Overall, a brand strategy is a long-term plan for the growth and evolution of a public image in order to achieve specific goals. A well-defined brand strategy for any business should guide all aspects of it including consumer experiences, messaging, internal culture, and even positioning.
Think of it like giving driving directions.
Creating your brand strategy is like drawing out a map, and positioning is determining your location and destination (your goal). It is completely impossible to provide someone turn by turn guidance if you have no idea where they want to eventually end up and where they stand. Once you know this, you can then configure the best way to get there.
So, without further ado, let’s begin with the location, or brand positioning, in mind.
If you haven’t already, selecting and developing a brand positioning strategy isn’t as hard as you might think.
There are four major positioning styles that most companies will fit into. You may find yourself a hybrid between two, but most companies will fit snugly into one of the styles below, adapted from the work of the very smart April Dunford.
4 Popular Styles of Brand Positioning
Style 1: Arm Wrestling
In this positioning style, you are trying to take on the market leader and beat them at their own game. This type of strategy can be used when there is a well-established market category but no clear market leader that is leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else.
A classic example can be seen in Coke vs. Pepsi; two products that are very similar and have to constantly compare themselves against each other to try to gain market share.
The advantage of this style is that your audience already has a frame of reference, making it very easy for them to understand your offering.
“Oh, I get it, this product is just like X.”
However, the biggest hurdle to attempting this strategy is that it takes a lot of money and time to make it successful.
Style 2: Big Fish, Smaller Pond
The idea behind this style is to focus on a smaller sub-segment of an existing market.
In other words, it’s about creating a niche within an underserved market segment (the proverbial small pond). This strategy is especially useful if there is an identifiable segment of the existing market whose needs are not being met by the existing market leader.
Many marketing agencies, for instance, take this tactic and may position themselves as a specialist in providing services to a specific industry.
The advantage to this, again, is your audience already has a frame of reference.
They understand your offering because it is similar to something that already exists, but unlike “arm wrestling,” you don’t have to go head-to-head with the market leader since you are targeting a very specific niche.
The risky part is the market leader could turn around and match your niche offering if they see it working.
Style 3: Reframe the Market
This style of brand positioning reframes an existing market in new terms. It makes the benefits highlighted by previous market leaders irrelevant, or frankly, boring.
You would use this if your product or service features an innovation or advancement that was previously unattainable, or if there has been a recent shift or change in the market needs or expectations.
Before Tesla, the electric car market competed solely on battery life. Tesla entered the market and said “battery life is a given, I’m not even going to talk about it.” Instead, it highlighted the style and experience of its cars as its differentiator.
Apple approached the computer market in much the same way. Every good computer is going to have an adequate amount of storage and decent level of CPU speed, so Apple didn’t even bother talking about it. Instead the company highlighted and competed on style and status.
The reason to pick this style would be to highlight your strengths as differentiators, if they are so important to the audience, they can surpass those of the market leader.
You’ll want to make sure the market leader can’t strike back by simply adding a feature similar to yours, however. Your strength or differentiator must be bigger than a simple “feature.”
Both Tesla and Apple’s differentiators include a sense of exclusivity, community, and a unique experience.
Another brand that has mastered this is Dollar Shave Club. We dive deep into its experiential brand here.
Style 4: Change the Game
This style is reserved for when there is no market category for what you do. You are the first of your kind and you get to invent your market! (Lucky you!)
This strategy should be used when your strengths don’t fit you into an existing category or if a new need has emerged that isn’t served by any existing market categories. (A new product-market fit, if you will.)
The rideshare app category didn’t exist until Uber invented it. You’ll know you’re successful in changing the game when people say things like “My company is the Uber of food delivery.”
The advantage to this strategy is you’ll be the default market leader because you created the category. There are still, however, a few risks to be wary of if you want to go this route.
For example, you’ll want to be sure there really is a need for your product or service. Sometimes if a market category doesn’t exist, it’s because it doesn’t need to. Don’t believe me? History is littered with product flops that tried to fill a need that didn’t exist.
(Not sure if there is a need for your product? Read this.)
The other major risk with this strategy is copy-cats.
Without major barriers (i.e. patents, technology, etc.) people may be able to quickly copy and beat you before you have a chance to establish yourself as a leader. So, just make sure you have a big enough head start if you are going to try this strategy.
You Have Your Brand Strategy; Now What?
Now that you’ve decided how to strategically position your brand, everything else will be so much easier. You’ve defined your destination as a brand, so your next steps will be selecting and planning your route to get there. These, are often your marketing tactics.
Just like any great road trip, the journey is just as important as the destination. Make sure you put plenty of work into planning your messaging framework that lies on top of your brand strategy.