Brand positioning is a common way to differentiate one company from others on the market. It has been a part of strategic planning and marketing for a long time. However, many companies fear that winning a position will mean they lose the chance of mass-market appeal. As a result, several attempts have been made to tweak the concept of brand positioning. In “How brands grow” for example, Byron Sharp talks about distinguishing a brand instead of differentiating it. However, the strategies he describes has many similarities with traditional positioning. It is simply difficult to get around the fact that brands must be focused for people to have a relationship with them.
The risk is defining the market and the company’s role too narrowly
We believe that the biggest risk associated with brand positioning comes with defining the market a company plays in. In our experience, many define the business they are in too narrowly. We think that there is too much focus on fighting to win market shares from companies that do the same or similar thing as your brand. Instead, a future proof position is one that redefines the category. Companies that are successful do this by offering solutions to people’s problems. This perspective profoundly changes the view on competition and what rules to adhere to.
Chipotle is a good example of a brand that has worked successfully with brand positioning. The company solved a problem that many people had. Doing this, it re-shaped the fast food category in its favor.
Most companies know that attributes like great taste, value and quality are important to people choosing between fast food brands. Traditionally, the competition to be associated with these values has been fierce. Many brands fought for the same positions and focused on winning market shares from each other.
Chipotle realized that most fast food companies’ focus was too narrow. These brands focused only on the moment of consumption without understanding people’s need in a more holistic sense. Today, Chipotle has re-defined what quality is in the industry. They re-framed their perspective to include also the moments before consumption. Attributes such as organic and locally produced has since become more important to people looking for high quality fast food.
This re-definition of the category let Chipotle define a differentiating purpose: “Food with integrity”. It changed the way people perceive fast food in general, and gave the brand an advantage over brands like McDonalds or KFC.
Future-proof brand positioning
We believe that there are three main things that characterize a brand positioning with potential to become a future competitive advantage.
Based on purpose
Purpose is the glue that keeps the strategy together. We believe that companies must become leaders of movements to remain relevant to people in the future. The purpose resonates with the target group, inspires employees and helps define what context the brand should play in.
Solves relevant problems
Focus on solving people’s problems. This is one of the best ways to ensure future relevance. What the right problem to solve is depends on the brand and its target group. Our research has helped us define a number of areas where people look for solutions. Examples include freeing up time and increased transparency.
Explore what the future might look like
Qualitative and quantitative research can help map the most relevant potential future scenarios. This understanding helps companies remain relevant by indicating the positioning’s future relevance.
The context a company defines for itself determines where it has the right to play. Broadening this definition opens up for opportunities in the shape of, for example, market extensions and partnerships.