Ultimate Guide to Writing a Brand Positioning Statement
A sound brand positioning statement is critical for any brand or business that wants to build meaningful equity, win in the marketplace, and clearly direct internal and external partners working on the brand. In this guide you’ll find a complete rundown of core positioning elements, a recommended template, and a number of notable brand examples of effective positioning. Be sure to subscribe to receive updates when we post new articles like this.
One of the most critical — and strategic — tools in a marketer’s toolbox is a well-defined brand positioning statement. It is the difference between floundering rudderless in a sea of ambiguity and knowing exactly where the brand is going… and how you’ll take it there.
Do you have a brand positioning statement? If so, when was the last time you looked at it?
If you don’t have one yet, haven’t looked at it in a while, or simply want to improve yours, you’re in luck. This ultimate guide will get you on the fast track in no time.
WHAT IS A BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT?
A brand positioning statement is an internal document. It is not for external communications, even though you may develop external messages based upon it. Consider it your brand’s north star. You’ll use it to provide clear direction for your business, including your marketing activities and innovation initiatives, by making sure that it is unmistakably clear to everyone who reads it.
Before beginning the process of writing or updating yours, you’ll need to decide your objective. One option is to write positioning for where you want the brand to be in the future. Another is to simply capture where the brand is today.
Ideally, you’d write it based on where you want to go. I’ve seen many brand leaders start with this goal in mind; however, by the time they’re done, they’ve captured the brand according to current market conditions or current consumer feedback. Unfortunately, this results in something that feels less strategic — and more like handcuffs.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when you need to capture the present marketplace position — for instance, when you feel you are currently winning in the market and want to document what’s working to ensure consistency moving forward.
Bottom line: Know which goal you’re after before you start writing, and don’t flip-flop midway through.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that great positioning (and strategy in general) is about making choices. Sure, this is sometimes easier said than done, especially when writing your own positioning statement. That’s why some brands choose to enlist an agency or other consulting help, which makes sense.
Sometimes it’s easier for an outsider or third party (with no emotional attachment) to freely explore all available options and make difficult choices. Trimming the fat, so to speak, becomes less personal when it’s not your idea, concept, or suggestion hitting the cutting-room floor.
HOW TO WRITE A BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT
The full extent and depth of the research you should be doing throughout this process is enough to fill many other articles. Here, however, I’ll simply give you an overview of a few key things to research/analyze as you start to think about writing your first or next positioning statement.
- Define your target audience. Start by looking at basic demographic, psychographic, and industry data (looking at you, B2B friends). Make sure to dig deep. Doing the proper research now will lead you to very important observations of collective mindset, behavior, beliefs, and pain points. Connecting to these insights will drive your brand’s relevance — whether it’s a functional problem or an emotional desire (or both), you need to find something in the target’s life that’s worth solving. You’ll be surprised by what you can uncover at this stage if you’re willing to go for it.
- Define your exact competitors. At a minimum, identify your primary competitor for positioning purposes. Or find a single common thread among all primary and secondary competitors to position against. Once you’ve identified your competitors, document their strengths and weaknesses. In most cases, you’ll position in opposition to a competitive weakness as opposed to competing head-to-head on one of their strengths.
- Define your brand. This is a time for an unbiased view of your business. Look beyond what you believe to be true, and engage in primary, customer-centric research. Here are a few things you want to understand.
- What equity do you already own in customers’ minds?
- What equity do you want to own?
- What are your strengths? Which of these strengths are potential points of difference (PODs)?
- What does your brand uniquely provide or do that addresses a need, desire, or problem that your target audience wants met?
Once you have uncovered a core problem or tension that your brand uniquely answers, you are ready to write. You may have even found more than one potential answer. Great! Write separate statements for each, and then make the call later about which one to implement. You should also use the customer/consumer feedback you previously gathered to help determine which version holds the most promise.
FOUR ELEMENTS THAT MAKE UP A STRONG BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT:
- Target audience — This is the specific consumer or customer group to which your marketing efforts are directed. From demographics to mindsets to behaviors, there are a number of ways to define a target audience. The most important thing is that the target group members all share a common defining characteristic — one that makes them open to, or in need of, the benefit your brand provides.
