Tools & Tips

Building an Effective Brand Strategy: Brand Positioning Statement

Chelsea Herman December 23, 2019

Whether your organization is big or small, brand-new or long-established, it can feel at times like everyone is operating in reactive mode. You have a strategy, sure, but you’re so in the weeds, it can be tough to assess how anything you’re doing fits into the bigger picture. Video seems to be big these days. Other organizations are doing lots of video. We should be doing more video. Shouldn’t we?

We like to think the brand positioning statement is the day-to-day antidote to this uncertain feeling.

When you have a solid positioning statement in place, it acts as your brand’s North Star—the thing that orients your organization as a metaphorical ship, and that guides your own day-to-day activities aboard that ship.

If you have a new idea, or someone makes a request, you can use your positioning statement to assess whether doing that thing will keep the ship on course.

For that reason, it might be the single most important part of your brand strategy.

 

Okay, but first, what is a positioning statement?

At Briteweb, this is how we define it:

A Brand Positioning Statement is an internal tool that identifies your audience and paints a compelling picture of how you want them to perceive you. It expresses the big idea you want to own in their minds and it articulates your key differentiators in the market.

To reiterate, your positioning statement is an internal tool—not something to be shared with the world, but rather your team’s guidepost for any marketing and communications efforts and for your organizational decision-making as a whole. It isn’t intended to be used as an organizational boilerplate or ‘About Us’ page, but it can and should inform any and all messaging. It can also influence organizational tools like taglines, mission statement or vision statement—but isn’t a replacement for them.

 

Is there a brand positioning statement template?

There are a variety of fill-in-the-blank templates that you can use—it’s like positioning Mad Libs!—but they all tend to share a few key elements: 

  • Target customer — a brief description of who you’re speaking to, and what their most pressing needs, desires and/or pain points are
  • A market definition — what product or service category you’re operating in
  • Brand promise — your product or service’s most compelling benefit 
  • A brief description of who you’re competing against 
  • The key difference between your product or service and your competitors’, and/or the “reasons to believe” in your product over theirs. 

This well-established template brings all these elements together: 

 

For [define your target customer here] who [describe your target customers' needs, desires or pain points here], [include your name here] is a [identify your product or service category here] that [describe the key benefit of your product or service or your brand promise here]. Unlike [describe your category or competitors here], [include your name here] provides [state the key difference between your product or service and your competitors’ or the reasons to believe here].

 

To show this template in use, here’s a (rather outdated!) positioning statement from Amazon:

For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.

 

Needless to say, Amazon has changed considerably since then—it’s hard to remember a time when they were primarily an online bookseller—but this is a great example of how a positioning statement can look.

That being said, your positioning statement doesn’t need to follow this format. Harley Davidson is famous for its unorthodox but brilliant brand positioning statement:

 

The only motorcycle manufacturer
That makes big, loud motorcycles
For macho guys (and “macho wannabes”)
Mostly in the United States
Who want to join a gang of cowboys
In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

 

What makes a good positioning statement? 

We evaluate the effectiveness of a positioning statement by the following criteria: 

 

It’s simple, memorable, and tailored to your target market.

Ideally, your positioning statement should be short enough that it’s easy to commit to memory. Remember—your positioning statement isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of everything you do, and how you do it. Specific tactics have no place in a positioning statement, especially because those are likely to change over time. Which brings me to the next criterion…

 

It leaves room for growth.

Your positioning statement should be relevant for at least three years from the time you adopt it. You can’t use something as a strategic compass if True North changes every few months. That being said, it should be something you can grow into. That’s the positioning statement sweet spot: it’s true now, but will remain true as you grow; it’s specific enough to what you do to be a useful tool while being general enough that it doesn’t lock you into an approach or offering that might change as the market does. 

 

It’s credible, and your brand can deliver on its promise.

Like we said above, your positioning statement needs to be true, credible and convincing. You’re leaving your organization room to grow, but anything aspirational should be achievable within the short-term, not years out. Long-term aspirations are what your vision statement is for. 

 

You can “own” it.

It provides an unmistakable and easily understood picture of your brand that differentiates it from your competitors. Your brand can be the sole occupier of this particular position in the market. 

Evaluating this criterion is easy. Remove your organization’s name from your positioning statement and ask yourself this question: could I easily swap in another organization’s name? Would this statement still be true? Be honest. If one or more of your peers could make the same claims, you’re not there yet. Keep trying. 

 

How do I write a positioning statement?

Hopefully the template and criteria above are a good start. That being said, positioning statements are tricky. They’re short—but that brevity is precisely what makes them difficult. You have so few words to communicate so much. 

It can be useful to enlist an external resource to help walk you through the process, and contribute an impartial outsider’s perspective. If you want your positioning statement to be part of a larger brand strategy project, we can help with that. 

 

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