Brand positioning strategy: Examples and frameworks to win over customers

A brand positioning strategy helps you to manage how you’re perceived in the market, and sets you apart from the competition. Build your winning strategy with this guide.

In an oversaturated market, how do you cut through the noise and reach your target market? As a product marketer, how do you ensure that your messaging has the impact you want? Does it highlight how unique the benefits you offer are? How do you find messaging that communicates and supports your market positioning?

The answer is brand positioning. And we’re about to tell you how to build a brand positioning strategy that will win over your customers.

Why is brand positioning important?

Brand positioning is about so much more than just your content marketing strategy, or the design of your website. Done well it can help you:

  • Build brand awareness and reach new customers
  • Build brand loyalty among your existing customers
  • Create a stronger value proposition
  • Be consistent in your messaging across marketing, sales, customer service, etc
  • Tap into the emotions of the market, and build your emotional appeal
  • Make important product decisions, such as pricing and feature prioritization
  • Influence marketing decisions, such as sponsorships and campaigns
  • Sell your unique selling point (USP and differentiate yourself from competitors

Types of brand positioning strategies

There isn’t a one-size fits all approach to brand positioning. So there are a few different types of brand positioning strategies…

A differentiation strategy

A differentiation strategy for brand positioning is by far the most popular. With a differentiation strategy, you’re not trying to just be the best or the cheapest. You’re selling yourself based on your uniqueness. Something about you that sets you apart from the rest of the competition.

Stripe did this very well when they entered the payments market, setting themself apart by creating a user-friendly API that developers were able to more easily integrate into websites. 

In a crowded market, they set themselves apart by being simpler and more time-saving than their competitors. This USP has been key to their success, and they make the most of this in their homepage messaging:

Stripe's differentiation strategy in action

Differentiation can be difficult to maintain, as copycats are everywhere and it’s difficult to build something that is truly impossible to replicate. The SaaS industry moves quickly, and you can never remain the only one doing something cool for very long. The market is going to catch up to you.

That said, it’s one of the most effective strategies for giving customers a reason to choose you over your competitors.

One of the ways to ensure a successful differentiation strategy is through messaging differentiation, and obtaining message-market fit before product-market fit.

You achieve messaging differentiation when you understand your users better than your competitors do. This means that you’re able to speak to them in a way that resonates with them, which should be your go-to step for winning them over.

Chasing product-market fit before you’ve achieved message-market fit is among the most common (and biggest) mistakes that companies make today. Some even skip this step altogether, leading to a lack of interest in their product, no matter how well it serves the market. 

Message-market fit ensures that you’re telling the right story, in the right way, to the right people. Especially in mature, crowded categories. To win in this arena, companies need to understand how the messaging they use hits home with customers.

Cost-driven positioning

Providing everything that your competitors do, but cheaper. While your product may offer reduced functionality compared to the biggest player in the market, you offer a more accessible price point, and scoop up customers who can’t or aren’t willing to pay your competitor’s prices.

Adobe’s Photoshop may reign in the digital design world, but Sketch has found success by targeting UX/UI designers who aren’t able to afford Adobe’s prices. Procreate provides an alternative for digital painters in a similar position.

You can see how this translates to their messaging with Sketch’s CTA’s - Get Started For Free.

cost-driven positioning on the Sketch website

This strategy does, however, leave you at the mercy of numerous factors that are out of your control. Logistical challenges, new legislation, and inflation can all lead you to raise the price of your services. Thus losing your competitive advantage.

Quality of service positioning

You sell yourself simply as the best at what you do, providing both a high-quality product and high quality of service. This is usually unsuccessful as a primary driver of brand positioning, and is best kept as a competitive advantage and something to keep your customers loyal. ‘Best’ is too vague, and is not a strong enough selling point for most consumers.

However, there are customers out there that are looking for the best, for whom money is no object and quality is everything. 

This is something that Apple has been able to achieve with its range of iMacs and MacBooks. Their prices come at a premium compared to similar models on the market, but Apple’s reputation for reliable customer service justifies the price point.

This is a key strategy for B2B SaaS products and businesses want to be reassured that there will be little to no disruption to their operations. They can also guarantee that a dedicated customer service team will always be available to them should something go wrong. It’s something that Salesforce have mastered, becoming a go-to choice for many businesses through their reliability.

Salesforce highlighting the quality of their service

Disruptive positioning

Your product or service solves a problem in a way that no one has ever done before. You’re bringing something completely new to the market, as Waymo is doing with self-driving cars or Netflix did with popularizing online streaming.

