All you need to know about developing an intentional and effective brand positioning strategy as a service-based business owner.
When I think of the type of person who invests in an Apple computer, I immediately think about someone in the creative field. A graphic designer, UX designer or videographer.
Compare that to the type of person that comes to mind when I think of a PC investor: someone who uses spreadsheets and works on a team that utilizes Office 365, who sits in a cubicle and is climbing the corporate ladder.
The differences between these two brands is a result of their intentional and strategic brand positioning.
Brand positioning is a powerful tool that can help you connect with your right audience. And today, we’re going to walk through all you need to know to develop and implement an intentional brand positioning strategy as a service-based business owner.
Table of Contents
What is brand positioning?
Let’s first get on the same page of what a brand is – the definition that’s resonated most with me is: Brand is the perception of your business – how people think, feel and act.
Brand positioning is the art and strategy of creating an intentional perception that occupies a specific place in the mind of your ideal client and broader market, in relation to others in your same space.
Said another way, positioning reiterates the connections that already exist within your audience’s mind and then describes how your brand is different.
Why brand positioning is so dang important?
Whether you like it or not, whether you’re intentional about it or not, your brand has positioned itself in the market.
Humans want to categorize things; it’s our natural tendency. In fact, according to CenterStat.org, humans find comfort in defining, seeking out, and confirming categories. This is why, every time someone experiences your brand, they will automatically categorize it a certain way. They position it in their mind against their frames of reference (which is often similar businesses) so they can fulfill that desire to categorize and thus better understand, what you do.
But here’s the thing – you can be strategic and thoughtful about your brand’s positioning in the market and influence how your brand is perceived. You can make intentional decisions about how you communicate your brand to best align with how you want your audience to categorize it.
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Getting started with brand positioning
There are a four key elements that you absolutely need to know in order to create an effective brand positioning strategy. If you haven’t nailed these down, you won’t have enough information to really make an educated and strategic decision on positioning your brand.
Those four elements are:
- Your ideal client persona and the driver(s) that are motivating them to seek out your services
- The frame(s) of reference in which you want your brand to be positioned; the context in which you want your brand to be perceived
- The unique value and benefit that your brand brings to the table
- The reason(s)-to-believe that back up and support what you’re claiming as the value and benefit
5 Brand positioning strategies for service-based businesses
So, how do you intentionally create a certain perception around your brand?
Spoiler alert, doesn’t have to be complicated. At the most basic level, the goal is to understand your market, see where you stand out and consistently communicate that special sauce, over and over again.
What most people get hung up on is that middle piece – identifying how your brand is different from others in your space.
Thankfully, there’s a fantastic book, The Brand Positioning Workbook by Uli Applebaum, that digs into 20+ positioning strategies, each one identifying a different way to claim your brand’s uniqueness.
And today, we’re going to cover 5 of my favorites – let’s jump in!
Claim the gold standard
This positioning strategy is all about understanding the collective perception of what ‘should’ be and claiming that your brand meets (or exceeds) that perception; that you operate at the gold standard within the category or space.
Quick reminder, the gold standard is dependent on your ideal client and the market you’re operating within. It’s likely that there are different expectations based on who you’re trying to connect with.
I.e., You’re a fractional CMO and know that the gold standard for a large corporation is likely different than the gold standard for a nonprofit organization.
Questions to consider:
- In the eyes of your consumer, what is/are the accepted gold standards?
- Can you claim the gold standard or position yourself against it?
This strategy is about aligning with the context in which your service is being used. You’re leveraging something that is already happening and positioning your brand alongside that occurrence.
I.e., You’re a copywriter and you position your brand as a great partner for website designers.
Questions to consider:
- Where would your ideal client already be traveling and can you leverage within that context?
- Where is your brand typically used, with whom and why?
- What meaning is associated with those moments?
- What do consumers communicate about themselves when they use your brand? What potential fears or barriers do they have in that specific context?
- What role would your brand need to play to either tap into those desires or help them overcome those fears?
Identify an enemy
Utilizing this strategy means you position your brand against something. Instead of putting your stake in the ground that stands for something, you put your stake in the ground that stands against something. You identify an enemy or threat (real or perceived) against which your brand stands.
I.e., You’re a marketing strategist that teaches digital businesses how to market without social media.
Questions to consider:
- What problems does your brand solve?
- What enemy is your brand fighting against?
- What threat is a consumer exposed to by not using your brand?
- How can you make this threat more tangible to consumers?
Disrupt the status quo
In every category or space, there are a specific set of conventions or assumptions that everyone generally follows, and when you utilize this strategy, you make the conscious decision to buck the system and do something differently. You’re forging your own path and challenging the norms as a way to differentiate from others.
I.e., You’re a photographer that offers a subscription-based service where families pay a monthly fee and get a certain amount of photo sessions per year.
Questions to consider:
- Approach to targeting: Gillette using women to sell razors
- Media channel use: Placing an ad for a Dyson vacuum in Architectural Digest
- Pricing model and strategy: Selling subscriptions instead of individual service
- Communications strategy: Showcase different types of people, imagery or language
This strategy is similar to the consumption context but instead of aligning with something that the audience is consuming, you’re aligning with a ritual they perform on a regular basis.
I.e., You’re a health coach and your ideal client is a mom with school-aged children. You position your main meal plan as something that can be made right alongside with your kids’ lunch.
Questions to consider:
- List all the rituals your consumers perform in your category (where, when, how, why)
- Identify those rituals that would be most relevant to your brand
- Write down the emotional transformation you believe your consumers are going through when performing the rituals
- List all the ways the rituals and emotional transformation during those rituals translate into a positioning idea
How to develop your own positioning strategy
So you’ve read through 5 common strategies – what now?!
Well, now it’s time to develop and implement.
As with all things brand-building related, clarity is absolutely going to come from action. In order to home in on your positioning strategy and make it as effective as possible, you need to get it out there and communicate it.
Here are 6 steps to help you develop and implement your own brand positioning strategy:
- Define the problem your brand position is trying to solve; why are you doing the work and what are you solving for?
- Define success; how will you know your brand’s positioning has succeeded?
- Explore potential solutions; brainstorm as many ideas as possible.
- Organize, evaluate and refine those potential solutions into one that is the most appealing and relevant; which one best fulfills the success criteria?
- Validate the positioning strategy; share it with your team, trusted network or past customers.
- Bring it to life through your marketing and communications efforts; update your website, share thoughts on social media, send it out in email(s).
From there, it’s a constant iteration and experimentation process, with the goal being that you land on a positioning strategy that resonates with your ideal client and supports your business goals.
A few last tips on successful positioning
Great positioning is all about telling why your ideal client should choose you over all others. It’s not about sharing what you have, the deliverables they can expect or the timeline in which you’ll do something. But rather, about why you are the right choice to solve their problem.
For the love of all things, please don’t focus your positioning on the obvious and superficial (great customer service); find an original and previously unknown solution to your ideal client’s problem and own it.
And with that, happy branding 🙂
Want to dig in even more? Read this next!
Follow this easy-to-implement brand strategy template to create a brand foundation that’s grounded in connection and meaning.