Brand Positioning: Positively Residing in the Minds of Consumers
The reality is: consumers have limited space in their minds. And rightfully so, as the human brain is constantly looking for ways to not only save energy, but prioritize what should be remembered based on hierarchy and importance. A husband remembering his wife's birthday – valuable, and therefore importantly prioritized. Apart from spousal relations, consumers have dozens, if not hundreds of things to remember before a given brand, its offerings, and its claims. The implication is that brands must make an effort to positively reside in the minds of its consumers through brand positioning efforts.
As mentioned, people have lots to remember. People also are faced with thousands of stimuli and respective brands on a daily basis. With this in mind, brands must be mindful; mindful that consumers are more likely to remember a singular strong claim, promise, or association – rather than several points of less significance.
Brand positioning is the act of influencing how a brand resides in the minds of its audience.
Ideally, the mindshare that a brand occupies is one that's positive and relevant to the brand, while differentiated from key competitors.
For example, Stella Artois furthers its position of being a high-quality, expensive beer with the advertising lines "Reassuringly expensive." and "Perfection has its price." By doing so, Stella clearly delineates what it is—and consequently—what it isn't. As a result of clear positioning, consumers are able to discern the differences between beer brands and make a purchase decision. Stella's claims resonate with those looking for a beer brand on the higher-end.
It's one thing to build associations attached to a brand name. For example, McDonald's conjures up associations of "fast food", "convenience", "tasty", and "Big Mac". This is likely and expected. The ultimate goal, however, of brand positioning is for the brand name to become synonymous with a key association itself, such as its category. For example, mentioning "fast food" (the competitive category as a whole) likely brings to mind McDonald's – not Wendy's, not Burger, King, and not Subway – McDonald's . The company's omnipresence, billion-dollar marketing spend over the years, and early entry to market allow McDonald's to enjoy such a position in the minds of many.
A positioning aspiration for brands is to become synonymous with the product or service itself. For example, Thermos is actually a brand, not the generic name of a canister that holds liquids. Thermos' omnipresence has allowed it to become a household name that's used interchangeably for all other liquid canisters. Advantageously, Thermos is perceived as the industry leader, "the real thing", and "the original".
Kleenex is another example. Kleenex is the brand name, while "facial tissue" is the actual name of the product. Kleenex's early entry to market, significant advertising spend, and memorable name has allowed Kleenex to become synonymous with the product's category as a whole. Once again, Kleenex has earned the perception of being the industry leader, "the real thing", and "the original".
The Importance of Brand Positioning
Not only do consumers have limited mindshare, but they are inundated with brand choices. Clear brand positioning among these choices makes decision-making easier, while also attracting the right audience to the right brand. For example, what prestige is to Gucci, affordability is to H&M. Both companies sell clothing (a commodity), yet their products, price-points, and marketing efforts allow both to reside distinctly and separately in the minds of consumers. By doing so, both companies attract their target market while differentiating from competitors.
Brands that enter the market with too similar a positioning or product to competitors are at risk. For example, Virgin Cola (one of Richard Branson and Virgin's efforts) was yet another dark, carbonated cola among Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the industry leaders. Virgin's brand personality of being a sort of "Robin Hood" or rebel (stealing share from rich industry leaders) wasn't enough to sway soda-drinkers from familiar Coke or Pepsi. Virgin's successful airline did benefit from this rebel positioning however, proving that successful positioning in one category doesn't necessarily mean it will work in another.
Brands make many efforts to increase their sales, market share, and overall reputation. While certain strategies may boost sales in the short-term, brands must be mindful that each decision made affects their brand positioning. Entering new markets or targeting new customers may increase short-term revenue, but in the long-term it may erode the brand's original, distinct, differentiated positioning. The challenge, then, is to grow a business and its brand in unison. ▲