This strategy really relies on your service being the first to market, or having a USP that other companies can’t replicate. It relies on your ability to constantly be innovating, and delighting your customers in unexpected ways.

The danger of relying on this brand positioning strategy is that copycats are sure to follow, and may build on your innovation to bring something even more disruptive to market. It’s a strategy that’ll definitely keep you on your toes.

Emotional positioning

Your customers feel as though your product or service says something about them, or makes them feel a particular way about themselves. Using your service is an act of self-expression, and becomes part of their identity. Some customers love the way a Starbucks cup looks and feels in their hands more than they enjoy the taste of the coffee.

It’s a strategy that has always worked well in the fashion industry, but has quickly spread to the digital world as well. Are you a casual runner who tracks their activity with Nike’s free Running Club App, or do you consider yourself a more serious runner with a Strava subscription?

Emotional brand positioning can also be achieved when the company is perceived as solving a global problem, perhaps through charitable donations or sustainable practices. Customers may be motivated to buy from a company they believe is having a more positive impact on social justice, the environment, or their local community.

In the SaaS world, emotional language can be used as a strategy to create positive brand positioning. You can see this in a website character analysis run by marketeer Geoff Preece on Slack:

If Slack Were a Person: A Brand Personality Analysis of Slack
If Slack Were a Person: A Brand Personality Analysis of Slack

Slack communicates their brand position through being sincere above all else, but also excited. These pillars of emotional language help to better drive their mission and find their message-market fit.

The brand positioning map

Brand positioning maps are useful visual aids to help you plot out where you stand next to your competitors. Sometimes referred to as perceptual maps, they allow you to measure the perception of your brand according to two variables. 

For example, Cost (cheap to expensive) and Quality (low to high), or Exclusivity (low to high) and Voice (informal to professional).

Harvard Business Review, A Better Way to Map Brand Strategy
Harvard Business Review, A Better Way to Map Brand Strategy

Here’s a simple brand positioning map template you can start with:

custom brand positioning map
Wynter branded positioning map example

Benefits of using a brand positioning map:

  • Identify gaps in the market
  • Identify your closest competitors
  • Communicate your brand position internally
  • Drive creative branding and marketing decisions

When creating your brand positioning maps (plural, because you’ll likely need more than one) think about all the different aspects of your brand that can be measured. Cost and quality are the easiest ones to go for, and can help you make important pricing choices. But when it comes to your brand, there has to be more depth than just how much you cost and how good you are.

When you’re chasing message-market fit, consider things like the tone you take in your messaging, and whether you’re aiming to be more educational or entertaining.

A step-by-step guide to brand positioning

There’s nothing worse than putting all the work into a brand positioning strategy only to have gone about it all wrong! This foolproof guide will keep you on track:

Defining your audience

Knowing your audience is vital, and must be the first thing you do when embarking on a brand positioning strategy. You need to know your user personas inside and out, and have these personas available to everyone in the company.

A brand can have many different personas within its potential customer base, but you can end up sending mixed messages if you try to create a brand that speaks to absolutely everyone. When creating your brand positioning strategy, identify which segments of your potential user base hold the most potential for your business. Segmentation is key, because different segments have different particularities and can help you to maximize the impact of your messaging.

Let’s say you’re a SaaS business in the HR space. You mostly appeal to HR Managers/VPs of People, and that’s a given. But you may also have a segment of startup CEOs who don’t yet have the budget for an HR department. Both of these segments can benefit your business, but you may need to talk to them in different ways. An HR Manager isn’t going to react in the same way to a message that’s directed at a startup CEO. Understanding these segments and their differences will help you to more fully realize a brand positioning strategy that serves all of your target customers.

However many you have, your key segments will create your target market and will be the people that you bring with you in the next step…

Determine your current brand positioning

Even if brand positioning is something you haven’t actively worked on before, your audience already has some preconceived ideas about your company. Like it or not, you already have a brand position. And understanding where you are will help you to take the steps needed to position your brand where you want it to be.

Take a look at the qualitative data offered by your users (app reviews, customer service feedback, online forums) and pull out the commonly shared keywords and concepts. If you don’t have enough of this kind of data to pull the trends, consider conducting market research to see how your brand is perceived.

Defining your why

Every company has a story, which is the backbone of your branding. Your ‘why’ is your reason for being, and is among the most important things that you need to communicate to your customers in your messaging. It helps people to buy into the story of your brand, and it’s a key step in separating yourself as different from the competition.

