By now, you probably feel like you’ve read one too many articles offering ideas and guidance on how to respond to the current pandemic. However, for your brand’s long-term success, you must take some time to revisit why your value proposition—why you are in business and what customers and prospects want and need most from you.

What is a Value Proposition?

In a nutshell, a value proposition is an assurance of value to be delivered to your customers. It’s an easily understood promise from you to your customers, offering them an obvious reason to act. It answers the question, “Why should I buy from you and not your competitor?” It’s the primary reason a prospect should buy from you. It’s also the #1 reason that determines whether people will bother to read more about your product or service or click the back button

Your value proposition is one of the most critical elements of your brand messaging. As you think about writing it, start with what you’d say if you were having an informal conversation with a prospect.  

Questions to Ask Yourself

The best value proposition is clear: What is it? For whom? How is it useful? Specifically, begin by asking yourself:

  • What is product or service is my brand offering?
  • Who is the target customer?
  • What are their pain points?
  • How will my product or service remedy their issues?
  • What companies and products compete with my brand?
  • What differentiates my brand from those competitors?

While COVID-19 may require you to reengineer your value proposition, it has not changed the attributes that make it compelling and resonate with prospective buyers. The first, most critical step is to identify how the pandemic is currently affecting your customers’ and prospects’ business operations and how it will likely impact them in the near future. 

The next step is to identify the attributes of your product or service offering that meet those immediate needs. Finally, focus on your offerings’ attributes that make them superior to your competitors’ offerings at meeting those immediate needs.

For a more in-depth review the fundamental principles of customer value propositions, check out my previous post on FullSurge.com.

In his now-famous TED Talk, Simon Sinek delivered a simple yet powerful message: start with why. Sinek says that influential leaders work with a sense of purpose from the beginning, which allows them to inspire loyal followings. 

The Genuine and Compelling Reason Your Brand Exists

“Why” is a brand purpose, cause, or belief. It’s the very reason your organization exists—put simply, why it does what it does. When it’s compelling and genuine, “why” can form the basis of an incredibly strong promise and a highly differentiated brand

Even before the global pandemic, consumers were becoming increasingly interested in purchasing from purpose-driven brands, especially brands practicing sustainability.  These brands can even drive higher price points when leveraging their “why.” Nielsen’s 2015 report on global corporate sustainability found that about two-thirds of consumers in general (and almost three-quarters of Millennials specifically) are willing to pay more for a brand practicing sustainability.

Taking Care of Customers and Communities

Talk is cheap, but action can come with a substantial price tag. Brands that make noise about caring for customers and communities, the environment, or more specific causes during times of crisis, may have to dig deep to keep the promises they made when the world is in the throes of a deadly pandemic. The sharpest brands, the most competitive brands, are those that realize now is the time to activate their purpose. They need to communicate effectively and be authentic and, in the long run, they will win.

Countless brands are giving products and donations to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. High-end luxury brands from LVMH to Burberry to Gucci to Bulgari have stepped up to helping society and health officials by speedily re-manufacturing luxury goods into medical equipment and raising money to fight the spread of the virus. Many others have donated personal protective equipment or other critical supplies, infrastructure, expertise, logistics, transportation, manufacturing equipment, or space.

But what happens when brand purpose is put to the test—will customers forgive those brands that miss the mark?

In the wake of an 80% sudden and dramatic drop in flights at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virgin Atlantic announced it was grounding approximately three-quarters of its fleet, retaining a focus on core routes. As a result, staff was required to take eight weeks of unpaid leave at some point over the next three months (however, their cost will be spread across six monthly pay periods). A rather peculiar departure from the airline’s professed identity as the “fun, friendly, fabulous choice that made travel attainable for everyone.”

To make matters worse, the company called on the government to orchestrate an emergency bailout for the airlines “bolster confidence” and prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments. Virgin Atlantic said it needs relief for the summer season to match supply to demand, reduce costs, and avoid unviable flying and corresponding CO2 emissions. The airline believes this support will enable them to “weather this storm” and emerge in a position to “assist the nation’s economic recovery.”

Frustrated consumers shared their dissatisfaction on social media, noting the potential bailout of a company associated with a high profile billionaire owner, while the NHS struggles to treat ill pensioners.

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. However, people will remember this reaction from Virgin Atlantic, in the same way, they remember those brands truly driven by purpose.

Brands need to grow, continually, to flourish and maintain relevance, but achieving and sustaining profitable growth is a constant challenge. One of a firm’s most valuable resources is its brand equity. Attempting to leverage this asset, an increasing number of companies are extending their brands into multiple product categories through brand extensions, trying to grow the brand beyond its core products. However, many owners of brand strategy struggle with how far they can (and should) stretch their brand’s “bounds of extendibility.”

McDonald’s Mighty Wings

In 2013, McDonald’s launched Mighty Wings as an attempt to ride the wave of the growing demand for lean protein (e.g., chicken). However, after the initial launch of the ill-fated product, “the burger giant had 10 million tons of unsold, frozen chicken wings to get rid of.” Value for the money seems to have been a key issue. CEO Don Thompson admitted that prices were “not the most competitive.” Packs of three wings sold for $3.69, five for $5.59, and 10 wings for $9.69: a dollar per wing was pricey for penny-pinching customers watching their budgets. easyJet’s Easy Cinema The idea of cheap theatre tickets might at first seem appealing. However, easyJet is a business associated with no-frills cheap and cheerful air travel. It’s a budget-friendly way to get wherever you need to travel. Yet, when people go to the movies, they’re looking for an exciting and immersive experience. They want all the bells and whistles – otherwise, they would just stay at home and watch whatever was on Netflix. With easyCinema, easyJet failed to understand its new target market properly.  It could not provide a good value product because it failed to capture the customer purchase behavior of the majority of customers (families and 15-24 year- olds).

Reasons Brand Extensions Fail

Play it too safe, and your likely result will be ho-hum, underwhelming line extensions that are short-lived in the marketplace. Wander too far from your brand’s core positioning, and you risk diluting—or even irreversibly damaging—your brand’s valuable equity. Successful brand extensions are a logical step from the flagship product. If not, consumers are left asking, “What were they thinking?” 

Market opportunity. No need for the product or service exists, or the need has already been met. The reason for launching new products is simply “because we can.” Companies must properly evaluate the market to understand whether an opportunity and what type, may exist in a category and consumers’ specific unsolved problems.

Brand relevance. The new product or service does not express the critical attributes of the brand and is not a strong fit. The new product category must convey the higher-order, emotional benefits associated with the parent brand, and the attributes must be meaningful to consumers when it moves into the new category. Furthermore, consumers must perceive the brand’s ability to deliver credibly on all the necessary attributes in the new category. Arm & Hammer baking soda claims it is an effective deodorizer for refrigerators, etc. As a result, they extended the brand into other products such as Arm & Hammer underarm deodorant and cat litter deodorizer. Honda’s expertise in reliable engines led to lawnmowers, gas-powered generators, and a variety of other gasoline engine-powered devices. When you think of Harley-Davidson, you think of adventure, free-spirited and rebellious. Other motorcycle brands try to capture that essence. Still, people associate those feelings with Harleys, and they’re willing to spend more money for a Harley than a Kawasaki because of it! However, Cake icing kits conveyed none of the nonconformist values that Harley-Davidson stands for.

Part two of this series will focus attention on building brand relevance and positioning a new product or service to ensure it enhances brand equity. Relevance the limits to which you can extend your brand without compromising credibility involves understanding what your brand is, as well as what it is not. 

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.