Branding and reputation matter more than ever in today’s world. From large corporations to small businesses, virtually every entity—even every individual—can benefit from cultivating their own brand.
If you haven’t already adopted today’s brand-driven mentality, then you’re missing out on a major opportunity to connect with your target market.
After all, with so many companies competing for customers’ attention, haphazard branding risks alienating and losing potential buyers. Thus, to capture a larger market share in your industry, you need to create and implement a strong brand positioning strategy.
What is brand positioning and why does it matter?
Brand positioning involves carefully promoting a business’s image or core concept to resonate with its target audience. Done successfully, it:
- highlights what exactly your brand has to offer
- explains how your business benefits consumers
- differentiates your business from the competition
In short, brand positioning efforts determine whether your brand warrants public interest—and if so, how it is perceived.
One important point of clarification: brand positioning and awareness are not one and the same.
Brand positioning strategies aim to influence existing perceptions to build strong mental associations among consumers, whereas brand awareness refers to consumers’ recognition of a brand. While exact business goals vary across organizations, effective brand positioning generally makes a business feel more relevant and appealing to its customers; brand awareness, on the other hand, makes it more familiar.
Brand positioning through content marketing
Content marketing plays a critical role in brand positioning, as meaningfully targeted content creates an impression of a brand in a customer’s mind.
There’s perhaps a no better example of this than White Claw, the alcoholic seltzer brand that exploded in the summer of 2019. Though introduced in 2016, White Claw largely flew under the public’s radar in its first three years before it began more targeted marketing campaigns to educate and appeal to consumers.
Specifically, Mark Anthony Brands, the parent company that owns White Claw, focused on communicating the seltzer’s health-friendly makeup compared to other types of alcohol. It also did something unconventional for the alcohol industry: it took a gender-neutral approach to marketing, with ads showing both men and women enjoying White Claw.
In addition to these content marketing efforts, Mark Anthony Brands took calculated moves to push White Claw without being so overt—for instance, by using point-of-sale marketing near music festivals. Furthermore, though the brand spent resources on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter ads, White Claw didn’t invest in any formal influencer sponsorships.
These moves ultimately helped build White Claw a devoted following and get free advertising—perhaps none more famous than YouTube comedian Trevor Wallace’s White Claw video that parodied the beverage’s drinkers.
Wallace’s video was a testament to White Claw’s successful branding. Though shot independently of the brand, it captured part of White Claw’s target audience—young men who like to drink—and gave them an ironic excuse for being customers.
The drink became a major pop culture phenomenon for the better part of 2019, and there’s no doubt content marketing helped accomplish this feat.
In this way, content marketing can help cement a brand’s reputation. Whether it’s social media, blog posts, videos, or something else, effective content leaves an impression on viewers and shapes a business’s identity. Sustained over time, it reinforces a brand’s position and transforms leads into brand loyalists.
7 steps for developing an effective brand positioning strategy
Shortcuts won’t work in brand positioning. In other words, if you thought plugging Instagram captions with hashtags or stuffing blog posts with trending keywords would work, think again.
Instead, effective brand positioning depends on three key elements:
- Relevance – That is, how your brand relates to your target market.
- Authenticity – The difference between feigned interest and a genuine attempt at connecting with your audience.
- Authority – Whether your brand actually delivers on its promises.
To create an effective brand positioning strategy for your own company, follow these seven steps—plus, more real-life branding examples to learn from.
1. Understand current perceptions of your brand
It’s impossible to determine where your brand will go if you’ve yet to understand where it’s been. In other words, you need to find out what consumers currently think of your brand, as well as the extent of the divide between their current viewpoints and what you want them to think.
To begin, take inventory of your brand’s current philosophy, value proposition, and persona. Pay attention to the language and visuals used to describe it. Consider:
- Who currently responds to your marketing messages?
- More importantly, who consistently fails to respond?
- Good or bad, which aspects of your latest marketing efforts are responsible for your brand’s current perception?
Though easier said than done, try to view your brand through the eyes of current consumers. Take a closer look at campaign metrics, sales numbers, and customer feedback. Together, these elements will paint a clear picture of your brand’s current status.
2. Define your target market
Effective brand positioning strategies vary based on the nature of the intended audience. For example, many brands that target Gen Z consumers focus on using a casual or more lighthearted tone, socially conscious messaging, and influencer partnerships. But for businesses targeting baby boomers, this approach won’t necessarily work.
In that regard, successful brand positioning doesn’t appeal to all consumers who stumble across a given company. However, it makes a positive impression on the right people.
To better define your target audience, make note of the following:
- What problem your product or service solves
- Who is most likely to run into these problems
- When these problems arise (or when your product is most relevant)
Insulated bottle manufacturer Hydro Flask exemplifies the value of determining and catering to a specific market. While reusable water bottles appeal to a wide variety of consumers, Hydro Flask narrows its scope to active and eco-minded Gen Z and millennial followers who are willing to pay a little extra to achieve the outdoorsy lifestyles portrayed by their favorite influencers.
Hydro Flask’s audience may seem narrow, but the company’s message resonates powerfully with its young fans, who are notoriously loyal to their favorite water bottles.
3. Determine the core values of your target consumers
Mere target market identification only scratches the surface. Next, it’s critical that you determine what exactly this specific group of consumers values—and how these key philosophies can best be reflected via strategic branding.
Returning to the Hydro Flask example, this company succeeds because its branding efforts integrate its target consumer’s desire for an active, meaningful, and community-oriented lifestyle.
Just take a look at its homepage for an example. Copy like “More trailblazing” and “Find the perfect Hydro Flask for any adventure” reinforce the brand’s connection to movement and the outdoors.
