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Brand positioning strategies: why so many brands fail at positioning.

Updated: 4 days ago


 

Not to start off controversial, but while the brand actually belongs to the CEO and not to the marketing department, branding is often delegated to marketers (and values to HR, to make it worse) within a company. And this is flat out wrong.


It is actually one of the main reasons many brands falter: they confuse marketing positioning with brand positioning. While these concepts may sound similar, they actually serve very different purposes and have distinct impacts on a company's success.


 

Brand Positioning Strategies | Why So Many Brands Fail | Ultrabrand

Marketing positioning: a commercial approach.


The primary goal of marketing positioning is to drive sales – i.e. to convince customers to buy a product. To fulfill its mission, marketing positioning must focus on products and services, and is largely grounded in the notion of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and its evolutions.


By highlighting the unique attributes of a product, marketing differentiates it in the market and attracts customers. However, this approach has limitations because the concept is commercial and time-bound, linked to the lifecycle of products and services. It is inherently tied to the existence and relevance of specific products, which may change over time.


 

Brand Positioning Strategies | Why So Many Brands Fail | Ultrabrand

Brand positioning: a cultural approach.


In contrast to the commercial focus of marketing positioning, brand positioning is about creating a lasting identity and overarching culture that transcends products and services. The best brand positioning strategies should be timeless, rooted in the founding idea of the company. As I like to say, it is about branding the entrepreneurial spark.


To create an enduring, inspiring brand positioning, it is crucial to understand that the goal is not to sell but to identify. Brand positioning should be based on a unique idea, often the founding intention of the company, making the brand inherently unique.


This makes brand positioning capable of outlasting market trends, technological advancements, and changing customer preferences. It also provides a unique engine for innovation and expansion, constantly driving the company forward.


 

Brand Positioning Strategies | Why So Many Brands Fail | Ultrabrand

Commercial vs. cultural Impact


Marketing is inherently commercial, aiming to generate sales and immediate customer engagement. Branding, however, is cultural, establishing a deep-seated identity and emotional connection with both employees and customers.


Of course one does not go without the other in business, but mixing these approaches or failing to understand their distinct purposes can lead to weak brand establishment, poor internal culture, inability to inovate and expand, and disconnected audiences.


Companies that confuse marketing with branding struggle to innovate and attract investors who seek a stable, enduring brand identity. Without a culturally-designed foundation, companies will find it challenging to build trust and loyalty, essential components for long-term success, as well as to think out of the (product) box. This is why it's essential that the CEO, not marketing, owns the brand.


 

Brand Positioning Strategies | Why So Many Brands Fail | Ultrabrand

Brand positioning is the source of everything.


To say it clearly, a strong brand positioning serves as a cultural proposition or a unique worldview, and can most often be retrieved in the foundational act of every company. It is this clear, consistent identity that keeps the brand relevant and inspiring.


For example, Apple has a brand positioning centered on innovation and thinking differently. This core idea has allowed them to branch out into multiple sectors beyond its original computing products, maintaining a cohesive, federative and powerful brand presence.


While the scope of the Apple's impact is unique today, it would be wrong to believe this approach is only for big companies. Whether it was done consciously or unconsciously (for example because the leader had a strong personality and vision) it is actually the very reason why they became big, and it can and should be adopted by any company – regardless of their present size or sector.


 

Brand Positioning Strategies | Why So Many Brands Fail | Ultrabrand

Best brand positioning strategies.


To position a brand effectively, it is essential to deeply understand its history and founding principles. In other words, the reason why it exists. This is the core of every entreprise: an entrepreneur saw a problem in the world and created a solution, with his or her very own personality and way to see the world.


Generally, there are two approaches: positioning the brand on its "Why" or its "How." Positioning on the "Why" focuses on the purpose of the brand’s existence. For example, a company might exist to empower creativity, like Apple. Alternatively, positioning on the "How" emphasizes the brand’s unique approach to fulfilling its mission. Patagonia, for example, is known for its commitment to environmental sustainability in how it conducts business.


 

Brand Positioning Strategies | Why So Many Brands Fail | Ultrabrand

Selling products vs. stating who you are.


Marketing positioning is about selling products, while brand positioning is about creating an identity, and a brand should not be positioned on the transient attributes of a product. It should represent a unique, unifying idea that inspires people both internally and externally.


It can become tricky to do when, for example, a company was founded on a technical innovation or an innovative product, but upon closer look 1) it is almost always the case (so this is the point of the exercise) and 2) it was only one way at the time to manifest an underlying idea that is unique.


And this is where your brand positioning lies, as the core of your identity. This approach not only guarantees longevity but also fosters a strong culture, an enduring connection with your audience, and, above all, a unique direction for innovation. It ensures the company and brand remain relevant and powerful in an ever-changing market, and that marketing efforts underneath it are facilitated and unified.


 

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Sources:

1. Keller, K. L. (2013). "Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring, and Managing Brand Equity." Pearson Education.

2. Aaker, D. A. (2014). "Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success." Morgan James Publishing.

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