- Frame of reference — The competitive space in which the brand plays, it’s often the literal frame of reference but can also be perceptual. For example, a sponge competes not only with other sponges, but also cleaning supplies in general. Arm & Hammer (baking soda) may have started as a food ingredient but eventually expanded its competitive frame as a deodorizing ingredient. Gatorade went from electrolyte beverage to athletic performance enhancement.
- Functional — There can be multiple levels to the functional benefit — what the product does (product benefit) or what the target receives (customer benefit).
- Emotional — This is the way the target audience feels while using the brand.
- Reason(s) to believe (RTBs) — These specific product/service features or attributes serve as proof. They prove to the target that the benefit is true. A great one is all you need, but you can have more than one. More than three is probably too many.
You most often see the final statement written out as follows:
To [target definition/customer group], [brand name] is the brand of [competitive frame of reference] that provides [benefit]. That’s because [reasons to believe].
Having worked with many brands to create their positioning statements, I recommend two additions to not only help write the statement but also to provide enhanced clarity once it’s rolled out across the business:
- Industry (for B2B brands) — Often, strong B2B strategies involve clear industry choices. Targeting or specializing in specific verticals allows a business to establish a stronger competitive position.
- Competitors — It helps to specifically list the primary competition (one to three should suffice) because it forces you to write points of difference into the positioning statement.
The statement now becomes:
To [target definition/customer group] in [industry], [brand name] is the brand of [competitive frame of reference] that provides [benefit]. That’s because unlike [competitor], we [reasons to believe].
RECOMMENDED BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT TEMPLATE
Here’s a simple brand positioning template to help you. Similar to the traditional approach, it can be helpful to write using a prose format. The small image presented here shows you the recommended template, as the prompts ensure you place the right information in each box.
You can download a free PDF of both the B2C and B2B templates here. Print a small stack, and use them to iterate.
POSITIONING STATEMENT EXAMPLES FROM REAL-WORLD BRANDS
Sometimes, it’s easier to grasp a concept when you see a real-world example. I get it. Let’s spark some ideas by looking at a few case studies.
Aveeno has grown significantly since its acquisition by Johnson & Johnson in 1999. It’s also helped undo the conventional category thinking that natural products can’t be effective. In fact, the brand’s point of view is extremely clear: Natural beauty skin care routines are better than those of conventional products.
Here are four reasons Aveeno’s brand positioning statement is a winner:
- Single-minded and simple. The brand does not try to be all things to all people. There’s a single functional benefit, emotional benefit, and reason to believe.
- Clear benefit ladder. Aveeno connects functional benefit and emotional benefit in a relevant way. It’s clear that the ultimate emotional payoff is feeling beautiful, and naturally healthy skin is the way to get there.
- Unique point of difference. The brand has summed up scientific support and unique ingredients into an ownable trademark (Active Naturals®). It’s a clear point of difference in all their advertising and packaging.
- Consistent execution. Aveeno executes the message very consistently and usually does not stray from the core positioning. This makes the strategy very effective in practice.
After making its debut as a brand of body fragrance for teens, Axe has since expanded its competitive frame of reference to include such grooming products as deodorant, body wash, shampoo and styling. The brand uniquely positioned itself as a confidence-booster for teen boys going through the changes of puberty.
H&R Block’s positioning strategy has changes over the years. But one of their most successful strategies was when they launched a campaign to drive traffic to their walk-in tax service locations. They knew that millions of Americans were doing their taxes on their own and making unknown mistakes, resulting in billions of dollars in lost refunds.
EVALUATION CRITERIA FOR GREAT BRAND POSITIONING
All great marketers and strategists must excel at strategic positioning. But no one said you can’t have a little help along the way!
When looking for ways to make your positioning statement stronger, it helps to have a “cheat sheet” or checklist so nothing gets missed.
If you’ve ever tried to get senior-level approval, you know how easy it is to get lost in “like” and “don’t like” feedback. As stakeholders provide their input, it can start to feel as though your positioning strategy becomes diluted.
