What is a Brand (and what is Positioning?)
Entire books (many, many books) have been written about the definition of the word “brand” as it’s used in the worlds of marketing, sales and advertising. Here, briefly, is our perspective on brand and how we use it.
First, critically, we use brand as a noun, not a verb (“branding” is something that a cattle rancher does; if only it were that easy in marketing and advertising!). The actual verb we use is position (or, as we often say, the act of “positioning”).
In the simplest possible terms, then, if we are successful in the positioning process then we are more likely to end up with a successful brand.
What you need to know about “brand”:
First, brands exist, and businesses use them for three reasons:
To make buying decisions easier for the customer
Command greater margins relative to competitors
Provide focus inside the company
Brands reside in customers’ minds; they are not products on a shelf. As such, specific products can come and go over fairly distinct life cycles, but a strong brand is timeless. (Compare, for example, the Apple brand today and the early Apple II series computer.)
Brands must fight for space in the mind with all the other stuff customers try to keep in their brains. We often talk, therefore, about “where a brand is” or “the share of mind” (level of awareness) that our brand has relative to competitor brands.
A brand’s mental image is made up of everything we know about it including what we’ve been told about it, what we’ve experienced with it ourselves if at all, and how we feel about the brand (positive, neutral, negative); thus a brand can have factual and emotional components, or a rational/irrational dimension. Yes, brands are often complicated, even messy.
How to build a great brand, i.e. one that your customers and prospects have heard great things about, have had great experiences with, have developed a far more positive than negative feeling about:
At the top of the list: create, execute and deliver a great product or service. You can only sell “sizzle” so much, at some point you’ve got to serve up a great steak.
With focus and discipline, serve a niche – you cannot be all things to all people. You must make it clear what market – and its customers – you serve; put another way, you must know what business you are in, and it must be well-defined, specific and narrow (“the riches are in the niches.”)
The first two points above have to do with marketing. This last point has to do with selling: to build a great brand you must also be successful at properly positioning the brand in the minds of your customers and prospects . . .
What you need to know about “positioning”:
Positioning is the process – the acts you take – to win the battle for both “share of mind” and the creation of a positive brand image. With or without your attempts at positioning the customer will have some image of your brand (or none, since perhaps they don’t know a thing about you). So you undertake positioning with the objective of shaping a great brand that will enable your long-term business and revenue/profit objectives.
Your positioning must use your company and product strengths, must be differentiated/unique and fitted to your market niche, must be focused on a single idea, and must reflect the kind of brand you are and aspire to be in order to shape the desired future image of your brand.
The way you position your brand must work internally: all of your employees (and all other stakeholders) must, at a minimum, “get it,” and they should be excited and share in the vision and end objective of the position, and your sales guys must feel energized about selling under the flag of your positioning.
And of course the positioning must work externally for your customers (and even your competitors, who should say, “crap, why didn’t we think of that?!!”). Just like your employees, your customers will “get it” and instantly understand your uniqueness that will benefit them. Your positioning should allow for creative approaches in your advertising, social media, sales promotions, PR and other tools; all of which contribute to and support “easy to sell.”
Last, let’s be clear about this: if you don’t do your own positioning your competitors will be more than happy to do it for you, and we can pretty much guarantee you won’t like the results. (Politicians are expert at positioning their opponents negatively; for all the evidence you need of this just look at the 2016 presidential campaign.)
Brand (noun) is “where you sit” in a customer’s mind
Positioning (verb) is the battle for that customer’s mind
Positioning is the process; Brand is the result.