As highlighted in the first of this four-part series on brand positioning strategy, the most common method for defining a brand’s promise is through a customer end benefit—the “what.”  You know your brand does this when its promise answers the question, “What tangible benefit does the brand provide, presumably to its target customer?” Sometimes, however, a brand’s “what” might not be all that special, exciting, or unique. When multiple brands in a category attempt to position around a common end benefit—especially a pedestrian category ante—brand monotony is the inevitable outcome.

Focusing on “How”

A brand focused on the “how” focuses on the process or approach the brand takes to deliver, rather than the promise itself. Brands like these emphasize the added benefits that differentiate their product from others in the marketplace. When a brand has an end promise similar to others in the market, it is imperative they do not just promote that promise. These brands benefit most from highlighting a journey or an exciting path the product or service will take you on before reaching the actual end goal. We see these types of marketing with car companies, airline providers, and even some lifestyle brands. These types of companies all have similar end promises to their competitors, which is why focusing on the “how” is a great marketing strategy. 

One of the best examples of this positioning strategy is Apple. Apple has continued to focus more and more on the “how” approach. Functionally, Apple creates products that have almost identical competitors already in the market, making it essential they focus on other things. Since the core function of their products (calling, accessing the internet, etc.) isn’t as exciting or unique, Apple must market the bells and whistles of its products. Highlighting the high-tech camera or the face-recognizing unlocking software is what is going to get them ahead in the monotonous market when going against Samsung or Google.

Planet Fitness’ Judgement-Free Zone

When focusing positiosning strategy on “how” your brand delivers you are highlighting how the consumer will reach their ultimate goal—not merely what that goal is. Planet Fitness is a company doing a great job with this. With the slogan “Judgement-Free Zone,” Planet Fitness hoped to create a gym that will provide a comfortable environment for members to work out and better themselves. During an interview with CBS, CEO Chris Rondeau stated that “if you think about our business model and our marketing, it’s a marketing machine.” He believes that the way they are advertising their new approach to what a gym should look like will be what is going to make consumers pick Planet Fitness over its competitors.

We can see the “how” brand positioning strategy throughout the different markets and segments. The similarity of these markets is that they are all very crowded and in need of a change in focus. Marketing the “how” can be innovative and creative. Since consumers likely already know the end goal, markers should take this chance to create a new and more captivating journey or path their product will take customers on to distract from the less exciting end promise. 

Many successful brands choose to channel more of their time energy into a loyal customer base. Rather than marketing the product itself, they design the brand positioning around an explicit audience. This works exceptionally well when marketing a product that holds only a small space in a crowded market. Here, the brand promise is crafted in a manner that is defined by—and can even help to define—the target audience for whom it is intended.

Brands That Embody, Inspire and Motivate their Target Audiences

So-called lifestyle brands are often defined by the “who.” Lifestyle brands embody the interests, attitudes, and opinions of a group or culture. They inspire and motivate people with the goal of shaping consumers’ way of life through their products or services. While it’s true that every brand has targets, not every brand chooses to define its very essence (i.e., promise) around its target audience.

Brands focused on the “who” will typically aim to create a feeling and motivated culture through their services. The majority of the marketing strategies are explicitly designed with their target audience in mind. One of the best examples of a “who”- based brand is Proctor and Gamble (P&G). P&G markets to parents or those running a household. One of P&G’s most impactful and remembered campaigns was the “Thank you, mom” ad aired surrounding the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. This advertisement’s goal was to bring attention to moms, and all they do for their children. P&G’s creating of such a specific, emotional advertisement was their attempt at targeting an audience—moms. The actual commercial did not mention any of their products or services, but rather just focused on strengthening their audience’s loyalty. 

The Imperative Customer Loyalty

Brands that emphasize the importance of the “who” rely heavily on the loyalty of their audience. Since they are marketing to a smaller, more specific audience, it is even more important that those customers continue to return. This type of positioning is prevalent among lifestyle brands. 

One example of a brand that is currently very successful in positioning with a “who” strategy is Brooks Running. Brooks manufactures running shoes and apparel for long-distance runners. The Brooks brand focuses on their produclts’ ability to withstand the miles and miles for which their customers will likely need them. Most avid runners do not switch running shoe brands once they have found the right one for them. So, capturing these runners initially is crucial for the success of their company. 

