What is positioning? 5 steps to help your brand stand out
With approximately 17,000 SaaS brands in the US alone, competition between brands selling fundamentally similar products is sky-high.
Customers choosing between brands in a crowded marketplace need a way to narrow down their options. Especially when features overlap and brands lack clear differentiating factors.
To stand out and become the obvious choice, you need strategic positioning.
Positioning is what distinguishes a brand from its competition in the minds of target customers. It also represents how the brand is perceived by audiences, both in isolation and relative to its competitors.
Positioning is about perception more than practicalities. In their now infamous book Positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout explain this difference:
“Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”
The aim of positioning in marketing is to gain a competitive advantage. Influencing consumer perceptions gives you the opportunity to capture attention and grow your market share. This is often done through means that don’t involve physical changes.
In other words, a brand in the midst of repositioning doesn’t have to revolutionize its product. You can simply change the angle with which you approach your audience.
Your adopted positioning strategy affects broad facets of your operations. This includes your approach to:
Whether brands consider their positioning or not, they hold a position in the market. By neglecting to approach their positioning strategy proactively, they leave the market to decide it for them.
Positioning is an umbrella that many other marketing concepts sit underneath. Here’s how to distinguish its place in a broader branding or marketing strategy.
There are many ways to build a strategy to stand out and gain a competitive advantage in your target market. Three of the most common positioning strategies include:
This is when brands position their product or service as being particularly suited to a use case.
The key word is ‘position’ as their product will often have exactly the same features as competing brands. The difference is that they target a specific niche with their brand identity and messaging to create a ‘made for you’ facade.
Shopify Email is a good example. This product is fundamentally an email marketing campaign builder and automation tool. Its features overlap significantly with competitors like Mailchimp or Drip.
However, Shopify Email positions itself as the best option for users who already use Shopify for ecommerce. By publicly appearing as the natural best fit for that segment of the market, they make it so.
Implied quality level or “premiumness” is another popular approach to market positioning. This positioning strategy is like the theory of Giffen goods—products that people consume more of as the price rises.
They may not actually be of higher quality than competitors, but a rising price appeals to customers who want to pay for the best.
Searchmetrics, an SEO analysis tool, has positioning that puts them in this category. Their market presence reflects a high-cost, high-reward product. Messaging across their site reinforces this position by targeting enterprise-level customers.
It claims “the world’s most successful companies partner with Searchmetrics”. In reality, the product shares many features with competitors like Semrush.
While simplistic compared to other approaches, positioning based on lower pricing can be incredibly effective.
Some brands go all-in on price-point positioning, creating “freemium” products. Project management tool ClickUp, for example, advertises a “free forever” plan. This positioning strategy helps them capture customers who are unwilling or unable to spend now but may be eligible for a product-enhancing upsell later.
Even if your product or service is unique in nature, you’ll struggle to convert your target audience without the right positioning.
A strong positioning strategy helps your brand:
If your target market is broad, you can use positioning to target specific segments and gain a competitive edge. For example, identify an underserved group in the audience and develop a positioning strategy that speaks directly to their needs and use cases.
With this approach, you can capture a larger slice of a smaller pie.
For example, email marketing automation brands often target audience groups based on the CMS they use or the sector they operate in. Other B2B audiences can be segmented by factors like company revenue or number of employees.
Customers buy SaaS products because they seek a specific outcome. They need a solution that will help them to overcome an obstacle or tackle a problem. Positioning is how you showcase that your product is the right solution.
To produce messaging that resonates, directly address the most critical customer needs and explain how you solve them. When you demonstrate you deeply understand their problem, they take a chance on your solution.
Rob Markey of Bain & Company found that businesses with high brand loyalty grow revenue 2.5 times faster than their peers. Improving brand loyalty is a direct path to growth and outperforming the competition.
The best way to encourage loyalty is to align brand values with customer values. Accenture found that 42% of US consumers will walk away from a brand whose values they don’t align with, and 21% will never come back.
Positioning gives brands the chance to convey their values to customers. That makes it a central factor in customer stickiness and lifetime value. When customers feel aligned with your brand values, they’ll spend more and remain loyal.
Without a strong positioning strategy, your marketing and messaging can appear disjointed, confusing, and produce ineffective results.
Strong positioning can make marketing efforts more cohesive. It ensures that your brand is represented consistently across the touchpoints that precede a sale. This is likely to improve brand recognition and recall and keep you top of mind at the point of sale.
In markets where practical differences between competitors are minimal, emotions strongly influence purchasing decisions.
A study by SMITH found that the need for validation and relief from decision anxiety ranked highest among why people make purchases. Effective positioning tackles both by addressing common customer objections and concerns.
