This article has been contributed by Olga Mykhoparkina.
The most successful businesses all have strong brands. Companies like Google and Coca-Cola have such strong brand recognition that their names have become synonymous with their industries. When you look for something online, you don’t “search” for it — you “Google it.”
This high profile brand recognition didn’t happen by chance. These companies have carefully cultivated their brand and used brand mapping to position the company and their products strategically. It’s an approach that pays dividends.
On top of a 23% average increase in revenue, successful branding results in a relatable identity, a high level of customer loyalty, and an overall positive image for your business. It’s a strategy that both B2C and B2B companies can benefit from.
There are no shortcuts to building a strong brand. In this article, we’ll look at how to use brand mapping to position your company in a competitive market successfully.
What Is Brand Positioning?
Brand positioning is the strategy behind how to situate your brand in your customers’ minds and differentiate your products and services from competitors.
This is achieved through things like analysing the market you are in and determining where you position yourself in the market. Are you competing in a red ocean market with a higher quality, cheaper or faster product, or are you alone in a blue ocean? (More on that later.)
As well as the position of your brand in the market, brand mapping takes into account other variables like brand personality, brand symbols and more. All of this comes together to create the brand essence.
Differentiating Your Brand From Competitors
Here are some approaches to setting your brand apart from your rivals.
- Define your unique selling proposition (USP): Your brand and its offerings should be easy to understand. Think of it as trying to explain what you do to a six-year-old. The easier it is to grasp what makes your brand different to other brands in the market, the easier your customers will recall the differences.
- Appeal to emotion: Before selling your product, you need to tug at your customers’ heartstrings. You should take time to learn about your customers, learn what their pain points are, and how your brand can help with those concerns.
- Focus on gaps in the market: Your main goal in marketing is to help the customer overcome a problem in a way that existing products or services can’t. Some products may be high quality, but too expensive. Some services may do the trick, but not frequently enough. Be clear on what your offering does differently to competitors, in a way that resonates with your audience.
- Be consistent: Branding isn’t something that you just tack on to a product. It’s the customer’s entire experience. From the way a product is promoted to the way you provide after-sales support to the customer, the experience should be consistent with the image you want your brand to project.
Now that we know what brand positioning is, we’ll look at how to create your brand positioning strategy.
How To Create Your Brand Positioning Strategy
A successful brand positioning strategy relies on an understanding of the market you are entering, the consumers you serve and your USPs. The following steps will help you create a brand positioning strategy that is unique and different from everyone else’s.
Step 1: Determine Your Current Position
Your current brand position, if you already have one, will give you a lot of insight into your next moves. The first questions you need to address are:
- are you selling your product as one of many options on the market?
- are you positioning it as something that’s solving an old problem in a new way?
It’s essential that you determine this, because it will impact your potential market share. In any established market, the market leaders generally take 70% of the value of the market. The other businesses in the niche fight over the remaining 30%. Moreover, you will always be an “er” in an established market – cheaper, better, faster, etc.
In a blue ocean market, you can be the market leader. It’s obviously harder to establish a blue ocean for your product or service, but the benefits of this approach are significant.
Image source: Business to You
You should start this exercise by defining your target customer. A customer persona will consider not just your target market’s demographic data, but also their concerns, pain points and psychological triggers.
Your Customer’s Problem
Next, ask yourself: What problem are you solving? Many products or services are marketed to help your relationship, improve your status or are related to health.
You need to define which of these things you are helping a person with because it will determine how you market your product. Then, consider how your product will fulfill your customers’ needs and what is unique about your product or service. This will help you define what you want your brand to be known for.
Brand Persona and Brand Voice
The last step is noting your current brand persona and brand voice if you already have them. Are they still in touch with your customer base? How has the market changed since you last defined your brand persona and voice? Is your current branding still relevant? Your answers here will also determine your next move.