Makeup and skincare product brands are also example of brands that rely on capturing returning customers. People typically don’t abandon makeup and skincare products once they find those best suited for them. Since there are multitudes of similar products on the market, these brands especially need returning and loyal customers to make their company successful. 

Creating and focusing on a smaller and more specified brand audience is a great way to position a brand. When marketing to a specific audience, you can develop marketing strategies that will resonate with that audience because you know what they like and want to hear. Consumers identify with this positioning because it makes them feel like they are a part of something. Using the “who” brand positioning can help your brand hone in and create a loyal and consistently returning audience.

What makes “who” brands special is that when the customers feel they are part of the brand, It doesn’t matter if someone else comes along with a cheaper alternative. The fans remain loyal because they see themselves reflected in the brand.

A brand promise represents a brand’s primary point of difference. In the traditional model for brand positioning, conventional wisdom suggests the promise must be a customer benefit. This is essentially the “what” that the brand provides to customers. Many positioning models refer to this component as “benefit,” not “promise.” However, this thinking is limiting and outdated for a few reasons, including:

Reconsidering the Brand Promise

In some categories, the customer benefit is virtually universal (e.g., most everyone who uses shampoo wants beautiful hair). So, the only way to differentiate is to emphasize some other aspect of the brand. Pantene Pro-V, for example, differentiates itself not so much on the benefit of beautiful hair, but rather its unique means for achieving it: vitamin-infused formulations. In this example, the point of difference is more in the “how” than the “what.”

In addition to the “what,” other options for brand positioning include focusing on the “how,” the “why,” and the “who.” As promised in a previous post, we will discuss the brand promise beyond merely “what.” 

A Brand Purpose (” Why”)

“Why” is a purpose, cause, or belief. It’s the very reason your organization exists—put simply, why it does what it does. When a brand is focused on a “why”, they intend to attract an audience that supports their purpose, not just their product or service. 

Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in purchasing from purpose-driven brands, especially brands practicing sustainability. A brand’s purpose is meant to be seen as more prominent than the product. This “why” is often a charity, an initiative, or an end goal of solving a problem. Often, consumers have a hard time choosing between companies with similar products. Still, a brand having a higher purpose may be the push consumers need to pick one company over another. 

TOMS Shoes

One of the most common strategies of employing the “why” is the implementation of the “buy one, give one (BOGO)” model. The market first saw this with TOMS Shoes. TOMS created a promise to the customers that for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair would be donated. These types of campaigns resonate extremely well with consumers because it allows them to help with a cause that normally would seem way out of their reach. This new model changed the market and has since been adopted by many different types of companies. 

Another example of positioning the brand around a “why” promise is Love Your Melon—a non-profit company created to raise money for cancer research. They are committed to donating a beanie to every child battling cancer. They are an extreme version of a “why” promise company. 

When looking at “why” brands, we can more or less divide them into two segments— those created for the charity and those who added their cause after launching the company. Eyeglass brand Warby Parker with a “BOGO” model, did not found their company on the idea of donating glasses, but it was added later on as a marketing plan. Brands like Love Your Melon see an issue or cause they want to help and create a company around that cause. That said, customers respect and buy into both forms. In general, consumers like the idea of their purchase benefiting more than just them. 

Companies that position the brand around a “why” are often seeking the customer looking for more than just the actual product or service. Consumers want to feel that their purchase will benefit more than just them. The public cannot always help charities important to them, so finding a product that will help is crucial. 

When purpose truly drives the brand, customers who share that purpose become fiercely loyal, to the point where their passion for the cause and their love for the brand become indistinguishable from each other.

What is brand positioning strategy?

A brand positioning strategy involves creating brand associations in consumers’ minds to make them perceive your brand in a specific way. A great positioning should stand for something unique in stakeholders’ minds (differentiated). Its promise must be both realistic and believable for that brand (credible). The promise is the distinctive payoff a brand provides to its intended target audience. It should also represent the brand’s primary point of difference.

