The Definitive Guide To Positioning Your Brand

Stop competing on price and relying on referrals. Define your positioning, claim a point of differentiation and let the clients come to you.

IN BRANDING |  BY BRUCE WHITE

Positioning is the absolute core of your brand message and the best way to differentiate your business from lower-priced competition while attracting higher-value clients.

 

But, doing it right can be just plain difficult. We’re here to make it easier.

 

I promise that, after reading this, you will have a clear, actionable pathway to developing your unique position in the market and targeting higher-quality, more profitable clients.

 

We’ve all heard the adage, “work smarter, not harder,” well, that’s more true in positioning than anywhere else in your business. What you do isn’t the problem. Who you do it for may be!

 

Before going too far, let’s talk about what Positioning is and what it can do for you.

 

Positioning is the relationship between you (your organization, products and services) and your prospect or client’s mind.

 

  • How do they think about you?
  • What problems, benefits, or solutions do they associate with you?
  • How do they perceive you?

 

Positioning your business is an ongoing process of finding and owning a defensible place in the hearts and minds of your ideal prospects and clients.

 

To put it more succinctly, positioning is the process of becoming completely clear on who you serve, which of their problems you solve, how you solve those problems, and what makes you and your solution unique or different to your competition.

Better clients need higher value.

All too often, we see entrepreneurs frantically searching for more services to add to their offerings so they can justify higher prices (or, worse, so they feel better asking only for what they’re already getting).

 

In order to do the same work more profitably, you don’t need to add more services, you need to choose better clients! We know, we’ve been there.

 

Don’t get me wrong, your product or service needs to be professional and high-quality BUT, you don’t have to sell your soul or kill yourself 24 hours a day to deliver it.

 

You just need to completely define the value you offer and the market you offer it to. That’s the essence of a brand positioning.

 

Keep reading and you will see how building an engaging brand positioning that connects to a better quality of client allows you to generate higher sales from the right clients while charging a premium over lower-priced competition.

 

Then, we’re going to tell you exactly how to do it. Grab a copy of the workbook below, which includes all the worksheets, instructions and a bonus section on defining your Value Proposition.

 

Some of you just skipped to the end, right?

 

Yes, it’s long but, to get the value out of this, and begin building a professional brand instead of a job, you have to read the whole post.

 

If you’re going to do this, commit to it and I promise you it can be done.

What if I just got more clients?

Sure, that’s one way to get more income but isn’t that what you’ve been trying to do?

 

It’s also a great way to burn yourself out and lose the passion that made you start your company in the first place.

 

Here’s the problem. You’re spending all day trying to find new ways to drum up business but when you finally do get a lead, they’ve got no budget or they haven’t got a clue what you do.

 

You’ve tried reducing prices, flash sales, offering discounts, you’ve even signed up for every online training course known to mankind.

 

You’re spending all your time stressing and focusing on business problems, missing out on time with your family and you’re taking any work you can get out of fear of saying no and not getting another job.

 

But, the one thing you haven’t done is focused your brand. You’re still trying to do everything and be everything to everyone.

 

It’s time to focus your message and offer your unique solution to a specific market’s problem. That starts with positioning.

But, I just got a new logo and it hasn't improved my revenue!

First, off, let’s get one thing clear. Many people think a brand is a logo. It’s not.

 

Not even close.

 

Although a logo is an integral element in a complete brand, it is still only the visual representation of an otherwise detailed and strategic process.

 

We think the following quote from Robert Friedman, formerly an executive with AOL, Classic Media and the original MTV development team, touches on the true value of a brand:

“. . . in the truest sense, the synonym for brand is ‘reputation.’ It’s a sense of identity, and it helps consumers make decisions in a crowded marketplace.”
— Robert Friedman

Thinking of your brand, we believe you should focus on the importance, not only of Reputation in the eyes of external stakeholders (clients, suppliers, prospects, etc) but, the equally important clarity and Sense of Identity internally with your staff, board members, families, etc.

 

When you show the world your brand’s personality and values, you will be planting a preference for your product or service in the hearts and minds of those who align with your character and beliefs.