Note that we are referring to your brand in human terms, like the persona and the voice. As we mentioned earlier, your brand should appeal to human emotions. Successful brand positioning starts with using your audience’s language.
Step 2: Name and Analyze Your Competition
After you determine your current position in the market, it’s important to perform competitor analysis. Understanding the lay of the land will help you make better strategic decisions to gain a leg up on your competitors.
You can use one or more methods for identifying your competitors. These include:
- Doing market research: Nowadays, doing basic market research is as easy as going to Google and doing a search using a market-related keyword. You can see the companies that are listed under your niche right away.
- Using social media: This is not as simple as going on Twitter or Facebook and searching for “[industry niche] company in my area”. It more often involves identifying people who are influencers in your industry and region, looking at the companies they follow and reading the social media posts they share.
- Getting customer feedback: If you already have existing clients, you can ask them what companies they were considering before they chose your brand. You might be able to use review sites like Yelp or the Better Business Bureau and check out the entries under your industry.
The techniques above should help you build a pretty comprehensive list of your competitors. Once you’ve built that list, it’s time to pick them apart by focusing on how they position their brand to gain a competitive advantage.
Your competitor analysis should review the following:
- Products and services: What are they selling? What are they not selling? Are they developing any new products or services? If so, why are they not out in the market yet?
- Strengths and weaknesses: What are their strengths? What are their best sellers? What products of theirs have flopped? What are their biggest issues when it comes to production and distribution?
- Marketing strategies: Who are they targeting? What media and methods are they using to sell?
- Current market position: Where are they relative to the market leader? What is their share of the market?
Knowing where your competitors stand will help you with your brand positioning. You can use the information gained through your research to identify what sets your business apart while incorporating their best practices and avoiding their mistakes.
Step 3: Identify Your USP
In the previous step, you identified your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. As you compare your brand to others, you should be able to identify your key strengths and weaknesses relative to theirs. If you have a strength where everyone else is relatively weak, the smart thing to do is to build your branding around it.
This is what you call a “unique selling proposition” (USP). It is the one thing that sets you apart from the competition, the gap that only your brand can fill, the thing that you do better than everyone. It’s the first sentence to the corporate story you are trying to tell.
The burger chain Wendy’s is the perfect example of this. Their brand positioning is based around the fact that they only use fresh meat. It’s something they always talk about in their marketing.
Image source: Ragan
Once you have identified your USP, stick to it. Hundreds of Wendy’s burger joints stopped selling burgers during the COVID-19 outbreak because they refused to sell frozen meat. It certainly impacted the company’s profits, but will no doubt pay dividends.
Spend time defining your USP. Once you’ve determined what you stand for, everything else will fall into place. You shouldn’t take this step lightly. It will define the rest of your brand.
Step 4: Create Your Positioning Statement
A positioning statement is a statement that declares your brand’s unique value to your customers in the context of the market, including the competition. Your positioning statement should be no more than two sentences long. The clearer it is, the clearer you, your staff and your customers will be about why your brand is right for them.
Distilling everything you’ve learned into just two sentences can be tough. To help you create your positioning statement, answer these four questions first.
- Who is your customer?
- What’s your product category?
- What benefit does your customer derive from your product?
- How can you prove that your customer benefits from it?
You can use these answers to help write a brief but powerful positioning statement.
Take Google. The core of its existence is still the search engine business. But they also have other products — YouTube for videos, G Suite for documents and collaboration, Gmail for email and Android for mobile devices.
Here’s a hypothetical answer to those questions:
- Their target customer is everyone.
- Their product is information.
- The benefit is accessibility and usefulness.
- And the proof is Google’s ubiquity.
You can see how that filters into their powerful yet compelling positioning statement.
Once you’ve created your brand positioning statement, you must ensure that all aspects of your brand marketing are aligned with it, from your content and email banners to proposal templates. But your work is not yet done.