Many successful brands offer promises that are about a purpose (a “why”), a process (a “how”), or relevance to a niche audience (a “who”), independent of (or in addition to) a benefit (a “what”). Regardless of which of these four types is chosen, the key is for the brand promise to represent something that is compelling about—and highly distinctive to—the brand. I will go into detail about the “what” in this post and cover the other types in subsequent blogs. 

Choosing the route to take your brand may never be smooth sailing. The brand you create can either stand out in a monotonous market or can be lost among its homogeneous competitors. How can a company create and build a brand that stands out in today’s jam-packed market? 

In the traditional brand positioning model, conventional wisdom suggests the promise must be a customer benefit—essentially the “what”—that the brand provides to customers. This type of positioning does have a significant advantage—transparency. When establishing the brand around a product’s benefits and attributes, it is clear to consumers what they will be gaining by purchasing it. 

Purchasing with Venmo

A relatively recent entrant to the payment space that focuses its brand on the “what” is Venmo. Venmo is an app that enables the quick and painless electronic transfer of money between people and businesses. Venmo has become so popular that the company name has become a verb, “Will you pick me up some food, I’ll Venmo you!” The company launched the app with the promise of security and convenience. When it involves their money, consumers want transparency, which made the “what” an excellent choice for Venmo. 

Another brand that positions itself around the “what” very well is Amazon.  Initially, Amazon was an e-commerce company that attempted to provide customers with a cheaper, more efficient way to buy products. Since then, Amazon has added a membership service with customer benefits such as one-day shipping, music and tv streaming, and photo storage. Amazon has always been ahead of its time, so few competitors have been in the same ballpark until recently. As a result, they have been able to market their services based solely on the service benefits, or the “what.” Other companies that are starting to follow in Amazon’s footsteps (e.g., Walmart, Target, Kroger), are having to work much harder to compete with Amazon. 

Brand positioning is evolving, and your brand must evolve as well

Highlighting the promise or benefit of the product or service seems like the logical strategy until those benefits and features are the same as your competitors. So, the “what” isn’t suitable for every brand. Brands will have a hard time standing out by fixating on their product when other companies are offering a similar or even exact replica of the product. Examples of companies that have run into this issue include electronics companies (Apple versus Microsoft), cell phone carriers (AT&T versus Verizon), and subscription video-on-demand services (Netflix versus Hulu). These companies may be better suited to focus on other types of brand positioning, such as the “who,” the “why,” or the “how.” Knowing which positioning strategy is the right one for your brand is a vital part of creating a brand. I will go further into these types and what they entail in later blog posts. 

At the heart of differentiation is your brand’s ability to develop and promote distinctive products, services, and branded experiences on a consistent basis. It’s critical to create a brand that stands out from the crowd. With Apple, you don’t just purchase a computer or a phone, with IKEA, you don’t just buy a chair or a table…

The origin of brand management traces back to the world of consumer packaged goods. However, since its inception, many of the concepts of brand management (and the foundation of brand strategy) have applied effectively to other B2C and B2B businesses.

Despite this, many B2B marketers still question whether brands are as important in the world of B2B as they are in B2C. Those who do recognize the importance of brands in B2B wonder whether the same basic principles, practices, frameworks, and guidelines still apply.

Increasing evidence shows that brands are just as important in the world of B2B. Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2017 Rankings—which evaluates brands across financial performance, consumer choice influence, and ability to command a premium price—included multiple B2B brands in the top 25, like IBM. Numerous other studies and research have confirmed the importance of branding in B2B. One 2017 study from B2B International showed that, among marketing executives, branding is the single most critical marketing strategy on their plates. That places branding ahead of strategies like product development, market segmentation, and pricing.

Additionally, CEB, now part of Gartner, found that B2B marketers increasingly turn to branding to win preference, drive purchases, and achieve premium pricing. The CEB study, which was conducted with 55 CMOs, found branding to be the second-highest priority among marketing executives. Finally, McKinsey reports that B2B companies with strong brands outperform weak ones by 20 percent.

The benefits of a strong B2B brand

B2B businesses benefit significantly from a strong brand. A strong B2B brand:

  • Differentiates your brand and ensures it stands out in its category, giving customers and prospects a reason to choose your brand over competitors
  • Empowers your brand to charge and sustain a price premium
  • Enables your brand to build trust with key stakeholders—customers, employees, shareholders, vendors, partners, etc.

