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Brand Positioning 101

Brand Positioning 101

Brand positioning owns a variety of definitions. It exists in military settings, business settings, and marketing settings. Positioning can mean the way you place a chess piece. Positioning can mean the way you set your company up in the market. Positioning can mean the way you promote your brand.

What’s the Definition of Brand Positioning?

You won’t find the definition of positioning in the dictionary. Ironically, you won’t get a singular definition if you place a bunch of marketers in a room and ask them for it. What is the definition of positioning, this all-important piece of marketing that few completely understand? Positioning, at its simplest form, is a singular perception that we want our customers to think and feel about our brand that positively differentiates it from the competition.

To go beyond the definition, positioning is not a message or a tagline, it is the internal compass used to direct all communications that flow out of the brand. Positioning is not what you do to the product, but what you do to the mind of your customer.

The essence of positioning has been with us since one man realized he wanted to be different from another. People have strived to differentiate themselves for ages, painting their skin, wearing a different color, taking on a different style, the list goes on. But differentiation is only half of it, what about the strategy, the execution? Look no further than the idea of owning the high-ground. That is positioning in its simplest form, holding a post above the competition and forcing them to fight around it.

Positioning in History

Time gave people products and, eventually, people figured out that they wanted to differentiate their products, that they wanted to sell more chickens than their neighbor, that their shade of purple was more royal than anothers, that they made the best tasting wine in town.

Centuries later, brands evolved and people gave products their own set of traits, turned them into their own character, if you will. (A prime example of this being Tony the Tiger, created by Leo Burnett for Kelloggs). For a long time, brands needed nothing more than a lot of exposure and a loveable personality. They didn’t have to worry about people’s minds being flooded by millions of advertisements; at the time there weren’t almost 500 brands of breakfast cereal.

Positioning, in its modern form, evolved out of brands’ needs to be different, no, better than one another. Much like ancient man, brands grew out of their early shell and desired to be on top. Catchy gimmicks and a lot of ad presence weren’t going to cut it anymore, brands had to get smart. They had to strategically choose the way they would differentiate themselves and stick with it. Nowadays, a variety of brands employ solid positioning to their benefit, but most brands seem to have lost sight of what good positioning is. They are merely content to check the box on positioning and say they tried, thinking that just doing it will make their money go further.

Al Ries and Jack Trout can be thought of as the fathers of the modern positioning era. In their own words, Positioning has become the buzzword of advertising and marketing people. Not only in America, but around the world. Most people think positioning got started in 1972 when we wrote a series of articles entitled “The Positioning Era” for the trade paper Advertising Age. The two marketers responded to an idea circulating in the air at the time, Today’s marketplace is no longer responsive to the strategies that worked in the past. There are just too many products, too many companies, and too much marketing noise. They saw that it would take more than just brilliant creative and product features, communication itself was not the solution. Back in the fifties, advertising was in the product era. In a lot of ways, these were the good old days when the better mousetrap and some money to promote it were all you needed. The product era had to end for the positioning era to begin. To think like they did in the fifties would get you killed in today’s market.

About The Author

As a lead strategist for a top NYC agency, Sumit Agrawal leads client project teams in finding innovative solutions to positioning and branding challenges. With consumer and healthcare marketing experience, he has had the opportunity to work with some of the top brands, including: AstraZeneca, Dow Chemicals, Medtronic, Avocados From Mexico, Jose Cuervo, Eli Lilly, Novartis, and more. For private consulting opportunities and additional discussion contact Sumit via LinkedIn.