Perfect Positioning

Writer: Colin Anderson, Strategy Director, Brandcourage

Subject: Perfect Positioning

Updated: 03.04.2022


Perfect Positioning — three deadly sins committed whilst trying to position your brand


Often we talk about positioning — as if we’re taking a slot on the shelf — that has been left vacant for us to occupy and is ready for the taking. And by occupying this “space” or “position” we’re  somehow going to be seen as unique and different within our category — but that isn’t how it works.

FIRST SIN — Not understand the language of your category


So the first deadly sin of bad positioning is assumption.

I usually say that “assumption is the mother of f**k-ups” because often we go to market with me-too claims; saying stuff that has already been said; in ways that are actually no different to your competitors. I know it sounds basic, but you would be surprised at how many brands don’t bother to check out what the key competitors are saying and the way they are saying them.

When you understand the “words” (verbal language) and “images” (visual language) they use to express their positioning — you’re better informed what to avoid being me-too and potentially untapped directions. Recently in the logistics market – we sort a unique position the Jurong Port and though it would be normally a basic requirement “reliability” in an unreliable market — became a great positioning tool — “Rely on us” became the positioning.


SECOND SIN — No real point of differentiation 


The second deadly sin of bad positioning is no or low differentiation. 

So the players in your space talk a lot of what they have — their accessibility through local merchant network; the extent of their range of products or services; their certification and global resources — think of Visa Card’s positioning, “Everywhere you want to be”. Maybe they focus on describing their approach to business or their new technology enablement — think Fedex’s positioning, “We live to deliver”.

When competitors select these very tangible ways to market themselves — it will push you think twice to try to duplicate their offer or complete on their strengths — seek out a more intangible way to express yourself. In other words, if everyone is talking about “what” they have or “how” they are doing it — think about “who” you are or “why you’re doing it. This doesn’t mean that you don’t talk about what or how — it just means that you start the conversation in a different way — if Visa is “Everywhere you want to be” then DBS Bank can say “Bank Less. Live More.” — moving it away from the usual banking vernacular to express its unique contribution to making banking invisible.


THIRD SIN — No customer insight 


The third deadly sin of bad positioning is not looking at it from the customer’s perspective.

Amazing right? But when it comes to the decision-making process, we (the client) think we know what they (the customer) wants. Maybe, I could have also parked this under the assumptions box — but this grave sin needs its own special place. Many times I say to a client — you are not the customer — but it is something difficult for business owners to hear as they are so vested in their brand, they sometimes need to hear it from the mouth of their clients to accept that their choices may not be the same.

This happened to me early in my career working for a chain of pharmacies that sort to reposition themselves as upmarket and after the change, sales dropped dramatically. In these days, my mistake was to follow instruction — a lesson for both me and the client. Their customers wanted a “price leader” not a upmarket experience. Talking to customers informally, doing short exit surveys and observation — can save a lot of heart ache and expense.