Examples of strong, successful B2B brands

MailChimp

MailChimp, the most recognized email marketing service provider, traditionally positioned themselves as the ‘go-to’ email marketing tool for beginners or small businesses. However, MailChimp has grown the brand and its values into a more professional B2B offering that can scale as your business grows. Awareness, ease of use, and technical integration capabilities have driven larger companies to buy into the brand and remain loyal. By targeting beginners to email marketing, MailChimp also wins loyalty from users who don’t have time to learn a new system as their business grows.

Adobe

Adobe’s B2B offering is positioned more like a partnership than a product or service offering, positioning the brand as the creative solutions partner for businesses. Just five years after the computer software company’s controversial decision to alter its brand strategy by switching its entire business from one-off product purchases to enduring relationships with its customers through its subscription and cloud-based business model, it is reaping the rewards. Adobe currently enjoys a 17% annual increase in brand value since 2013. Brands like are winning by doing whatever it takes to keep the customer happy, even if it means reinventing themselves and disrupting their business models.

B2B branding continues to evolve and change. Robust marketing strategies are being augmented with purpose and meaning through next-generation brand strategies. Brands are establishing more meaningful differences in an increasingly commoditized world, while customers are being drawn closer to businesses through more meaningful and gratifying relationships.

Simply defined, a brand portfolio is the collection of brands owned by a company. Often for big companies, more and more brands will be created to reach more and more audiences. While targeting more audiences sounds like a great way to build and grow a company, too many brands can cause confusion about the individual brand’s role – and eventually the corporate identity as a whole.  The problem for many companies is they think more brands will make them more successful, but they have neither the architecture nor the ability to manage a multiplicity of brands well.

Maintaining and creating a successful brand is not an easy feat; much less maintaining tens or hundreds of brands. Think of each brand as a child. If you had three children, you would likely be able to nurture them, help them grow, and create individualized identities. If you had 100 kids, that same level of support seems daunting and impossible. The same goes for brands. If a company houses a few brands, it can create meaningful and well thought out campaigns. Furthermore, it will have the resources to maintain and ensure the growth and success of each brand. If a company houses a long list of brands, it becomes challenging to monitor and help each brand carve out a unique role.

Done correctly, creating a brand is very expensive. They are an investment and require a large amount of funding even to reach the market. Very few companies have been able to create and build long a long list of brands. Some of the best examples of these types of companies are Coca-Cola and Toyota. Coke now owns over 800 drink products, and Toyota maintains over fifty vehicle brands. However, these two companies did not start with this many brands. Coca-Cola began selling a single product – Coke. After the company saw how successful Coke was, they decided to sell different types of Coke, then juices, waters, and so on. Toyota was the same. The Japanese car manufacturer began selling cars and trucks with one vehicle. With the success of that first brand, they added vehicles and markets. Today, they are one of the world’s biggest manufactures with an extensive and growing portfolio – comprised of brands that have evolved and remained focused.

The key take-away from these examples is to start small and focused. It is unlikely that a company is going to enter the market and successfully launch and build multiple brands at once. The critical challenge for organizations facing the specific questions of how many brands and which structure is to start with a single brand in a branded house structure and then ask: Do we need more?

During the creation of a brand, developing the brand’s positioning is a crucial step. Companies will go to great lengths to market and advertise a new brand to establish a unique and relevant position in the market. There simply isn’t enough time and resources to cultivate and support a long list of new brands all at once.

Companies need to create focused, relevant brands not just for the individual brand’s benefit, but for the impact on the corporate brand as well. When a company creates a solid, well-thought-out brand, it reflects well on that company as a whole. Conversely, when a company is attempting to market multiple new brands at once, they risk appearing unorganized – and the purpose of the company as a whole will be clouded. Consumers rely on brands to help them make purchase decisions, so companies must define and articulate clear and relevant roles for each brand they introduce to the market. Overall, success is more likely when your brand portfolio is more focused. Do the market (and your organization) a favor and don’t bite off more than you can chew.