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Most marketers (and many non-marketers) would agree that a brand positioning statement is a critical strategic tool to help set direction for a brand (or company… or both). But if you haven’t taken a look in a while, don’t have one yet, or have one but seek to improve it, you need a format that you know will be effective.
While the format in this article will be helpful, also keep in mind that much of the work lies in your own hands. How you use the tool matters. So, before jumping to the very end and downloading the template, I recommend you read this entire article to help make the most of your opportunity.
SOME GROUND RULES
A brand positioning statement is an internal document. It’s meant to set clear direction for the business, so you should err on the side of clarity as opposed to creative or fanciful language. Since all executions flow from the positioning strategy, you want the direction to be clear and unmistakable.
You also need to decide upfront what your objective is. One option is to write positioning for where you want the brand to be. Another is to simply capture where the brand is today. Ideally you would write where you want to go. However, I’ve seen many brand leaders start with this goal and then capture the brand according to current market executions or current consumer feedback. The result is that you end up with something that feels less strategic and more like handcuffs.
One other important point of emphasis is that great positioning (and strategy in general) is about making choices. This is much easier said than done, especially when you are writing your own positioning statement. Some brands choose to enlist agency or consulting help with their positioning, often for this very same reason. Sometimes it’s easier for an outsider or third party (with no emotional attachment) to explore options and make choices.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Before you can write a sound or effective brand positioning statement, you need to do some homework. That’s right… you aren’t going to get off that easy. The full extent and depth of the homework you should be doing is enough to fill many other articles. Here I’ll simply give you an overview of some of the key things you should be researching/analyzing to inform positioning.
The Target. You will need to define your target audience. You can start by looking at basic demographics, psychographics and even industry (for B2B). You’ll also need to get into the mindset of your target. Doing the proper research here will lead you to very important mindsets, behaviors, beliefs and pain points. Connecting to these insights will drive your brand’s relevance. Whether it’s a functional problem or an emotional desire (or both), you need to find something in the target’s life that’s worth solving for. Many times there are undermet or overmet needs that are uncovered during research.
The Competitive Set. You will need to define exactly whom you compete with. At minimum you should identify your primary competition. You may also have secondary competition. But, even if you have multiple frames of reference for your competition, you need to identify the primary competition for positioning purposes (or at minimum you need a single common thread among all competitors to position against). Once you know whom you are up against, think about their strengths and weaknesses. In most cases you’ll position against a competitive weakness as opposed to competing head-to-head on one of their strengths.
Your Brand. What equity do you own? What equity do you want to own? What are your strengths? Which of these strengths are potential points of difference (PODs) when held up against your competition? What does your brand uniquely provide or do that addresses a need or problem that the target has?
Once you feel like you have uncovered a core problem or tension that your brand uniquely answers versus competition, you are ready to write. You may have even found more than one potential answer. Great! You can write them all up and later either make the call (OK but less than ideal) or gather customer/consumer feedback as to which approach holds the most promise.
THE TRADITIONAL BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT
There are lots of variations on the brand positioning statement. Generally speaking, there isn’t a right or wrong way to write it. It comes down to what’s most useful for the business, often influenced by the preferences of marketing leadership.
The traditional brand positioning statement typically includes four elements: the target, the competitive frame of reference, the benefit, and the reason(s) to believe (RTBs). These are often written into a prose format as follows.
To [insert target definition/customer group], [brand name] is the brand of [competitive frame of reference] that provides [benefit]. That’s because [reasons to believe].
Some positioning statements will include a brand character. This is optional.
AN UPGRADED FORMAT FOR MORE EFFECTIVE POSITIONING
There are some tweaks or additions that I recommend. They help make for more effective writing of the positioning, as well as enhanced clarity once the positioning is implemented in the business. Specifically, it helps to add industry (for B2B), split the benefit into functional and emotional, and name the primary competition. Here are the components with a brief definition for each:
- Target—This is the specific consumer or customer group to which your marketing efforts are directed. From demographics to mindsets to behaviors, there are a number of ways to define a target audience. The most important thing is that the target group members all share a common defining characteristic. One that makes them open to or in need of the benefit your brand provides.
- Industry—This section is optional for B2B strategies. Often, strong B2B strategies involve clear industry choices. Targeting or specializing in specific verticals allows a business to establish a stronger competitive position.
- Descriptor—The competitive space in which the brand plays. It’s often the literal frame of reference, but can also be perceptual.
- Functional Benefit—What the product does or provides. There can be multiple levels to the functional benefit—what the product does (product benefit) or what the target receives (customer benefit). We’ll touch on that later in a more advanced tutorial post.
- Emotional Benefit—How using the brand makes the target feel.
- Competitors—It helps to specifically list the primary competition. 1-3 should suffice. This forces you to write points of difference into the positioning statement.
- Reason(s) to Believe (RTBs)—The specific product/service features or attributes that serve as proof. They prove to the target that the benefit is true. A great one is all you need, but you can have more than one. More than three is probably too many.
A TEMPLATE TO MAKE YOUR WRITING EASIER
Similar to the traditional approach, it can be helpful to write using a prose format. The small image presented here shows you the recommended template for writing, as the prompts ensure you place the right information in each box. You can download a free pdf of both the B2C and B2B templates below. Print a small stack of blank templates and use them to iterate.
Write multiple versions that represent your positioning options. Have a discussion with your team about where you have the strongest position and which ones best meet the needs of your target. If you have time and resources, get consumer or customer feedback (not on the statement itself, but on the executional examples). You could even create stimuli that could be tested in a quantitative study. However you proceed, starting with the right framework will help you put your best foot forward.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.