Moreover, Hydro Flask users portrayed in marketing materials care about the environment and are willing to take action to reduce their carbon footprint. They live out these ideals while making the most of the great outdoors and connecting with a community of similarly passionate individuals. This is especially relevant in the site’s Parks for All campaign.
Sure, not every water bottle user cares deeply about living an eco-conscious life or going on hiking adventures. However, in risking the potential alienation of a few consumers, Hydro Flask has achieved a loyal following based on a specific set of values. There has never been any question as to what the company stands for, or how its targeted customers can follow suit.
4. Research your competition
Today’s customers are inundated with thousands of marketing messages every day, many of which are targeted based on search history or other analytics. What does that mean for your business?
No matter what your target audience looks like, your brand positioning strategy won’t resonate if it’s forced to compete with dozens of others that look virtually identical.
So do your homework—find out what other companies in your space are doing. Specifically, pay attention to:
- your rivals’ major selling points
- what platforms they use to communicate their brand messaging
- any identifiable weaknesses and shortcomings
Avoid cutting corners with your competitor research. Even if you think you know a brand, give it a second look—take a deep dive into its content and audience.
5. Find a way to differentiate your brand
The key to successful positioning lies in differentiation. Now that you have a better understanding of your competitors, it’s time to set your brand apart.
While it’s tempting to focus on a specific product or service features, attempts at differentiation should strike to the core of consumer values and how they’re reflected in your brand. After all, all companies want to be known for being excellent or high-quality—so focus on a more distinguishing aspect.
Nike, for example, accomplishes differentiation through inspirational messages rather than focusing on Dri-FIT technology or other product attributes.
In recent years, Nike has even aligned itself with several decidedly controversial figures like football quarterback Colin Kaepernick—but this hasn’t damaged its marketability. If anything, this powerful approach deserves credit for cementing the athletic apparel company’s status as a trailblazer.
Consumers might not understand the specific product attributes that set Nike apart from Adidas, Puma, or Reebok, but they have no trouble recalling the brand’s inspiring social media campaigns.
Meanwhile, brands that fail to differentiate themselves risk losing influence in the long run—take, for example, Yahoo.
From the beginning, Yahoo’s top competitor Google clearly made its mission known: to bring increased organization and access to the digital world.
Everybody knows what Google stands for and how it goes about achieving its lofty mission. Yahoo, on the other hand, failed to carve a strong identity. In fact, its own description of itself changed 24 times over 24 years—an identity crisis that ultimately made Yahoo feel weaker and less purposeful than its rival.
6. Write a brand positioning statement
You’ve pinned down your target audience, gotten to know your competitors, and identified a way to differentiate your brand. Now it’s time to put it all together in one cohesive brand positioning statement.
What exactly is this?
Think of it as a brief description to help align your messaging efforts—like a compass that guides your branding strategy. It can be more than one sentence, but it shouldn’t be longer than three or four.
Most importantly, your brand positioning statement includes the four following components:
- the industry or space your brand operates in
- your target audience
- how your brand meets customers’ needs
- the unique value your brand brings to customers
While your brand positioning statement should get to the heart of your business, know that it should not be the same as your mission statement.
Unlike a mission statement, it’s for internal reference, and to be used in shaping marketing strategies rather than publicly broadcasted to consumers.
For example, consider the following positioning statement Nike’s marketing team might use:
Nike is an (1) athletic apparel, footwear, and accessories company that seeks to inspire (2) professional and recreational athletes into activity with a sense of higher purpose. It (3) uses innovative designs and quality products to (4) encourage customers to do more and enact meaningful change in themselves and their community.
Or, another of our previously discussed examples, Hydro Flask:
Hydro Flask is an (1) accessory and equipment company that caters to (2) millennial and Gen Z outdoor enthusiasts. It (3) creates stylish and ergonomic products to (4) better support customers’ active lifestyles, all while championing sustainability.
Note that each statement, though concise, captures the broader business goals of its respective company. If your business covers a wide range of products, this should still be the case; avoid getting into the weeds of every single product. Your brand positioning statement should reflect your overarching brand rather than individual categories of products.
7. Develop content that feels authentic to your brand
Once you’ve crafted your brand positioning statement, you’re ready for the final piece: the content itself. No matter where it’s published or what form it takes, it should feel true to your brand’s visual identity.
This includes not only your company’s logo and motto, but also its color scheme, copywriting, and website layout. Even filters and use of GIFs and emoticons can influence perceived authenticity.
If a single branding element diverges from your organization’s core mission, consumers may feel disoriented. Why? Your business is presenting conflicting content, and in this way, it can feel fake or unnatural.
Consequently, all branding and content efforts should work together to create a clear, seamless impression. Consumers should never question where you stand or how they fit into the growing community surrounding your brand.
What if you’re thinking about changing your brand strategy?
Make no mistake: it’s possible for brands to evolve over time. But a drastic repositioning should be a rare occurrence. Brand consistency benefits your company in the long run in that consumers develop a firm understanding of what your brand stands for and how this philosophy influences your content.
Like it or not, branding is everything in both traditional and digital marketing today.
Your efforts to build a cohesive and relatable brand could produce a community of loyal clients or customers—and it all begins with a single connection. This groundbreaking moment doesn’t happen by chance.
Rather, it’s cultivated through extensive brand positioning efforts that include everything from market research to authority blogging.
Don’t neglect your brand or how it is positioned. No matter your target market or preferred channels, your efforts to build and highlight an authentic brand will pay dividends in the long run.
Joyce Chou is a Content Marketing Strategist at Compose.ly, a content platform that matches businesses with seasoned freelance writers. Apart from writing for Compose.ly’s blog, Joyce also contributes to other publications about digital marketing, personal finance, business, and ecommerce.