is Positioning.
The Power of Positioning Strategy
Supporting every effective brand is a positioning strategy that drives all strategic planning, marketing, and sales.
Effective positioning evolves to create openings in a market that is continually changing, a market in which consumers are absolutely saturated with messages, products, and choice. Effective positioning cuts through the mindless static and strikes minds into consciousness. It makes people not just notice you, but remember you.
Now that we’ve gotten that across, let’s revise that sexist old quote. How about “Behind every great brand is a great positioning strategy.”
Positioning is a revolutionary branding concept developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout in 1981. They defined positioning as the scaffolding on which companies build their brands, strategize their planning, and extend their relationships with customers. Positioning takes into account the mix of price, product, promotion, and place—the four dimensions that affect all sales.
Ries and Trout were convinced that each company must determine its position in the customer’s mind, considering the needs of the customer, the strengths and weaknesses of the company, and how they fit into the broader competitive landscape.
“Positioning is the first step in building a brand; the process of radically differentiating a product, service, or company in a customer’s mind to obtain a strategic competitive advantage.” - Al Ries and Jack Trout, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
At its heart, positioning is about differentiation. But to guarantee the kind of long-term customer loyalty and profit growth that you seek, you need to be more than just different. You need to be radically different.
Traditional differentiation is an uphill battle in which companies lavish too much effort on too few competitive advantages: the latest feature, a new color, a lower price, a higher speed. Radical differentiation, on the other hand, is about finding a whole new market space you can own and defend, delivering handsome profits over years instead of months.
Think of radical differentiation as the engine for a high-performance brand. It gets you on the fast track to having more people happily buy more stuff for more years at a higher price.
That’s what effective branding is all about: more people buying more often for a longer period of time who are happy to pay a premium for their preferred choice.
Being radically different in your positioning creates a strategic filter for questions such as “What should we do?” “How should we do it?” “How should we explain ourselves?” “Who should we hire?” and “How should we behave?”
What stops most companies and organizations from becoming radically different is the cloud of uncertainty that follows innovation. In an effort to remove the cloud, leaders often look to generate feedback from their customers. But when you ask people what they want, they’ll invariably say they want more of the same, only with better features, a lower price, or some mix of both. This is not a recipe for radical differentiation. This is a recipe for me-too brands with pint-sized profit potential.
Finding open market space is a counterintuitive skill. The human perceptual system is only programmed to notice what’s there, not what’s not there. In perceptual theory, the difference between THERE and NOT THERE is known as figure and ground, or positive and negative space. Artists and designers are trained to appreciate both at once, which may explain why they sometimes notice things that others don’t. Your company needs to think like an artist when looking for new market space, because the white space is where the greatest opportunity lives.
Exercise: Build Your Brand’s Positioning Strategy
To help you begin to put these ideas into action, I’d like to share with you an exercise that I coach clients through during our live Brand Workshops. For free!
In this exercise, we develop an “only-ness” statement that summarizes what makes your brand radically different from every other alternative in one concise, but encompassing sentence. I incorporated this exercise into my framework after reading an incredible book called Zag written by Marty Neumeier, often referred to as the Godfather of Modern Branding.
To get your free-download of the Positioning Worksheet I use for all my paying clients, just follow this link to the download page.
Every effective brand is driven by being an “only”. What makes you the “only”?