Some small businesses say that they don’t need brand positioning – we say, you need it more than big businesses who have practically unlimited resources to achieve it and your customers will position your brand whether you like it or not and they may position you somewhere you’d rather not be !
Brand positioning is about differentiation – making your product especially attractive to a particular market segment. Positioning is relative to competitors. Differentiation isn’t the same as different –it means different in a good way or relevant way. The implication of brand positioning is that there are customers whom you do not set out to attract /sell to (you don’t send them away, you just don’t let them dilute your positioning)
Often markets split up by two factors – it may be price and novelty or it may be B2B v B2C and Price/Luxury
Think of the global travel industry:
Some companies specialise in business travel: Hyatt, Marriott Hotels are good examples; others are set up for tourists – Holiday Inn. If you look at the Accor Group, it has hotel brands at several levels – Sofitel, Pullman, Mercure and Ibis; each of these groups is designed to attract different groups of guests.
Similarly, airlines have different positioning – EasyJet and South West Airlines aim for discount, no-frills travellers and short haul /regional routes, whilst British Airways and Emirates consider themselves to be luxury class and perhaps also prefer the long haul traveller. Having got the big differences in positioning out of the way, each company only has to compete with those who have chosen a similar positioning.
For local businesses, geography is bound to be one of the positioning dimensions. Taking global or national companies head on isn’t a recipe for success. However focusing on the location and your relationship with local customers can be effective and it is quite possible to establish your business as “Oxford’s finest pen shop” ? Unless people are visiting London or New York anyway, they are likely to buy proper fountain pens at only one shop in Oxford (ball point and gel pens don’t really make it as graduation gifts!). If your business is in a large city, then you can claim “West London’s cheapest locksmith or even “Westminster’s best fish restaurant” and eliminate most of the competition in your customers’ minds.
Search engines are the same – when your website is initially indexed, the search engine has to decide what it is about. This is why choosing keywords which are (and the search engines view as) relevant and close in meaning. This is the online equivalent of positioning. Once the search engine regards you as a <business type> in <location>, then you only have to out rank the other businesses of that type in that location. This means your search engine optimisation task becomes much easier.
Of course, the downside of choosing a small location is that searches for the same business type in neighbouring locations are less likely to find your business. The next town may only be a few miles away and a customer might be more than willing to go a few miles out of their way to buy something. For this reason, it may be better to cast your net a bit wider even if achieving the ranking takes longer.
To outrank other local businesses, you may still have to think about other positioning dimensions which will put you in a unique place in customers’ minds as well search engine indexes.
How to position your small business
EITHER With some colleagues, brainstorm:
- how you wish various parties to see you (investors, employees and suppliers as well as customers)
- Create an honest assessment of your “unique value proposition” – (is it unique ? of value?, etc)
- List the positions you wish to avoid ( eg burger restaurant not fast food)
- Think about your competition’s positioning
Then when you’ve processed the results, develop your positioning statement and the related messages. A positioning statement looks like this :
We are the only <type of business> that <meets a customer’s need> <in this unique way>
The customer’s need should be unmet currently and the unique way is your differentiation
Ask employees and then customers whether this positioning statement flies.
OR invite some customers for couple of hours, and:
- Ask your customers to name the top 10 brands in your category (don’t force them to name you)
- Ask them to rank those brands
- Ask your customers to list the most relevant factors in the category
- Ask the customers to rank each brand against each factor
With your colleagues, evaluate whether you still have a proposition and where your business might best be positioned. Write the positioning statement.
So in summary, brand positioning is even more important for small business as it focuses all resources on the differentiating features of the business’s brand. Positioning is about putting clear water between your business and its competition and online positioning is about showing search engines where you fit. Once your business is positioned, brand development effort will help to reinforce the positioning.