It’s human nature to reflexively categorize and sort the information we encounter in our daily lives. To influence the way potential customers understand your brand, present it in a way that helps them decide how to think about your brand.
This process is called positioning and is the most important (and least understood) part of your brand book. Positioning is the message that is received, not the message that is delivered. It’s not just what you say, it’s how that information is organized in a customer’s head. Where does it actually end up? What space does it eventually take up?
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Positioning is about, well, taking a position. It’s a bet you plant in the minds of your potential customers about what your brand can uniquely claim and defend. A positioning statement is a clear, comprehensive way to guide someone in thinking about your business.
It defines and frames your brand, making it the central organizational structure of your brand’s messaging and strategy. To construct your positioning statement, you first need to do some work to surface its constituent parts.
Since positioning is about the space you occupy in your customer’s mind, you can’t figure out how to position your brand until you know exactly who that customer is. There is an order of operations when developing your brand, and developing your target characters comes before positioning. It’s also helpful to have fully developed your brand’s ethos before attempting to determine your positioning. Understanding who you are and who you serve are essential first inputs.
Your positioning statement serves as the foundation for developing your key messages, value propositions, slogans, and voice and tone.
Once the target customer has been identified, it’s time to establish your frame of reference – the context in which consumers see your brand. By providing consumers with a frame of reference, you equip them with the information they need to categorize, contextualize, and then compare your brand to what they already know.
This is important because potential customers need to consider parity points (that is, what your brand looks like) before they can consider differentiation points (what makes your brand unique). Competing frames of reference are usually specific to reduce the number of brands competing for that prospect’s attention.
The specificity of a frame of reference signals the customer where to put it in mind, and the smaller the category, the more likely you are to own it (or at least notice).
Excercise: List the top five brands in your category. If you’re not number 1 in that category, brainstorm other categories in which your brand is first or best.
Panera Bread is not the #1 fast food chain, but it is the #1 fast casual bakery cafe. Their frame of reference does not try to compete with established giants like McDonald’s or Starbucks. Instead, it puts Panera in a more specific, more proprietary category.
White Claw isn’t the best canned alcoholic drink, but it IS the #1 seltzer that will get you drunk. That makes ‘hard seltzer’ an effective frame of reference for a brand that would rather lead a category than compete with beer, malt drinks and wine coolers.