It’s a vital step specifically for brand positioning strategy, because you need to make sure that your brand positioning isn’t in conflict with your why. For example, if you see your brand as accessible, but the feedback you’re getting from market research is that your brand is perceived as exclusive, there’s a serious discrepancy between your values and your branding.

Defining your competitors and differentiators

Even if you’re not using differentiation as your main strategy, defining who your competitors are and what sets you apart from them is a key part of any company’s brand positioning.

Start out by doing some in-depth research into your main competitors. Understand where they sit on the brand positioning maps that matter most to you, what their main strengths and weaknesses are, and create a series of basic Us vs Them charts comparing the products, services, and features you offer.

Once you’ve understood your competitors, define your key differentiators, and use these to create your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) statement. This statement should encompass the main reasons why customers choose you over competitors, and what you offer that other companies don’t. As with all things in your brand positioning strategy, this is something that should be widely communicated across your organization.

Instead of relying on your gut instincts, preference tests allow you to measure your value offer/UVP against your competitors. There’s not much point being better at serving your niche if you’re not able to communicate it to them, and preference tests make sure your headlines are more grabbing, your arguments resonate more, and your audience feels more understood than those of your competitors.

Create a brand positioning framework

Being able to communicate your brand positioning internally is a critical step in building the perfect strategy, and that’s where your brand positioning framework comes in.

Wynter's brand positioning framework

A brand positioning framework helps you to consolidate everything you’ve learned through your strategy building into the most important factors. It gives a top-down view of your strategy, and you may choose to finish with some of the key touchpoints to be used by marketing in your brand messaging.

Define: Include details of how your brand positioning is seen in the market. If this is aligned with where you want to be, great! If not, you’ve identified gaps in your messaging that need to be strengthened. For example, if your target market doesn't see you as ‘premium’ despite that being your ideal position, you probably need to rethink the language you use to communicate with them as it may be too colloquial.

Target: Take everything you’ve learned about your customers and target audience and turn that into user personas that easily communicate who you’re trying to serve and whose attention you’re trying to catch. Include their pain points, their preferences, their needs, and jobs-to-be-done.

Evaluate: This is where you identify what sells you to your target market. What’s your Unique Value Proposition? What are the main benefits that you offer, and what problems do you solve? Paint a picture of your ideal brand positioning and what perception you’re aiming to achieve. You may also choose to include the voice that you speak to your customers in. How you communicate with your customers is just as important to brand positioning as what you want to say.

Research: You can’t create a brand position without understanding the competition. In your brand positioning framework identify the main competitors from who you want to differentiate yourself, and include some key points about their selling points and brand perceptions.

This is a brand positioning template that you can use again and again, and one which you should revisit often as your offering and business goals evolve.

Evaluate the efficiency of your positioning 

In the creative industries, artists and writers know that sometimes you have to ‘kill your darlings.’ This means that even if you’ve created what you think is the most powerful brand positioning strategy, you need to know if it actually works. If not, you need to kill your darling and rework it until you’ve created a brand position that speaks to your audience.

But how do you go about testing the efficiency of your positioning?

Message testing allows you to take a data-driven approach, as it helps you to measure how your audience reacts to the way you communicate with them. You’ll get a clear understanding of what excites them, what bores them, and what makes them feel understood when they land on your website.

Use the data provided by message testing to optimize the copy of your website, and communicate with your users in a much more meaningful way. In the digital world, attention spans come at a premium and only for a fleeting moment. Maximize the attention you get from users with the right messaging, for the right customers, at the right time.

Strengthen your brand positioning statement

“When everything looks the same, differentiate through clarity.” - Stephanie Perozo, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Contentful

Brands create a lot of noise, and marketing will likely have you talking to your audience through a dozen different touchpoints before they convert. If your brand messaging isn’t on point, you run the risk of confusing them, and a confused customer often becomes a lost one.

Sometimes it’s the most simple messaging that cuts through the noise, and this clarity can also help you to strengthen your brand positioning statement.

Your brand positioning statement shouldn’t be an essay. It works best when it’s succinct, with every word carefully chosen for maximum clarity and impact. Internally, this leaves little room for interpretation and keeps your brand messaging consistent across departments. Externally, this then provides your customers with a much clearer idea of who you are, what you do, and why you’re the better choice.