Step 5: Test Your Position With a Brand Map
We’re not done with creating your brand position yet. Brand positioning is a never-ending process. You have to constantly test it, get feedback from your customers and look at your bottom line to determine whether your position supports your business.
Brand mapping will let you compare your brand to others in terms of customer perception. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines it this way: “Perceptual brand mapping is the visual plotting of specific brands against axes, where each axis represents an attribute that is known to drive brand selection.”
How do you do brand mapping? There are three main elements to a brand map: determinants, competitors, and scoring.
To begin your brand map, you need to define your brand’s determinant attributes. These are keywords that categorize your product and attract your target customers.
For example, if you’re marketing healthy food, you can use “taste” and “healthfulness” as determinant attributes. A graphic designer may use “brand strategy experience” and “cost”, or “portfolio quality” and “turnaround time”.
Selecting the right determinant attributes and understanding the personas of customer who value those attributes is the first step in brand mapping. You can use these attributes to rank your brand against competitors.
For this section, we’ll assume that you’ve done your research on your competitors in the second step of the process. You don’t have to include all of your competitors on your brand map right away. Just choose those you consider industry leaders then, expand your list a bit to include those operating in the same location and those who have a similar positioning statement to you.
Finally, assign scores to the brands on your map. You can do this by rating them according to the determinant attributes you have chosen.
Using our health food industry example earlier, you can use “taste” and “healthfulness” to score your brand and competitors. You may assign values to each brand on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is “least tasty” and ten is “tastiest”, then do the same thing for healthfulness.
You’ll soon end up with a list like this:
- Brand A: Taste 3, Healthfulness 6
- Brand B: Taste 8, Healthfulness 4
- Brand C: Taste 7, Healthfulness 2
- Brand D: Taste 4, Healthfulness 3
- Brand E: Taste 9, Healthfulness 7
- Your Brand: Taste 6, Healthfulness 6
Now that you have a list of scores, you can plot them against the axis:
There you have it – your first brand map. Use different combinations of determinant attributes, depending on the values that your customers consider most important.
Now that we’ve shown you how to do brand mapping, you might be asking yourself: why should I do this? The AMA lists three benefits of this practice:
- It unlocks insights about your competitors and the industry. The axes represent attributes that are known to be compelling to customers, and by plotting your brand against others, you get a visual representation of your brand’s position in the market.
- It tells you where your brand is heading. Perceptual mapping can give you an idea about where your brand’s future state should be, especially when you are trying to reposition. It tells you what brands are currently closest to the position you want your brand to occupy, and gives you a clue into what they might be doing right.
- It lets you determine if your brand aligns with your overall business strategy. While a brand map can help you identify your brand’s opportunities, it can also be used to justify creating a new brand to accommodate these new opportunities.
By performing this simple exercise, you can have a more accurate representation of your brand’s position compared to its competitors. You can also use it to map your strategy or justify it, moving forward.
While brand mapping is an important step in brand creation, it’s just one step of many. You can do all the brand maps possible using a number of determinants and still encounter little success. A brand map is a representation of your current state. It’s up to you to come up with strategies to get you from one point on the map to another.
Harnessing the full power of brand positioning
A strong brand can spell the difference between success and failure when operating in a competitive market. Using competitor analysis, your brand’s unique selling proposition and a positioning statement, you can start building a brand.
However, brand-building is never finished. It is an ongoing task that needs to go through testing and recalibration every so often to reflect the current state of the market and your brand’s competitors.
Brand mapping is a useful visual tool to understand where you stand against competitors. You can use brand maps to compare where your brand perception is on a scale defined by attributes that are important to customers. A brand map will also tell you where your competitors are and where you want to be.
Are you ready to see where your brand stands? All the best of luck with your branding efforts!
About the author: Olga Mykhoparkina is a Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals, an easy-to-use proposal software that helps send professional proposals in minutes. Having written for 50+ top tier publications, she believes that epic content is King, Queen and all the Aces in marketing.