Exploring the concept of Brand Positioning - Why is Nike 'athletic' and Converse 'designer'?
Brand positioning is a very important concept in branding. Going purely by definition, brand positioning is the space that your brand occupies inside the customer's mind. It is considered a critical business decision because when you have a set of competing brands offering identical products targeted towards a similar audience segment, there should be a means of differentiation. And marketers believe that this differentiation should be in the mind, because several researches have shown that despite the fact that humans like to believe they make logical decisions, most of their decisions are subconsciously emotional.
Why Brand Positioning?
Brand positioning decisions take into consideration a lot of variables. Some of the most important factors illustrating its importance -
As mentioned, brand positioning is a way to break from the competitive clutter and define a unique position for yourself in the customer's mind. Taking the case of Smartphones, every brand has a certain image, and it has been consciously designed through means of branding and advertising. For example, Apple knows it is not the most technologically advanced, so it positions itself as an artistic, creative phone. On the other hand, Samsung prides itself as an innovator in the tech field. And a brand like OnePlus tries to be 'almost' as good as the innovator for much less the cost, and so on.
Brand positioning helps to create a unique set of emotional associations with the customer. A customer prefers owning a brand that goes with his/her lifestyle and self-image. You will rarely find a utilitarian budget-conscious person owning a Mercedez Benz. Similarly, you will not find a multi-millionaire roaming in a Maruti 800 (now obsolete). These are choices we make based on our own image (and of course bank balance). But over time, the way these brands are positioned start influencing our lives in a deeper way and before we realize, we find ourselves as repeat buyers of the ones whose positioning resonates the most with us.
There are so many brands that have been around since decades or even a century, yet we say they have remained 'relevant'. So, what exactly does being relevant mean? It means constantly adapting and overcoming changes in order to stay fresh in the minds of the customers, and to be a brand that is always in their consideration set. Nokia kept maintaining its position of being a 'durable' and 'long lasting' cell phone, and never competed with the cutting edge Smartphones. But people wanted Smartphones and were willing to let go off durability - it was a very small price to pay for the features they were getting in Smartphones which would make their lives so much more convenient.
Nike is a great example of a brand that has stayed relevant with times. It created a core broad positioning of 'inspiring through sports' and has continued to nurture it through its various initiatives including taking a political stance on burning issues to doing product innovations like Nike+ which builds a fun but competitive community of fitness enthusiasts.
Key Elements of Brand Positioning
Brand Positioning needs to be worked out very carefully. It involves your long term mission and vision, the target group you want to pursue, the business metrics you are chasing and so on and so forth. There is no right concoction to it - it is a unique recipe crafted personally by every brand. However, the kind of ingredients that go inside it are broadly similar -
Who - Audience Segmentation
It is a very conscious business decision to choose the audience segments you want to market to. Getting this wrong is sure to make your business fail big time, whereas getting this right is just one of the steps towards succeeding. Your audience segments and their needs and wants will determine the kind of product you should manufacture. And in turn, your product will determine the kind of positioning you want to create through taglines, advertisements, and other brand elements. Again, this loops back to the kind of space you want to occupy based on your customers needs and wants.
When Converse realized that Nike and Adidas were behind its audience segment, it was quick to pivot and adapt. It entered into the whole 'designer' canvas shoes and went behind collectors and artistic individuals instead of focusing on the more athletic minded customers which were now being served by Nike better. It has carved out a distinct niche for itself.
What - Your offering
Even if you get your segmentation right, there is a high chance that another brand(s) might be chasing the same segment. Then it boils down to what are you offering? Your offering should not only fulfill their basic need, but also make them feel like your product was worth it. You must be wondering where does brand positioning fit in here? It fits in through means of creating appropriate branding cues. Your tagline, marketing material etc. should all drive home the point that this product will not only serve their need but deliver above and beyond.
Why - Reason to Believe
You should give the customers a reason to believe in your product, and your product quality and subsequent marketing should reinforce all that you are promising. Reason to believe can be pretty much anything, from customer testimonials to market research insights that are favorable for your brand. For example, in the US, it is common practice to do comparisons with your competitor's brand if you have hard facts to support your claims. In other countries, there are laws against competitive advertising.
Just like they say, Rome was not built in a day, so aren't great brands. It takes time, conscious decision making, and a lot of creative expression.