Brand positioning Q&A with our Byron-Sharp-approved* creative strategist

Despite many decades of increasingly sophisticated marketing, the art and science of brand positioning can still be a contentious issue.

Sales directors haven’t got much time for it.
HCD practitioners can actively work against it.
And the nuances of distinctiveness versus differentiation can still energise furious debate (in certain brand nerd circles).

But despite the technicalities, the evidence is clear: from established giants like Apple to recent successes like BrewDog, getting your brand position right has transformational power, that unlike buying a new tech platform or improving CX, can’t be replicated by anyone else.

To gain deeper insight into the importance of brand positioning, we picked the brain of our multi-talented creative strategist, Phil Watson.

*Byron once said Phil was correct in a Mumbrella comments section. 

Firstly, who is Phil?

I’m a creative strategist who brings a background in digital and CX to the emotion of brand building and brand experience.

What is brand positioning?

Brand positioning is the art of occupying a distinctive place in the mind of your audience.

Why is it important?

Successful brand positioning is one of the only legally ownable advantages a company can have in the absence of patents or technology with a significant barrier to entry (which never lasts).

It builds intuitive cognitive shortcuts that promote preference, trust and mental availability. It can also protect against price elasticity and help increase loyalty.

What sets good and average brand positioning apart?

Good brand positioning can galvanise an entire organisation and can be explained by everyone in that organisation from top to bottom.

Average positioning needs a chart and makes rational sense but inspires nobody. Sometimes the difference between good and average is simply investment. The greatest position can remain average if it doesn’t reach its audience.

What are your personal tenets of brand positioning?

Simplicity. Brands operate at the intuitive level of our cognitive process.
Honesty. The whole organisation has to live up to it.
Longevity. Build and budget for long term (and don’t expect tactical short term results).
Clarity. Don’t use vague language like ‘solutions’ or ‘innovation’.
Reality. Don’t expect miracles. A new logo and strapline can’t cover up fundamental operational, product or service issues.

What do you need before you get started with a brand’s positioning?

Internal agreement.

Getting everyone on board from the start is critical. Building internal agreement around a territory is often the first and greatest hurdle. When you try and please everyone the end product often comes out schizophrenic and meaningless.

Once everyone is on the same page, you’ll need a solid value proposition, an understanding of the competition and the audience and a concise articulation of where the company is going (mission, vision, goals).

Developing a brand positioning strategy isn’t always a quick process. Any tips on developing one faster?

Anything done too fast is liable to be flawed. But if time is of the essence, make sure you:

  1. Work with a really good small team and a tight brief.
  2. Research, but don’t spend too long. Trust your instincts.
  3. Adopt agile methodology. Dive straight in and write and test intuitive territories.
  4. Look at what the competition is doing and aim for a more distinctive version.

Finally, can you share some valuable takeaways from a career built on brand work?

I came full circle to understanding the value of brand having started in design and then moving into data driven response marketing, where brand is typically secondary or a given, to coming back to brand building.

  • Keep learning and stay up to date with your homework. Read Ritson, Sharp, Binet + Field, Ferrier etc.
  • There’s no guarantees, only probabilities.
  • Many great brands have been built out of non-rational ‘frictions’ ie: Guinness’ ‘Good things come to those who wait’. Don’t be afraid to go there.
  • You can build a brand without advertising, but eventually you will probably need it.
  • Like all strategy, brand positioning is the art of sacrifice. It’s as much about what you don’t say or try to achieve as what you do.

We may be entering a kind of ‘post brand’ world as consumers become more aware and direct digital media channels no longer favour brand building at scale — an interesting future to consider!

Is your brand properly positioned to succeed? Phil can help. Phil wants to help. Get in touch.

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