Customers deciding whether to purchase expensive software might be held back by doubt over whether it will prove cost-positive. Brands that proactively confront that doubt with their brand positioning can overcome it more effectively and win the sale.
The benefits of having an effective positioning strategy make it well worth the effort. There is no one-size-fits-all process, but the following steps outline how you should approach the task.
Carrying out market research is the first step in developing any positioning strategy. Assess how competitors are positioned and audit your own brand’s strategy.
Use resources like brand positioning maps to develop a top-down understanding of what the market looks like and where you sit in it. These are also known as perceptual maps and typically use “quality” and “price” as the axes, but vary the values as necessary.
Mapping the market puts you in a better position to identify where reasonable gaps lie. There’s no sense in considering a low-quality, high-cost positioning strategy, for example.
A brand positioning framework matrix helps you to determine how well your positioning strategy ideas match the needs of your ideal customer profile (ICP).
Avoid a positioning strategy that places you too close to an existing competitor, unless you can meaningfully differentiate.
For each strategy, consider how it would impact other elements of operations. The best positioning strategies influence sales, marketing, visual identity, CSR approach, and more. Make sure your messaging is cohesive, so your brand comes across as an aligned entity at every touchpoint.
Once you’ve settled on a suitable positioning strategy, define it by creating a brand positioning statement. This is a concise, one to two-line summary that stakeholders and customers can easily interpret.
Create new core messaging elements such as a tagline, website homepage copy, social posts, etc. Return to your target market research and speak to their pain points, desires, and struggles in voice of customer (VoC). Align your messaging with your carved-out position, whether it be niche, price points, or values.
Make sure each element is clear on its own and cohesive when adjoined.
The next step is to expand the positioning strategy across all other facets of your brand, including visual identity, price-point, sales approach, customer service, and perhaps even product features.
Aim for a result that’s cohesive from the first to last touchpoint and beyond. A customer who goes from targeted ad to free trial to loyal user should experience a consistent brand throughout.
After you roll out your brand positioning strategy, test its effectiveness to ensure it’s hitting the mark. Run focus groups or surveys to gather insights into the positioning strategy as a whole. For more granular thoughts on specific elements of your strategy, consider other forms of testing.
For example, a message testing platform like Wynter gives you unique insights into how your messaging comes across.
Real people assess and provide feedback on how clear, relevant, valuable, and differentiated it is. The tool gives you control over who participates in the test, which ensures they match your ICP and provide relevant insights.
The feedback you receive will steer how you tweak and refine your positioning strategy. As a result, your positioning will resonate more deeply with your ICP and convert more customers.
Examining how other brands use positioning helps you shape your own strategy. Here are a few that get it right.
Casted is positioned as a one-of-a-kind product targeting B2B companies looking to improve their podcast ROI. Their tagline immediately reinforces its unique positioning with words and phrases like “the only podcast platform that shows which companies are consuming your brand’s content.”
Casted is not differentiated on a product level. Most of the product’s features are shared with other podcasting platforms. They intentionally differentiate by tailoring their messaging to a niched-down audience.
Language like “The only podcast & video solution made for busy B2B marketers like you” directly addresses their ICP’s pain points.
Mailchimp is well-known as a go-to choice for email marketing automation. Their knowledge of the position they occupy in the market informs their positioning. Their strategy revolves around acknowledging their popularity and reinforcing it with user-focused content.
This positioning is clear throughout their website and present from line two “the #1 email marketing and automations brand.” Elsewhere, video content revolving around Mailchimp customers’ success strengthens it.
Selflessly helps software organizations manage and track their CSR and charitable work. They lead with messaging that focuses on the importance of “giving back” and creating “community impact”, which is a direct reflection of what their product was created to do
Their messaging is clear, targeted, and precise. Words and phrases like “purpose-driven” and “community impact” litter the page. Heart emojis sit above copy that reads “You last helped Bulldog Rescue of America, Inc.”, strategically pulling at heartstrings and tapping into aspirational initiatives.
When you scroll down, you’re hit with social proof that eases financial objections, by subtly telling you you’ll earn more if you spend with them.
Selflessly clearly knows its audience well, and uses messaging to tap into its fundamental desires to better the world and help others do the same.
Every brand occupies a position in its market, whether they know about it or not. Being proactive about positioning is your chance to influence how you’re perceived by your target audience.
New brands get the chance to invent their position from scratch, but that doesn’t mean existing brands can’t pivot. After all, brand positioning is a fluid concept. Like personality, it’s free to change with time.
Renewing your positioning strategy can transform how your potential customers see you. And how you’re seen dictates how likely you are to win leads.
Consider your current positioning and decide whether it fits your unique objectives. If not, perhaps it’s time to reinvent your brand.
Out now: Watch our free B2B messaging course and learn all the techniques (from basic to advanced) to create messaging that resonates with your target customers.