ESTABLISHING YOUR BRAND AND POSITIONING
If you have been in business circles long enough or have read some books on starting a business, you have no doubt come across the terms “brand” and “positioning.” These are important bridge concepts between your company’s core identity and your ability to communicate with your audience in the marketplace. But even if you have heard these terms, you may not know exactly what they mean. So let’s begin with a couple of brief definitions:
- A company’s brand is the promise of a particular customer experience. A brand is what a company stands for. The McDonald’s brand, for instance, has long been one of fast service at an affordable price. Nordstrom’s brand is one of exceptional customer service. The Home Depot’s brand is one of home-improvement expertise. The brand represents how a customer is likely to feel when interacting with the company.
- A company’s positioning is the place that the company holds in the marketplace. A particular grocery store may be the “value leader,” “healthy food alternative,” “gourmet grocer,” and so on. The positioning is often regarded as the word or words that the company “owns” in its customers’ minds.
There are a couple of interesting aspects about brand and positioning. The company’s name, logo, colors, and tag lines are obvious and concrete. You can write them on a piece of paper or see them on a sign. But brand and positioning are more abstract concepts. While you can state in words what you believe them to be or what you would like for them to be, they exist primarily as customer perceptions. They are experiences, rather than words or phrases.
Second, your company name, logo, colors, and tag line are completely within your control as the owner of your company. You decide what you want to call your business, you select the logo, and you choose the tag line. If you want to state that you are the “value leader” in your product category, then you are certainly free to say that. But in the same way that you cannot control the impression that another individual has of you as a person, you cannot control the impression that customers will have of your company. For instance, you can say that your company is the value leader, but if your customers don’t believe it, then in reality—in their minds, which is what really matters— you are not the value leader. Your brand and your positioning in the marketplace will be determined ultimately by your customers—and not just by you—based in large part upon the experiences that they or others they know have had with your business.
In this sense, your company’s brand is similar to its reputation—it’s a lot easier to lose a good reputation than it is to acquire and maintain one. A brand takes a long time to build and is a very fragile thing. Repeated negative customer experiences can undermine or even destroy your brand, and no amount of marketing or publicity can rehabilitate it. So when companies speak about “protecting their brand,” it’s a very important task. Your brand precedes you—and that means it comes before your advertisements, before your marketing materials, and before your salespeople. A good brand can open doors before you get there; a sullied or negative brand can slam them shut.
Positioning has many features of a brand, but it comes with unique challenges of its own. A number of companies can have a similar brand in that they all can promise roughly equivalent customer experiences. But only one company can occupy a market position in a specific category. That is, only one company can be perceived as the best according to a specific characteristic in the minds of its customers. For instance, there can be only one low- cost leader in a given category. If the position that you want to hold is already occupied, then you need to pursue either a different position, a different category, or a different target market (e.g., teenagers instead of adults, stay-at- home moms instead of all women).
The Bottom Line Your ability to define your market, customers’ motivation, as well as your company’s brand and positioning are just a few of the tasks you must address in starting a business. As you define each one for your business, you will discover how each one complements the others and as such, your business will come into sharper focus. But an idea without action is meaningless.
Many would-be entrepreneurs have mistakenly thought they could simply ride a “great idea” to success. Being a successful entrepreneur is more than just a product or service. It is being prepared to adjust your plans as conditions and opportunities change, without compromising your vision. By using the information in this guide, you will have the tools to take hold of those opportunities and move forward in making your entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
STARTUP 101: HOW EXPERTS DRIVE SUCCESS
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Winston_Tony Eboyi is a Project Manager who runs programs on Personal Development and matters Business Branding. www.twicgroup.com