 

This is true of every brand, from Fortune 500’s to the corner store, when you show your authentic brand self, and how that relates to what you do and who you do it for, your prospects and customers will engage with you at a more emotional level.

 

The most well-known brands generate loyalty by sharing their values and personalities with their audiences.

What if I increase my marketing?

That’s another option, of course.

 

You’ll be spending more money and generating even more, unqualified, low-budget leads but, hey, whatever you want to do.

 

Instead, why not lower your marketing spend by targeting only the type of clients that you want to work with? Seems logical, right?

 

See, times have changed and people are finding all new ways of communicating on a global scale. Things are noisier than ever in the digital environment and it’s progressively more difficult to be heard.

 

But the biggest change is that, instead of trusting a website or a print ad, your prospects are trusting their friends and online communities.

 

Sure, you could follow your competitors and try to be heard with a loud sales message touting discounts and rebates but, that’s not the way to grow a business, let alone a brand.

 

Spray and pray marketing may have worked in the past but, it’s just not viable now that people receive over 5000 ads a day (up from 2000 a day 30 years ago).

 

Smarter brands have recognized that you need to limit your message, not widen it, and speak to a specific audience about their specific problem and how your solution benefits them. (Sounds like marketing, right? It’s not. It starts with your brand positioning.)

 

And to top it all off, you’ve worked with “branding specialists” in the past who just sold you a logo and you didn’t get any new business at all.

 

Once you know the process required to build a brand properly, you’ll understand why a graphic design project could never help you generate the type of meaningful business you require to build the lifestyle you deserve.

What makes us qualified to teach you Positioning?

We started our professional services business in 2008 because we understood the power of branding in elevating a business above the pack and offering a unique and powerful message to a specific market. 

 

We’re entrepreneurs at heart and we got tired of seeing designers selling struggling entrepreneurs a logo instead of a brand and pretending it would help them focus their message and develop new business.

 

It simply doesn’t work that way, you’ve got to give your prospects a reason to want to work with you.

 

How do you do that?

 

Run up a flag, tell them what you stand for, show them your personality and very clearly define what makes you different and better able to solve their unique problems.

 

It takes understanding and definition, personality and values and, of course, positioning, and that’s just the start.

 

Without defining your brand foundation, don’t even think about a logo or color scheme.

So, how do you run up this brand flag?

Start with Positioning. Let's get at this.

Using this proven process in our professional services company, we have developed brand Positioning for small and large businesses, non-profits, consultants, and service businesses, government departments, and tech companies across North America and Australasia.

 

Following this same technique, you can develop an effective, professional and authentic brand Positioning communicating your message both internally and externally.

 

You’ll be well on the way to developing a brand that targets the right clients and generates more revenue with less stress. Plus, your employees will have a sense of identity and a renewed passion for success.

 

And when you complete your overall brand development, you’ll finally get to spend time growing your business, building relationships with clients and focusing on operations instead of scrambling for new prospects.

 

Most importantly, your defined brand will enable you to communicate your message 24/7 through highly targeted user experiences, allowing you to leave work on time, enjoy your family and even take time off without the stress of your business going belly-up without you.

One last thought before we begin.

Positioning is really scary.

 

You’ll second-guess this process a bunch of times based on your survival instinct and desire to avoid loss of business.

 

It will feel counterintuitive that you can achieve growth, stability and profits by saying no to some of the clients you have been working with. It will certainly make you question whether you really are an expert.

 

All of that is OK.

 

Just accept that this is normal, and, to your benefit, understand that this is the single biggest thing that keeps about 80% of people who are thinking about positioning their business stuck in their current situation.

 

Give yourself a break, take your time and you can become one of the 20% who develop a unique, differentiated and in-demand brand!

STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR "WHO"

You started this business for a reason. If you’re one of the lucky few, you recognized that you had a skill set that matched a very specific problem in the market.

 

If that’s you, great! You’re ahead of most.

 

More likely though, you finished school, got a job, developed some experience and expertise and, then, whether deliberately or not, you found yourself out of a job and in need of an income.

