Brand positioning is a simple concept, but hard to get right. Why is positioning so important not only for companies, brands but also for individuals? What are the benefits of positioning? And how can you go about finding your own position?
Here’s a crucial reminder to get us started: if you don't define your own position, others will define it for you. In the words of Jeff Bezos: “your brand is what others say about you when you’re not in the room.” Positioning yourself is, in many ways, taking an active role in shaping this narrative.
Our minds rely on making distinctions and classifications to navigate the complexities of the world. Words, names, and ideas serve as essential tools for categorization, helping us differentiate, organize, and bring order to our thoughts. Similarly, in the broader context, a brand's position acts as a crucial point of distinction and classification. Just as human communication necessitates the use of names, categories, and various linguistic elements, the realm of branding and product categorization remains indispensable for our understanding and engagement with the world.
Positioning drives your direction; it tells everyone who you are.
In today's fast paced life, we grapple with the challenge of navigating through a multitude of information. Coupled with information overload, this poses a significant hurdle for individuals and organizations alike. The primary struggle revolves around gaining clarity regarding one's identity, objectives, and desired outcomes.
Positioning differentiates you and cuts through the clutter . In other words, positioning makes you the clear voice in a sea of noise. Clear and consistent positioning instills trust, simplifies choice by reducing risk, spurs demand and if done correctly, creates pricing power. As you begin to occupy a place/position in an audience’s mind and heart, it builds loyalty and creates value over time.
Position to be First
In July 1969, three men wrote history, taking humanity to the moon for the first time: Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on the moon. Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin followed only minutes later. Who was the third man on that mission? Most of us know of Neil Armstrong. Few remember Buzz Aldrin. No one remembers Michael Collins - the third member of the crew. Yet he was critically important, Aldrin and Buzz would never have made it onto the moon, let alone back, without him. While his colleagues completed the first walk on the moon, Collins piloted the capsule. What do we take from this?
Simple: Positioning works best when you’re first. Look at these examples of brands that have managed to occupy entire categories:
- Search engine – Google
- Energy drink – Red Bull
- Crystals – Swarovski
- Boxed napkins – Kleenex
- Choppers – Harley-Davidson
- Sticky Papers – Post-It
- Multifunctional knives – Victorinox Swiss Army
- Boxers – Calvin Klein
- Scooters – Vespa
- Coffee capsules – Nespresso
None of these came into existence overnight. Strategic positioning takes time, careful reflection, and guts. It involves finding your brand’s niche, category, or segment and if possible, dominating it. Sure, it’s hard to achieve – but it pays huge dividends.
“Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect” Al Ries and Jack Trout
Generally, the stronger the positioning of a brand the more people must pay for non-rational or beyond rational propositions. Luxury serves as an excellent proxy here. These propositions are deliberately not targeted at everyone to start with. Deliberate eliminators such as price or access exclude the vast majority of people. For example, watches by Breguet or Audemars Piguet priced at $10,000 and up are made only for select groups of watch collectors, status-seeking consumers or the 0.1% of the world’s population for whom money is just no issue. Within such a tight, yet competitive market space, strategic positioning is everything.
In the words of Denis Morisset, a business leader from the luxury industry: “If you know who you are, you are much more efficient. You are much more likely to be successful in life. Same thing for brands. What is important is that DNA is not what the consumers want. That’s the privilege of a luxury brand. They have this vision, they have this signature. They are not defined by consumers. … You don’t tell me who I am. I know who I am."
Positioning is first and foremost about who you are not, as much as it is about who you are. Or in other words, it is about exclusion. A bit of positive polarization and deliberate distance to ‘traditional’ competition can go a long way. A luxury watch’s competition may not be other brands, but other categories altogether. Or in the words of Lady Gaga: “I'm not interested in people positioning me next to other artists”. The benefit of such clarity is focus and efficiency – in pretty much everything you do.
If securing the leading position isn't attainable, a reevaluation is in order. The golden rule is always to strive for the coveted "first" position. This may involve being the top-ranked leader in a category or market, akin to Apple's iPhones/iPads pioneered by Steve Jobs. Alternatively, being a pioneer or inventor, exemplified by The Jet Business, the world's first aviation showroom founded by Steve Varsano, is another pathway to achieving this status. Where or in what can you be the world’s best or first?
Steps to Clarify Your Positioning:
Crafting a clear and authentic personal brand statement serves as a guiding beacon for your actions, decisions, and interactions, helping you consistently communicate your personal positioning to others.
At its core, positioning revolves around focus — be it on the core product or service, the core industry, the core concept, or the core target audience. To establish yourself as an expert, best candidate, professional or authority, precision is key; being too general dilutes your impact. Remaining steadfastly loyal to yourself and navigating a specific path allows you to transcend mere expertise, evolving into an irreplaceable small monopoly.
To get started you will need an honest and candid about yourself. What are you strong at, why? What do you believe in, what drives you? In addition to knowing yourself well, you also need to intrinsically understand and match what you are strong at with your audiences. Getting under their skin, in the boots etc. of your audience is the only way to engage, inspire, and connect in a way that is both meaningful and valuable.
Engaging in thoughtful self-reflection. Identify your core values, strengths, and passions. Consider your unique skills, experiences, and personal attributes that set you apart.
- Define Your Why
Clearly articulate your purpose and aspirations. Why do you do what you do? What motivates you? What are your long-term goals? Understand the impact you want to make in your professional and personal life.
- Identify Your Target Audience
Whom do you want to connect with or serve, why? What do you bring to them? Recognize the characteristics and preferences of your target audience. Understanding the needs and expectations of your intended audience is crucial in aligning your personal positioning with those you aim to resonate with.
- Articulate Your Unique Offering
Identify your unique skills, experiences, and perspectives that differentiate you from others. This step involves a candid assessment of your strengths from Step 1 and the value you bring to your target audience (Step 3).
- Craft, Test, Refine – And then Stick with it
In the art of self-positioning, clarity emerges as your guiding light. Crafting your distinct narrative is not just a strategic choice; it's your passport to becoming an irreplaceable force in your chosen area. Dare to stand out, stay true, and let your distinct positioning be the anthem of your success.