Without customers, you don’t have a business. And unless you're offering something that the general public has never seen or heard of before, like a self-driving car for instance, chances are that many other businesses are offering products and services similar to yours.
In either case it requires careful thought and planning to effectively position and differentiate your business in the minds of your customers. For example, the promoters of the self-driving car have to, among other marketing issues, convince the buying public of the need and benefits of such a vehicle. They must answer the inevitable question customers have: “Tell me again why I need this?”
Being the first with a new and different product, they have a head start in terms of branding.
However, when it comes to branding your business it’s not enough to be different from other similar businesses—you need to be preferentially different, so your target customers really feel your business is not only different, but better.
That’s the purpose of positioning.
Positioning: Some choice, some planning
Positioning is the customer’s general perception of your business and its products and services. Given that perceptions take place in the mind, it’s useful to take full advantage of everything you know, or can discover, about your customers’ perceptions and behavior, and use this to effectively communicate the value your business has to offer.
In other words, the more you know about how your customers think and make decisions, the more able you are to change or impact how they perceive your business—and thus influence how your business is positioned in their minds.
It is important to note that your business may already be positioned (favorably or unfavorably), in the minds of your customers based on their existing perceptions about your business, products, services, or industry. You are “branded” whether you do anything proactively or not. You do, however, have some control; be thinking about how you can actively influence how your business is positioned in the marketplace.
Be intentional about positioning your business
Your brand is not just your logo. Your business is being branded all the time, each and every day, and in many ways over which you have no control.
Your customers are constantly picking up additional information about your business that influences how your business is perceived and branded. Satisfied clients may mention their experiences to family and friends. Dissatisfied clients go to great lengths to have their side of the story told. Every comment (positive or negative) on Yelp shapes your company’s brand. Staying ahead of that curve is crucial.
One of our coaches tells a story that I often share with my clients because it is helpful in understanding what it’s like for a business to be branded. Several years ago the coach was driving on the freeway in an area that bordered a stretch popularly known as “auto row”, where several dealerships were located. He noticed a car parked on the access road in front of one of the dealerships with a large, roof-mounted sign that read: “THIS CAR IS A LEMON AND (Dealer’s Name) WILL NOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!!!!”
A photographer at the local paper spotted it too, and the next morning an article with a photo ran in the local paper. Amazingly, the car and sign remained in place for several more days before the dealership obviously made some kind of arrangements to placate their unhappy customer. But by that time, the damage was done. The image of ‘the dealer who wouldn’t make good on a lemon until it became front page news’, was burned—one might even say “branded”—into the consciousness of the community.
So, when you set out to take control of your brand, what do you need to know? Your advertising and promotional activities need to be informed both by how people may already perceive your business and how you want them to perceive it.
Think about the images and associations that may be conjured up by the example of that self-driving car. Does it make you think about human ingenuity? Marvel at our progress toward a technologically advanced future? Or think, “What’s next, the Jetsons?” These images and associations customers have in relation to your products or services are essential in your branding process.
The basic elements of differentiating your business
In order to formulate a practical strategy for positioning and differentiating your business, you first need to understand and appreciate your customers: what kind of people are they? How do they think? What are their lives like? What expectations, frustrations and motivations do they have? And, how will your products or services address their needs and appeal to them?
Then, you need to consider how your products or services compare with what customers can get from competitors, how your customers might classify your products or services, and what your relative standing is in the marketplace.
At that point, you will be able to create a Positioning Strategy that pulls all this information together. You will also be able to create a Unique Selling Proposition for your products or services or your business overall that pinpoints the emotional stimulation your customers are looking for, and a Positioning Statement that clearly identifies what your business does, the result customers can expect, and how you’re going to achieve that result.
How to use your Positioning Strategy
Keeping with the car theme, here’s another story to help illustrate how you can apply your Positioning Strategy in a powerful and practical way—even in the face of what may seem like a branding disadvantage. A second-generation dealership, (established at what was originally the edge of town), found their location becoming increasingly obscured, as over several decades of growth, the expanding city surrounded it and their once “main street” location became a spur road.
They recognized that they were losing business to dealerships that were now more immediately visible. But rather than just accepting that fact and letting the public brand them as a business that was impossible to locate, they turned things to their advantage.
They leveraged their understanding of the needs of their target market and crafted their positioning strategy around a simple and compelling Unique Selling Proposition: “Find us and find a great deal!” They effectively turned their difficult location into an appealing challenge and a contest.
The key to positioning and differentiating your business begins with an awareness of your customers’ perceptions and needs, how you are already seen in the community and then leveraging this, or proactively and strategically reclaiming control of your brand.