 

Solution; start a business doing what you know. This is a typical way for many entrepreneurs to “end up” in business without the definition and understanding of their reasons. It’s also a recipe for disaster.

 

Your first step should be to deconstruct the value in what you provide and define specifically who stands to benefit the most.

 

Avoid the trap of talking to yourself here, you need to focus on the customer.

 

If you can completely and accurately define the value in what you provide, and then target those specific clients who benefit from that value, you can begin defining your ideal client.

 

A great place to start is with your current client list.

 

To be clear, we’re not going to develop more of the type of clients you currently have, we’re going to improve on this knowledge and target a higher-value subset of them.

 

First, however, you’ve got to understand them.

  • So, take a look at the clients you’ve done work for in the last 12 months. Now, really commit to deciding which one’s were the most fun to work with. These may or may not have been the most profitable so, you’ll have to dig deep on this one. Ask yourself why they were enjoyable. What was it they did that made them fun to work with? Were they easy-going? Paid on time? Didn’t question your recommendations? Took your advice? Actually followed through on your advice and performed the required work? What else?

Got a favorite client in mind? Pick no more than two or three here. Let’s move on.

  • Once you have picked your favorite client from the last 12 months, and defined what made them so much fun to work with, we’re going to turn the process inwards. Now, let’s take a look at what you did for them. If you have delivered true value to this client, they’re likely spreading the word. But, if you defined them as a favorite client and, upon reflection, you didn’t really deliver value to their business, we’ve got some work to do. So, what did you do to help their cause? What value did you bring to them? Did you increase their sales? Improve their processes for efficiency? Help them target a new market? Implement a highly-effective hiring practice? What did they get out of the deal?

Do you have a complete understanding of the value your clients received? This is vital, don’t rush this step.

 

Now, taking the most fun clients from the first bullet, confirm that they were the same clients that received the value from the second bullet.

 

See, when your clients perceive the value that they receive as greater then the money they paid, they will love working with you and spread the word.

 

So, the key to spreading a brand message is to focus on clients who love working with you and value what you do.

 

And the way to only work with clients who value you, is to get very specific in defining them and how they stand to benefit from what you offer. These are the clients that you will then aim to deliver massive value to.

 

Now, let’s bring them to life, give them a name, define how they look, what they feel and their needs, wants and desires so you end up with a human being you can target your marketing, message and user experience to.

 

First, define their demographics.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Marital Status
  • Spouse / Partner Name – Kids

Now, before going any further, give your client a name. It could be Sally or John or Frederick, it doesn’t matter.

 

Just choose a name that suits your client avatar.

 

And, if your client is a from a specific background, add a last name that makes sense, too. John Smith brings a different vision to mind than Maria Lopez, for example. We’re trying to bring this person to life as much as possible.

 

Now, identify their back story (Problems)

  • Where are they in life?
  • Where is their work situation?
  • What is happening that qualifies them to be a profile for you?
  • What challenges are they having?

Next, let’s decide their needs and why

  • What do they need to solve their challenges?
  • What can you give them that will help them overcome them?

Finally, we want to define how you exceed their needs

  • How do you go beyond meeting their needs?
  • Is there something that you can do uniquely for them?

Congratulations, now you have a client avatar.

 

Now, go back and look at the clients you most enjoyed working with, and the clients you provided the most value for and see where this avatar differs.

 

In many cases, you will need to perform this exercise two or even three times to end up with complete coverage of your ideal clients.

STEP 2: FIND YOUR POINT OF DIFFERENCE

There are many different ways to differentiate your business and in most cases, simply developing your positioning on a combination of who you serve and what you do, or a solution to a problem will be enough to set you apart from your competition in your clients’ and prospects’ minds.

 

Of course, that’s most cases and we’re not settling for just good enough here.

 

We’re here to develop a completely unique point of differentiation that actually speaks to your prospects, their needs, wants, and desires and elevates you above the pack in your market.

 

Most importantly, however, you must make your positioning completely unique and avoid crossing over anything that someone else is claiming.

