Human brain and colorful question mark

Knowing how your target market perceives your brand is critical to getting your marketing right. In my previous column, I wrote about a powerful tool called the Brand Positioning Spectrum that you can use to identify how your existing and potential customers think and feel about your brand and those of your competitors.

In this column, I’ll explain how to decide whether you’re better off sticking with your current position on the spectrum or moving your brand to a different one—and, if the latter, how to do so.

Let’s say, for example, that your company provides personal income tax services and you have a vision and mission statement indicating that your firm’s purpose is to provide taxpayers with peace of mind during the stressful tax season. That’s a very experience-based positioning. In looking at your competitors, you realize that they focus mainly on speedy turnaround and low cost. That’s more of a product/service positioning. Sounds great, right? After all, you occupy a position that is differentiated from the competition and serves a need you perceive in the market.

But not so fast. As you review your website and marketing material, you notice that much of the language focuses on “quick turnaround,” “last-minute returns” and “refer a friend and get a 15% discount.” You also notice that you compensate your employees based on how quickly they complete a return. All of these things suggest a more product/service positioning. This leaves you with a choice: either adjust your marketing, compensation and other operational aspects of your business to align with your experience positioning and exploit the white space or adjust your firm’s vision and mission and duke it out in a crowded field.

Either of those choices, just like any of the six positions on the positioning spectrum (shown above), can drive success—but only if the brand and corporate structure are aligned with that position. Consider Roots at the product/service position (Canadian-made), Virgin at the personality position (the maverick Richard Branson) or Starbucks at the experience position (an oasis in the storm of everyday life).

To illustrate the power of the spectrum, consider Air Canada and Porter Airlines. Air Canada uses a rational, infrastructure-based positioning that emphasizes that it flies to more destinations and has a corporate structure that supports it. Porter, on the other hand, takes a very emotional and experiential place on the spectrum by emphasizing the customer experience, such as the comfortable lounges and free food and drinks for every passenger. Each airline chose a position on the spectrum that leverages its unique strengths and that, the airline believes, best supports its ability to create competitive advantage and drive profitable growth.

If you discover from your own assessment that your company is in a position on the spectrum that is relatively unoccupied by competitors, leverages your company’s unique characteristics and competencies to allow you to deliver on your brand promise, and you’re already aligned with this position, congrats! Full steam ahead.

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