Brand positioning examples

Now we’ve understood the theory behind building an effective brand positioning statement, it’s time to see what good looks like.

Zoom vs. Google Meet

Zoom and Google essentially achieve the same goal: video conferencing. But with Zoom becoming the de facto choice for businesses when work-from-home became the default, Google Meet positioned itself as the easier, more user-friendly version for families and friends to connect.

Zoom enjoyed success in the business world as the option that had the most features, allowing for large teams to more seamlessly meet. With the ability to record sessions, livestream to an external audience, and the rising popularity of Zoom backgrounds as a method of safeguarding people’s personal space, workers-from-home flocked to the platform.

Google Meet differentiates itself as a more seamless option. Anyone who has watched their grandparent struggle with the TV controller understands the danger of giving their relatives too many buttons to push. The simplicity of Google Meet decreased the time-to-value for its ‘family and friends’ user base, allowing for quick and easy communication.

Speechly

Speechly, an AI-driven speech analysis tool found its brand positioning by identifying a gap in the market that big-tech hadn’t yet filled. Consumer voice technology is famously inaccurate, and Speechly uses a differentiation strategy to sell the most ‘accurate’ tool on the market. This disruptive positioning strategy allow Speechly to fill a need that their competitors can’t.

Speechly's brand positioning

They weave this USP into their onsite messaging to strengthen their brand position and catch the attention of developers who are searching for an alternative to Big Tech solutions. They also pitch themselves as being ‘for developers’, and by addressing their segment directly they have more meaningful interactions with them and strengthen their brand positioning.

Rippling

Rippling finds its brand positioning by branding itself as the easiest solution for HR on the market, and you can see how this impacts their homepage messaging with words like ‘simplify’ and ‘effortlessly.’

the Rippling positioning

The world of HR is a complicated one, and by being an all-in-one solution Rippling is able to brand itself as the solution that eases a previously unsolvable pain point for HR teams.

Notion

When Notion first landed in the market, it seemed to come out of nowhere and suddenly everyone was using it. It achieved this through a differentiation strategy that set it apart as the best tool for doing everything at once.

Notion identified a common pain point among users in the productivity tool space — that using one tool for each task ends up being more time consuming. So through their messaging, they advertised the most flexible tool on the market. It could be your calendar, your project management tracker, your daily journal, your database, and whatever else you needed it to be.

Notion Google Ad

Notion is also a perfect example of how, sometimes, tweaks are necessary in order to maintain your brand positioning. In 2020, as competitors started closing in on them, they increased the value of their freemium model to give more usability to their users who weren’t paying for one of their premium tiers.

HubSpot

HubSpot built its brand around being user-friendly, setting itself apart from other more complicated CRMs on the market. It became the go-to for entry-level marketers and small teams that needed to democratize access to their marketing tools.

HubSpot positioning

By capitalizing on their position as the easiest-to-use, they were able to differentiate themselves from the competition, and stand out as unique amongst a sea of marketing tools. Their brand positioning strategy enabled them to find message-market fit, and influenced their marketing strategy (their inbound marketing strategy is based on a free knowledge center and online certifications).

Final thoughts: Playing the long-game for strong brand positioning

Brand positioning strategies aren’t a quick-and-dirty way of gaining a competitive edge. They’re a long-term investment that require a lot of time and energy. They’re also something that you’ll need to periodically revisit to ensure that you’re either maintaining your brand position, or that your brand positioning strategy still serves you.

It’s also key that your marketing, customer service, and sales teams are all aligned on your brand position, and that every touchpoint you have with your customers is reflective of it. You need to make sure the homepage of your website (in fact, every page of your website!) is aligned with your brand positioning goals. If you’re aiming to be perceived as exclusive, does the language you use reflect that, or are you being too informal with your audience?

It doesn’t just extend to your homepage. You need to make sure that every interaction you have with your customers reinforces your brand positioning. This means email marketing, social media, blog articles, whitepapers, PR announcements, customer service conversations, chatbots, and everything in between.

Use your brand positioning to create stronger brand awareness and positive associations in the market. When all of your online presence is consistent to the same messages, you build your reputation as a trustworthy brand that knows what they’re about. Message testing is a key part of ensuring a strong brand position, and Wynter is the perfect partners to support you as you play this long-game.

Wynter takes care of your routine message testing, ensuring message-market fit and strengthening your brand positioning strategy. Making a habit of checking in with your audience, and making sure that you’re still understanding one another, will help you to foster the right relationships, and topple the competition.

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