 

This is vital, even if you can legitimately claim the same thing, if they claimed it first, you MUST move on to something different. The last thing you want to do is drive traffic to your competition. This is how the race-to-the-bottom, lowest-price-wins wars begin.

 

Don’t worry though, there’s no-one just like you, that does business just like you or that uses the exact same processes as you. You definitely have a point of differentiation, we just need to uncover it.

 

There are several ways you can differentiate your business:

  • A personal approach to creating the results you promise.
  • A personal philosophy or “angle” on the expensive problem you solve.
  • A particular capability or skill that you use to create results for your clients.

Whatever you decide, it’s vital that your point of differentiation adds to and improves the value of your positioning and isn’t just some random element that’s unrelated to your value proposition and positioning.

 

Even more importantly, it absolutely cannot decrease the value in your primary value proposition.

 

To get started on this exercise, do a little sleuthing on other companies who do something similar to you.

 

Let’s be clear, we’re definitely not saying you should copy your competitors, that would achieve the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.

 

You’re simply educating yourselves on how other companies are describing themselves.

 

  • How are they positioning their businesses?
  • How do they differentiate themselves from other companies?

 

When you’re looking at the competition, keep the following in mind:

  • Competition and other, related businesses in your niche or market is a GOOD THING. It definitively qualifies that there are prospects and clients who can support your business.
  • Don’t believe the hype. Just because someone else says something on their website or brochure, doesn’t mean they’re actually succeeding at doing it. All businesses try to look established and capable and successful online. You will too. So don’t believe the hype and get intimidated by what others are saying.
  • You may find your core positioning looks the same or very similar to one of your competition. In this case, you have to get down and dirty on defining your point of differentiation. It’s what will allow you to stand out in a crowded market.

Next, it’s time to develop your selling points. Armed with your newly developed understanding of your competitive landscape, it’s time to generate some differentiation points.

 

Keep in mind, this can be a personal approach, philosophy, or capability that sets your business apart from others.

  • Do you have a different approach to that of your competitors?
  • What philosophical aspect of your work creates benefit or value for your clients?
  • Do you have an “unfair advantage” over others who solve similar problems based on abilities?

Working through these questions will help you generate an understanding of what you do and how it’s different from others.

 

Finally, you just need to go through your list of potential differentiators and decide on the strongest and most unique point of differentiation your business brings to your market, and the one you can defend.

PRO TIP:

Continually refine and define.

Once you’ve worked through the Positioning exercises, you’ll need to refine things.

 

Sometimes you get excited by more than one differentiator and add them all or other times you struggle to pick one so you settle on a weak one.

 

Now is the time to refine things and make sure you’ve got it right. Start by asking the following questions:

  1. What is our current Positioning, do we own that space and do we want to keep it?
  2. If we don’t want to keep our current Positioning, what Position do we want to target and can we legitimately own it?
  3. Who do we have to compete with for our Positioning — can someone else say the same thing and, if they do, can we defend it?
  4. Do we have the resources to back up our Positioning in the event that we are challenged?
  5. Does our Positioning have longevity? Are we comfortable running up this flag for the long term.
  6. Does our Positioning represent genuine value for our target market? If not, go back to step 1.

STEP 3: WRITE THE POSITIONING STATEMENT

This step will test your understanding of your client AND your brand.

 

We will be using knowledge of our brand values, and personality as well as an understanding of the tone and voice used.

 

Finally, we will wrap all those elements in with our clients’ needs, wants, fears and desires to produce a positioning statement that describes exactly how we provide value, who we provide value to and why.

 

When developing your positioning, you have several different styles of approach depending on your abilities and understanding.

 

We develop all four different versions of Positioning statement for each branding engagement because we believe it is important to have positioning statements for multiple scenarios to ensure the brand message is translated regardless of environment.

 

It is vital, however, that the message remain the same, only the vocabulary will change.

 

To keep things easy, we recommend reading the different versions of Positioning statement construction and deciding which one you can easily develop for your own brand. Remember, we’re striving for progress, not perfection here.