The good news is that the same criteria you use to evaluate and strengthen your positioning is also beneficial for getting stakeholders to buy into it. When you align the success criteria below with stakeholder reviews, you end up with a stronger statement and faster approvals. Guaranteed.
1) IS THE POSITIONING RELEVANT?
Most marketers know to start any initiative with the consumer (or customer for B2B) perspective. Their needs are always the priority. However, too many positioning statements are written based on what a company or brand wants to sell instead of what the customer needs. I don’t want that for you.
- On what insight, tension, or foundational need are we basing our positioning strategy?
- Can we point to specific research where this insight appeared?
- If we don’t have research, is there a hypothesis that we can test?
- What are we solving for in the lives of our target audience?
2) IS THE POSITIONING DIFFERENT?
It’s very possible to write a relevant positioning statement that makes you sound a lot like everyone else in the marketplace.
Yes. While a consumer might appreciate the benefit you provide, and you might even test very well in research, a lack of differentiation means you will struggle against the competition.
A common approach is to simply add unique features or language to the RTB section of the positioning statement we discussed earlier. However, a stronger approach is to look at each separate component of the statement as an opportunity to differentiate.
- Can we separate our brand by focusing on a different target audience (perhaps a potential target that is under- or over-served)? What about industry or customer size?
- Is there a gap in the market we can take advantage of? Is there a unique benefit we can provide that other brands don’t?
- Is brand character a differentiation opportunity? Spirits and apparel are good examples of categories with brands that differentiate based on target and/or brand character.
3) IS THE POSITIONING STATEMENT COMPLETE?
It may seem obvious that you need to fill in all components of the positioning statement. But what you may not notice is whether you’ve placed all the right pieces and parts in the right places. You may have an RTB in the benefit line or vice versa.
- Is the benefit really a benefit?
- Do we actually have an RTB?
- Is the RTB something specific that proves the benefit to be true?
4) IS YOUR POSITIONING SINGLE-MINDED?
This is a tough one for a couple of reasons.
First, you have to be sure your brand positioning statement centers on one benefit or idea. This can be tricky if you’ve made edits or additions based on input from various stakeholders, thereby allowing other benefits to sneak their way in. During this evaluation process, you may also find words that seem harmless at first glance but are actually extra benefits that distract from the core idea.
Second, you have to be sure that each component is interconnected. You might have one idea in each component, but if they don’t directly relate or tie together you have a broken positioning statement.
- Are all components tied together by the exact same single idea (from target insight to benefit to RTB)?
- Does the benefit arise because of the specific RTB listed?
- Does the benefit directly answer the specific problem, desire, or tension from the insight we’ve identified?
5) IS YOUR LANGUAGE PRECISE?
Every word matters. Eliminate unnecessary ones. The fewer words, the better.
Resist the urge to use fancy language or try to make it sound clever. Remember, the positioning statement is an internal strategic document that directs the business. To work, it must be clear and concise so that the strategy is unmistakable and cannot be misinterpreted.
I’ve seen many brands try to write statements that sound “inspiring” only to find that their positioning is vague. Save the creative development for the execution phase.
- Is the strategic intent absolutely clear with concise and precise language?
If you can answer “yes” to each of the five criteria above, then congratulations! You have a strategic foundation that increases your chances of winning in the marketplace.
CREATE A BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT FOR YOUR BUSINESS
And there you have it — a complete guide to writing a brand positioning statement. Use the tips throughout this guide and template to get started on a positioning statement for your brand or enhance one that you already have.
Either way, the best way to hone a great positioning statement is to get writing! You’ll iterate and make changes, but at least put something on paper… and evolve from there.
This article originally appeared on the Gurulocity marketing blog. If you found the article helpful, click the clap button below. You can also subscribe to receive brand management tips, frameworks and videos.
Kevin Namaky is the CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that delivers training for Fortune 500 clients. Kevin is also a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of Business, has written for Ad Age, Fast Company and Forbes, and is a member of the CMO Council. Kevin previously worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable consumer brands. Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn.