Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once famously said: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Well, not only are people talking about you when you’re out of earshot, but they are comparing you to the competition. Are you as fast, as efficient, as desirable as your rivals?

Thanks to an increasingly globalized market and easy access to information on the internet the number players you are being compared to always seems to be going up, which is why properly positioning your brand has become more important than ever.

Positioning refers to marketing strategies that set you apart from the competition. It’s a crowded marketplace out there and you can’t be everything to everyone. Every brand today needs to find an optimal niche where it can have the greatest impact.

What Makes You So Special?

Some brands do this by playing up their unique strengths. Maybe they can do something no one else can, or maybe they can do it better, or more affordably, or more sustainably, or with better customer service.

Brands also rely on advertising to carve out space for themselves. Brands like Apple and Mercedes use their ads to create an image of themselves as the premiere player in their industry, projecting auras of competence, innovation, and luxury that no one else can match.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

It may seem like the only purpose for such ad campaigns is to extol the virtues of the brand and its products, but it also serves to create a comfortable, familiar place in the customer’s mind for the brand to reside.

The human brain is an information processing machine that doesn’t like free floating data. Everything we absorb gets filtered, analyzed, and tucked away in the proper place. In a world where consumers are awash in brand messaging, anything that isn’t readily categorizable will either be mislaid or disregarded entirely.

Marketing consultant Jack Trout, one of the founders of positioning theory, put it this way: “…communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.”

Segment, Target, Position

Figuring out the smartest position for your brand requires first segmenting and targeting the market. Segmentation refers to grouping customers together by commonalities such as demographics, buying behavior, and product preferences.

Businesses can’t always market to everyone so they need to find relatively homogeneous blocs of potential customers to focus on. Mass marketing is appropriate for mega brands, but most companies need to be more selective in their allocation of resources.

“…communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.”

By properly segmenting the market companies can design products, services (and advertising) that is tailored to their customer’s needs, and which take the direct competition’s activities into consideration. Don’t compete with the whole world, direct your efforts to where they can do the most good.

After divvying up the market into its constituent parts it’s time to choose the segment that is most desirable to your brand. This is the process of targeting.

The characteristics of the right segment for you to target will depend on your particular brand, but typically attractive segments are of a suitably large size, have good potential for growth (or at least stability), can afford your offering, and aren’t already being targeted by too many competitors.

Once you have segmented and targeted the market you can develop a position by answering some basic questions about your brand and offerings:

  1. Who is your target customer?
  2. What do they need or care about?
  3. What is your product?
  4. What category is your product in?
  5. What is your product’s key benefit to the customer?
  6. Who is your primary competitor?
  7. Why is your product different than the competition’s?

Those answers can then be adapted into a position statement. Here’s an example from the world of fashion:

For (1: young, fashion conscious men) that need (2: trendy and affordable clothing), (3: H&M) is a (4: fast fashion retailer) that (5: makes them appear and feel more hip, attractive, and successful).

Unlike (6: Zara), (7: H&M has hundreds of stores in the U.S. and has collaborations with well-known designers like Alexander Wang and Balmain).

The Takeaway

The job of positioning is letting everyone know why your brand is special. Find those things that make you unique, the skills and qualities that set you apart from the competition and own that space. The marketplace is overcrowded and competition is fierce. Differentiation is no longer just a bonus, it’s a business imperative.