Jamie Viggiano is Chief Marketing Officer at Fuel capital, an early stage venture capital firm investing in consumer, SaaS and infrastructure companies.
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It’s human nature to reflexively categorize and sort the information we encounter in our daily life. To influence the way potential customers understand your brand, you need to present them in a way that allows them to decide how they think about your brand.
This process is known as positioning and is the most important (and least understood) component of your branding book. Positioning is the message received, not the one being delivered. It’s not just about what you say, but how that information is arranged in a customer’s mind. Where does it essentially end up? What place does it ultimately take?
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Positioning is about taking a position. It’s a question to put in your potential customers’ awareness of what can uniquely assert and defend your brand. A positioning statement is a clear, comprehensive way to help someone think about your business.
It defines and frames your brand and makes it the central organizational structure of your brand message and strategy. In order to construct your positioning statement, you must first do some work to uncover its components.
Since positioning is about the space you take up in your client’s mind, you can’t figure out how to position your brand until you know exactly who that client is. There are a number of operations in developing your brand, and developing your target personas comes before positioning. It is also useful to fully develop your brand’s ethos before attempting to determine your positioning. Understanding who you are and who you serve are important first inputs.
Your positioning statement serves as the basis for developing your most important messages, value propositions, slogans as well as voice and tone.
Now that the target customer is established, it’s time to figure out your frame of reference – the context in which consumers see your brand. By providing consumers with a frame of reference, you are equipping them with the information they need to categorize, contextualize, and then compare your brand with what they are already familiar with.
This is important because potential customers need to consider parity features (i.e., how your brand is) before they can consider differentiators (what makes your brand unique). Competitive frames of reference are usually specific to reduce the number of brands competing for the prospect’s attention.
The specificity of a frame of reference signals the customer where to put it, and the smaller the category, the better your chances of owning it (or at least making it stand out).
Exercise: List the top five brands in your category. If you aren’t number 1 in this category, think about other categories where your brand is first or best.
Panera Bread isn’t # 1 in the fast food chain, but it is # 1 in fast-casual bakery-cafes. Your frame of reference does not seek to compete with established giants like McDonald’s or Starbucks. Instead, Panera places it in a more specific, separate category.
White Claw isn’t the best canned alcoholic beverage, but it’s the # 1 seltzer that gets you drunk. That makes “Hard Seltzer” an effective frame of reference for a brand that would rather lead a category than compete with beer, malt beverages and wine coolers.