In the world of brand strategy, a lot of energy is spent on positioning.
“Positioning” refers to how your brand is positioned in the minds of consumers, relative to your competitors.
If you ever work with an agency on your brand strategy, you’ll no doubt go through a mad-libs style positioning exercise like one of these:
“(company) is the only (category) that (point of difference) for (customer) in (market geography) who (need state) in an era of (underlying trend).”
“Our (offering) is the only (category) that (benefit).”
“For (customer), (company) is the (category) that delivers (point of difference), so they can (end benefit) because (reason to believe).”
Look, the business world is filled to the brim with lookalike companies and products, all competing for the same buyer’s hard-earned money. Positioning is an attempt to stake a unique claim and say: “This is us. We’re not best at everything, and we’re not for everyone, but if you’re looking for this specific type of solution, we’ve got you. Please remember us.”
So positioning, when done right, accomplishes two things:
The most persuasive positioning statements are ridiculously simple. For example, you’ve got Avis’ old slogan adopted in the ‘60s:
Avis is only No. 2 in rent-a-cars, so why go with us? We try harder.
Or, if you prefer a more millennial example, try Ugly Drinks (I’ll return to these guys soon):
💦 Flavored sparkling water 🍒 Delivered to your door 🍋 No sugar, no sweetener
Good positioning can be very powerful. The way you position your business can make or break it. The problem, though, is that it’s myopic.
Remember: positioning refers to how you position your brand in the minds of your prospects, relative to your competitors.
Relative to your competitors… That begs the question, doesn’t it? Who are the competitors that you’re positioning yourself relative to?
Rather than position your brand, you should first and foremost think about how you frame your subcategory.
Framing is an incredibly powerful tool of persuasion because it shapes how we think. Here’s professor George Lakoff in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant:
Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. If a strongly held frame doesn’t fit the facts, the facts will be ignored and the frame will be kept.
By framing your subcategory correctly, you can get buyers to see your brand in a completely different light. You gain control over which brands you will be compared to; not just how you talk about the benefits of your own brand.
In the ‘90s, Kraft Foods launched DiGiorno, the frozen pizza with rising crust. It was significantly more expensive than other frozen pizzas, which obviously would have posed a problem for them if they had to position it against other frozen pizzas.
But they didn’t.
Instead, they reframed their subcategory through their advertising campaign themed “It’s not delivered, it’s DiGiorno.” Compared to pizzerias, the DiGiorno pizza seemed cheap. It became a huge hit. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, back to Ugly Drinks.
Currently, they’re positioning themselves as flavored sparkling water with no sugar. That means people are going to compare them to other sparkling water brands. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does kind of beg the question: what makes Ugly different from other brands, like LaCroix? Is that difference going to be obvious to people?
I badly want Ugly to reframe the subcategory to put them in competition against soda.
They could change their positioning slogan to “The Unsoda” and do spinoff commercials based on 7-Up’s old “Uncola” positioning ads (I think the style’d fit with their fun personality). Such a good vibe:
The following quote is from David Aaker, in his book Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success:
The framing process works by shaping the choice discussion, providing a perspective and vocabulary that will enhance the chances that the new subcategory will find success. If the subcategory wins, so will the brand that is defining it.
It’s all about finding points of comparison that will favour your brand, and communicating the frame in a persuasive and memorable way. I’m not a freelancer; I run the world’s smallest brand agency.
Putting myself in competition against other brand agencies works to my advantage: agencies are presumed to do good work and be reliable (so I benefit from those assocations!) and almost all of them are more expensive than me (so I benefit from the comparison!).
Yes, I’ve been playing you for fools…
But now that you know my tricks, you can use framing to your own advantage. Think about it: Is your current positioning really using the most favourable frame for your brand? If not—you should fix that.
My Pre-Hire Checklist gives you valuable tips to consider before hiring an identity designer.