Positioning is the First Task of Good Marketing

“A brand is what someone says about you when you’re not in the room.”

That’s Jeff Bezo’s definition of a brand, and it’s as good as any I have ever seen. That guy just might make something of himself.

Every business has a brand, of course, but not all take the steps needed to proactively manage and shape their brand. They seem content to let others define who they are and what they represent to the market.

That’s not good, obviously, but a surprising number of business owners and CEOs don’t think deeply about their branding, starting first and foremost with how they are positioned.

Positioning is the first, and perhaps most important, step to defining your brand. It should take place before you develop that clever logo, new website or killer Instagram content. Positioning is putting your brand in the mind of your customers and prospects in a way that clearly differentiates your business from the competition.

Good marketing is good differentiation – it helps drive brand awareness, shapes perceptions of value and cements pricing models. Done properly, positioning shows up on a balance sheet and bottom-line business results.

There are a range of positioning strategies that can be used to differentiate your brand. Here are a few to consider:

Low-Cost Differentiation – price is a big driver for many brands. If you’re the low-cost provider that clearly differentiates you from higher priced offerings. Think dollar stores or Walmart.

Premium Pricing Differentiation – higher price is often correlated to quality or exclusivity. A brand can increase prices or launch at a higher price point to drive perceived value of its products amongst consumers.  Rolex is a good example – a Timex tells time just as well, for about $10,000 less, so why get the Rolex? You know the answer.

Status Differentiation – premium luxury brands like Hermes and Louis Vuitton make beautiful things, but the status they bring to their customers is the real product.  Related to premium pricing, they are a badge the consumer uses to present their image to the world. That can bring outlandish margins when done well.

Innovation Differentiation – innovation is a powerful differentiator, just ask Elon Musk. Early adopters will flock to the newest thing, particularly if it does what you promise it will do. Tesla’s legion of fans are fanatical about their EV cars.

Quality Differentiation – quality differentiation will allow you to charge more than some of your competitors, like Honda and Toyota do, because consumers know you will deliver on the quality promise.

Customer Service Differentiation – people respond well to good customer service yet it’s often a rare commodity. Costco lets you return pretty much anything at pretty much anytime. That builds tremendous brand loyalty and differentiates the company from other retailers who make returns an excruciating process.

Scarcity Differentiation – people always want what they can’t have, and scarcity, or perceived scarcity, can crank up desire for a product or experience. Look at the hypebeast brand Supreme – with only 12 stores, the company sold for $2.1 billion last year to the parent company of Vans and Timberland, largely because they make it deliberately difficult to buy their products, and as result have driven a frenetic level of consumer desire and secondary market action.

Values Differentiation – many consumers are looking for brands that share their values. Patagonia has built a billion- dollar business by taking firm stands on issues based on their clearly defined values.

There are other ways to position your brand, of course, so don’t be constrained by this list.

The takeaway is that every business should actively consider how to differentiate itself from the competition through effective and thoughtful positioning. Start with understanding what makes your business special – the key to your differentiation strategy will lie there.

Good brands are built on authenticity. Be deliberate in how you present this authentic point of difference (with a dash of aspiration) to the market and you will be rewarded with more effective marketing, higher sales and stronger customer loyalty.

Allan Gates

Allan Gates is the president of Bonfire.