The Fundamentals Of Brand Positioning


Brand positioning is a vital marketing strategy that aims to create a distinct place for a product or service in the minds of consumers. In 1969, Jack Trout and his partner, Al Ries, introduced the now highly valued concept of positioning in the paper “Positioning Is A Game People Play In Today’s Me-Too Market Place.” This became the genesis of their ground-breaking first book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Positioning quickly grew into one of the world’s most powerful business tools, a countermeasure to the noise and confusion that plagues the minds of consumers searching for value in an over-communicated marketplace.

The duo emphasized the importance of creating a unique and compelling position in the mind as that is where the battle to stand out is won or lost. Even though the world of marketing has evolved significantly, the core principles of brand positioning put forth by Trout and Ries continue to shape successful marketing strategies in every business category and sector around the globe.

In the early 2000s, Jack Trout was a mentor of mine, often sharing his wisdom with me about the world of brands. He was quick to point out that what had changed since originating the concept was the enormous rise in competition, and this one aspect made positioning more valuable. He backed up his thinking in Differentiate or Die. Practitioners of brand management will not dispute that the competitive landscape has changed; however, most agree that positioning has evolved from a fixed position to a direction.

John Gerzma does an excellent job of framing positioning’s evolution in the context of maintaining relevance.

“We live in an age of ‘compressed change.’ Brand building is completely different from the way it used to be. Positioning used to be planting a flag and stepping back. Now the terrain is moving at such speed and ferocity that it’s difficult to think in a static way about positioning. Erosion is critical to track. You have to be able to figure out why consumers are falling out of love with brands. Consumers don’t just want brands to be different and relevant but to keep being different and relevant. …. Successful brands recognize this and know it’s not a place, it’s a direction. They must constantly evolve, not stand still.”

Put another way; brands are never finished. You must think of them as a river, not a pond, and move with the currents accordingly. It is the paradox of brands; you have to change to stay consistent.

The Core Of Brand Positioning

At its core, brand positioning revolves around identifying unique value that your brand can own. This involves finding an unmet need or underserved niche and then presenting the brand as the solution to that problem. Trout and Ries argued that being the first in a category is crucial for achieving a strong brand position. They famously stated, “It’s better to be first in the mind than first in the marketplace.”

The key elements of successful brand positioning, according to Trout and Ries, include simplicity, consistency, and authenticity. A brand must convey a clear, easy-to-understand message consistently across all touchpoints, staying true to its core values and promises.

The core of their thinking can be summarized as follows:

  1. Focus On The Consumer’s Mind: Successful brand positioning begins with understanding the target audience and their needs. It’s about finding a distinct position that resonates with the consumers’ aspirations, desires, and pain points.
  2. Own A Word In The Consumer’s Mind: Brands should strive to associate themselves with a single word or concept in the consumer’s mind. This mental association should be unique and hard to replicate by competitors.
  3. The Power Of Simplicity: Trout and Ries emphasized the need for simplicity in brand positioning and how it is articulated. A clear and straightforward message is more likely to stick in the consumer’s mind and create a lasting impact. Sometimes that straightforward message is obvious, which is an advantage. If the message is obvious to you, it will be obvious to your customers. (Papa Johns: Better Ingredients, Better Pizza)
  4. Emphasize Differences, Not Similarities: It’s crucial for brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors rather than trying to emulate them. Highlighting relevant and meaningful differences creates a stronger position in the market. There are times when similarities are important. For example, you would expect to see a security guard at a bank and perhaps a vault. These industry-standard elements help brands associate with the wider idea of banking and reinforce trust with consumers.
  5. Consistency Is Key: Brand positioning is not a one-time effort. Consistency in messaging, branding, and customer experience is essential to reinforce the brand’s position over time. Relentless consistency is the trust-builder of brands.

Positioning Requires More

As with all strategies, Positioning by itself is not enough; you must have the discipline to keep your focus and relentlessly execute to stay ‘on brand.’ In working with more than 200 brands and businesses, we have found that the unsung hero of brand positioning is the consensus built with internal stakeholders on who represents the most value, what the brand stands for and stands against, and how the brand will compete. Consensus ensures the strategy is understood and adopted.

In The Blake Project’s brand strategy workshops, we help leadership teams set a course for a bigger future using various tools and techniques to arrive at the most advantageous brand positioning and, in the process, ensure that all voices are heard, and participants are clear on what to do in bringing the strategy to life. We call this the most important day in a decade, and it is not work for your agency or a consultant to do for you; you need to be intimately involved in its creation.

Back to Jack, his wisdom was spread out over 13 books that include classics such as Marketing Warfare, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Differentiate or Die, Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change, and Crisis, Big Brands. Big Trouble, A Genie’s Wisdom, In Search Of The Obvious, and Trout on Strategy. His thinking (and that of Al Ries) has largely been proven timeless for the simple fact that the human condition has not changed, as value still has to be encoded in the mind. Marketers begin that work with brand positioning.

The Blake Project Can Help Differentiate Your Brand: Simply email us, for more about how we can help you define the unique value your brand can own in the marketplace.

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