 

The first version of positioning statement that you should always write is a Classic formulation as follows:

 

(Brand Name) provides (what you do) to (customer type(s)) in a (voice) and (voice) environment while helping them (feel) and giving them (impact).

 

Sounds pretty complete, right? It is. It covers everything required in a positioning statement and many big name brands do well with just this formula. However, often the reason those big brands do fine with a statement formulated in this structure is because their Voice, Feel and Impact are all very big and audacious. In reality, most smaller companies can’t achieve the same level of impact with this structure and the result sounds a little flat and stale. If that’s the case with yours, read on and take a look at the other types of Positioning statements you can develop.

 

The next one, Alternate Positioning, is completely customized for the client, based on the research and in-person discussions we have during the branding process.

 

For those of you following along and completing these exercises for your own brands, this is your opportunity to push the boundaries. No limits, no formula, just say what you can prove and live in the biggest, most audacious way possible.

 

Consider the benefits to the client of working with you, consider if you can say we are the “leader” in anything, consider the excitement you want your clients to feel when they read your positioning statement. Go crazy and have fun, this one’s all you!

PRO TIP:

Reverse engineer the Alternate Positioning

When we develop four positioning statements for clients, we’ve found it’s often best to leave the Alternate Positioning statement until last.

 

This allows you to thoroughly define the three, formula-based positioning statements using a clear pathway via the formulas.

 

This will give you a better understanding of the elements within the formulas and can also jolt your subconscious into action to offer up ideas you would’t have otherwise found.

 

If you don’t come up with a great Alternate Positioning statement the first time around, or any of the statements for that matter, put it aside and move on to something else.

 

Without fail, when our minds are left to their own devices, our subconscious will deliver solutions to problems we never would have thought of in the moment.

The third version of Positioning statement is usually the most difficult to develop but the most powerful.

 

Named the Onliness Statement, this formula was developed by Marty Neumeier and presented in his book, The Brand Gap,  as a way to define a “we are the only …. to do….” style of positoning.

 

It’s vital, when developing this positioning, that you understand your point(s) of differentiation completely.

 

This version is designed as a run-on sentence and uses a series of prompts as follows:

  • WHAT: The only (what you do)
  • HOW: that (what makes you unique)
  • WHO: for (customer/communities served)
  • WHERE:
  • WHY: (customer pain point/challenge)
  • WHEN: (trends that affect you / your clients)

Hint: break this down to it’s most simple elements and approach them one at a time. Here are some hints on how to develop your Positioning using this formula:

  • What: This is really basic, just what you do.
  • How: This is your X Factor, what makes you unique and different.
  • For: Also straightforward, you have to know who your customers are.
  • Where: This is simply the cities and the areas you operate.
  • Why: Why are you doing what you do, what problems are you solving, how are you helping your clients.
  • When: This is the power behind this Positioning. When refers to the trends that are powering the movement.

When you can tap into a trend or a movement like “sustainable living,” “carbon neutral” etc, your positioning becomes much more powerful!

 

Finally, we have the Elevator Pitch. If you have worked through at least the Classic Positioning and the Onliness Statement, this one will be a breeze! The formula to develop your Elevator Pitch looks like this:

 

(Product/Service) is a (general, relatable tool/service) that allows (adjectives + target user) to (value proposition).

NOTE:

You don't have to complete all four types today!

To prevent any issues with dynamism in our positioning statements when we do client brands, we develop all four different types.

 

However, don’t feel like you have to accomplish that right off the bat. Instead, choose one and just get it done, you can always return to create the others as you need them.

 

Even in our professional services firm, we dedicate several days to defining each of these for clients.

 

It’s not supposed to be easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.

STEP 4: DEVELOP AN ACTION PLAN

This is where we put the rubber to the road and move from exercises to reality.

 

By developing an action plan, you’ll find yourself gaining a better understanding of your Positioning and it will evolve from a tool to attract clients into the core of your company’s reason for being.

 

Putting a plan behind your Positioning will give you something to embrace, a clear plan that makes the Positioning believable and achievable.

