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Brand positioning: three steps to defining different by Chris Bartley

Brand positioning is the central reason a customer chooses a brand. It’s the perceived ‘logic’ in the mind’s eye of the purchaser, telling them, ‘this is the brand for me’ at the point of purchase. An effective and differentiated positioning is, or should be, the Holy Grail for every marketer but it’s an elusive and difficult mistress. This is because we, the marketers, don’t own it. Brand positioning only exists, or at least manifests, in the mind of the customer. That means defining, or changing, a positioning is difficult because nobody likes having their minds messed with by marketers. How then, as marketers, can we effectively position our brand and how can we change people’s minds?

First, let’s focus on the objective and our approach to it. The objective is simple – we want the customer to choose our brand the over competition. How we get to our objective is the difficult bit and there are two critical mistakes to avoid:

Ignoring the competition: Like it or not, the competition already own a space in the customer’s mind. Trying to own the same space is near on impossible. If they own ‘fast’ you need to own something else. Communicating that you’re just as ‘fast’ is going to be like trying to push metaphorical rocks uphill in the mind of the customer. It’s not going to give you a point of difference, it’s not going to make you memorable, and it’s not going to change behaviour.

Selling instead of creating a reason to buy: All too often we try to achieve ‘selection’ by selling our brand to the customer. We load up our materials with a hundred messages about how great the brand is, peppering the customer in the hope that if we fire enough bullets one will hit the target. In reality, this normally results in customers ducking for cover from the blaze of confused selling messages. People don’t like, or have the time for, complexity, and nobody likes feeling like they are being sold to so it’s critical to focus on a reason to buy not lots of sales messages.

So what’s the answer? First, find a gap. Look at the competition and map their positioning – make sure you know what they own in the customers mind and find a gap. Second, don’t think about selling your brand, think about making the brand easy to buy. People like, and enjoy, buying so help them do that by creating a positioning that’s different from the competition and creates a space in the customer’s mind that says “best buy for this situation” by following the three golden rules to defining different:

  1. Name it and frame it: People can’t buy what they can’t name. They also need to know what category to look for the product in. For example: Product Y is a screening test to detect downs syndrome.
  2. Define who, and what, it’s for: People will not buy something until they know who is going to use it and what for – knowing what difference the product will deliver to the buyer makes it easy to buy. For example: For older expectant mothers and their doctors, Product Y is a screening test that analyses cells extracted from a mother’s blood sample to detect downs syndrome.
  3. Competition and differentiation: people need context to compare and prefer a product. For example: For older expectant mothers and their doctors, Product Y provides a screening test to detect downs syndrome that is less painful, more accurate and better value than amniotic fluid tests.

Working through the three steps delivers a simple, memorable positioning that creates a clear space in the customer’s mind. It delivers a compelling reason to for the customer to buy through ensuing they instantly know who it’s for, what it does and when, and why, it’s better than the competition. Once positioned in the customer’s mind when it comes to choosing, it’s a no brainer for the customer, they just