 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What actions do we have to take to ensure our Positioning is successful? (For example, do we need to invest in technology.)
  • How can we be certain that our Ideal Customer will recognize our Positioning? (For example, do we need to increase our ad spend?)
  • What checks will we put in place to ensure our Positioning is staying visible to our target market? (For example, do we need processes to monitor and benchmark recognition and progress.)

Finally, assign the people who will perform each of these steps, what they need to do and when they need to do it.

 

Enlist help from colleagues, friends or family if needed, just make yourself accountable.

 

This Positioning needs to live in every touch point you have in your business so, don’t water down its efficacy by not taking it seriously.

STEP 5: VALIDATE YOUR FINDINGS

It is vital, at this stage, to test your assumptions before going live with this Positioning.

 

Everything you’ve done until now has been based on our own assumptions (based on experience) about your clients and their needs, goals, fears and desires.

 

But, what if you’re wrong?

 

Before you go public with these assumptions and base your business and brand building decisions on them, it’s wise to test them first, with people you can trust.

 

The process for doing this is quite simple. There are dozens of paid services for creating completely custom surveys but, for a one-time survey, we recommend Survey Monkey.

 

In a complete branding engagement, where we develop brand values, brand personality, desired perceptions, and value propositions, we would list all of those things in a variety of multiple choice and “disagree” to “agree” sliding scales.

 

In the case of just Positioning, you can simply put your client definitions and Positioning statement in a series of two or three questions and send it off.

 

We’ve included a few sample questions to get you started.

PRO TIP:

Confidentiality is key.

When we work through validation on behalf of a client, we personally conduct the surveys via telephone, however, if you’re performing the survey yourself, it’s important to make them confidential to ensure legitimate results.

 

We don’t even include a spot for our clients’ customers to fill in their name or email so their answers are never linked to their company or personal names.

 

Why is this important?

 

The last thing we want here is “yes-men” telling us a bunch of baloney that they think we want to hear. Give them their privacy and ask for their candid opinions. Your brand will be stronger for it.

Below, we’ve included a simple email script you can use when contacting your clients to request their participation.

 

Remember, be honest with your clients about what you’re doing and why. It’s them who stand to benefit from your business being stronger.

 

Once you’ve completed surveying your existing clients, look to speak to people who know your business well, such as suppliers or even investors.

 

Your goal should be to gather between 20 and 30 responses. Survey Monkey gives you a break down of the results, allowing you to easily pinpoint places where your assumptions were off.

 

Finally, if your assumptions weren’t right on the money, go back and work through this again.

 

Your Positioning is central to your brand success so it has to be genuine, authentic and defensible. Take the time now and you’ll reap the rewards later.

ARE YOU READY?

Positioning is just one of the pillars of building a brand. It’s a big and difficult process BUT, it’s also one of the most effective ways you can attract your ideal clients and increase your fees.

 

If you haven’t already done so, along with your Positioning, you should plan to complete similar exercises to define your Brand Character and Personality, Core Values, Brand Message, Desired Perceptions, and Unique Value Proposition to develop your complete brand.

 

Added to your positioning, these elements will have you ready to develop a visual identity to display your unique value to the world.

 

We know, this was a long guide, but instead of sneaking off for well-earned a nap, here’s what we think you should do right now:

  1. Bookmark this article. Seriously. Bookmark it. Go. Now. You’ll thank yourself later.
  2. Put on a strong pot of coffee.
  3. Get to work!

Yes, it’s a little overwhelming, but everything worth having is.

 

We sincerely hope you got a lot out of this guide. Let us know what you thought in the comments and have fun defining your unique Positioning!

Interested in building brand strategy for your clients?

Check out the Brand Sprint Blueprint, learn the step-by-step process to become a brand sprint master, enhance your skills, bring more profitable revenue into your creative firm, engage with higher-level clients, and be more valued for your work.

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Bruce White

Bruce White is a brand strategist, sprint trainer, entrepreneur, and educator dedicated to elevating the perception of value of the creative industry. He writes about business & branding for creatives as well as techniques for facilitating client sprints and dealing with client consulting as an introvert.