How to be Absolutely Sure You’ve Got an Effective Brand Positioning Strategy

February 26, 2018

If you’re wondering how to create a solid brand positioning strategy, remember this: People like to be sure of things.

Back in 1972, psychologist Jerome Kagan named “resolution of uncertainty” one of the three primary motives underlying all other human behaviors. Being certain, knowing things “for sure” — this is the preferred territory for all human beings. Imagine our brains as tiny cerebellum-sized chests of drawers. Instinctively, we all have an intense desire to know which ideas go in which drawers — all precisely arranged and ordered in our minds.

This resistance to ambiguity — the need for “cognitive closure,” as social psychologist Arie Kruglanski termed it in 1996 — has far-reaching effects on many aspects of our lives. When it comes to impression formation, persuasion, and group decision making in particular, the innate human need to “be sure” is of the utmost relevance.

So when you’re settling in to create your company’s brand positioning strategy, you need to deliver to your customers something they can feel 100% certain about. Give them a sense of absolute certainty about who you are and what you uniquely do, and brand loyalty is sure to be around the corner.

What is a brand positioning strategy, and how can I create one for my brand?

In Kotler and Keller’s Marketing Management, the gold standard text on marketing theory and practice, brand positioning is defined as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.” What can your target audience be sure is uniquely true about your brand?

Start with a statement
The core of a solid brand positioning strategy is the brand positioning statement: an internal-use-only singular sentence that conveys what your brand truly does better — and differently — than anyone else in the world. Here’s how you might start to craft yours:

Step 1: Analyze your audience

The first thing you’ll need to do is take a close look at your target audience. Creating buyer personas (see point three in our SMB marketing tips article) is a proven method for pinpointing precisely what your target audience wants, needs, and is looking for. Once you understand exactly what San Francisco City Employee Sam or Stay At Home Mom Blogger Sarah wants or needs, you’re ready to move on to step 2.

Step 2: Analyze your company

Now is not the time for lofty goal-setting for pie-in-the-sky vision boards. The question to ask yourself in step 2 is: What is your company realistically, and consistently, able to deliver? What are your actual capabilities? Be honest and take a deep look inward.

Step 3: Analyze your competitors

Now that you’ve taken a good hard look at yourself, it’s time to survey the scene around you. Odds are, there are more than a few brands doing something correllary, if not downright similar, to what your company is doing. How are they positioning their service? What types of words, images, media and design tactics are they using to set their brand apart?

Now that you’ve done this, take a break. Have a sandwich. You’ll need the energy for the task ahead: using your analysis to craft a clear and concise brand positioning statement.

Two common formulas for a clear brand positioning statement

There are two common formulas that people use to write brand positioning statements: The Three Word Wonder and the Mad Libs Approach. Since brand positioning statements are for internal use only, you can feel free to use these formulas to the T, or you can get more creative — it’s up to you.


The Three Word Wonder

We like this approach because it’s simple to remember: All you have to do is choose three words that describe your brand. But just because it’s a simple formula doesn’t mean it’s easy to do! Here’s how to be sure your three-word brand positioning statement is right:

  1. Make sure each word resonates with your target audience. Using your analysis of your consumers, make sure all three words fulfill your target audience’s specific wants and needs.
  2. Be certain each word is something your company can deliver on — no exaggeration or overpromising.
  3. Be confident that the phrase as a whole is unique to your brand, and isn’t something your competitors also deliver.

Example: Everlane

Everlane is a modern fashion brand which, in keeping with its commitment to radical transparency, has created a public-facing tagline which just happens to fit the Three Word Wonder format of a normally internal-use-only positioning statement. That tagline is:

Exceptional quality. Ethical factories. Radical Transparency.


Before you freak out — we realize this is not three words. It’s six words. But rules are made to be broken and Everlane hit the nail on the head with this one so we’re allowing it.


Why does this positioning statement work so well?

Everlane’s target audience are women who want quality, on-trend clothes that don’t exploit people. But it’s the third component of their tagline, that radical transparency, that Everlane owns exclusively.

The Mad Libs Approach

Take a trip back to middle school antics with this fill-in-the-blank approach to crafting a brand positioning statement. Using the same analysis you used in the Three Word Wonder, use the format below to come up with a sentence that uniquely identifies your brand.

[Brand Name] is a ________ company that provides ______ with ________ by _________.

For example, Ikea might fill out this brand positioning with something like:
Ikea is a furniture company that provides people on a budget with affordable and stylish furniture by outsourcing assembly to customers.

Simple, right? Either one of these methods provide an excellent framework for creating a brand positioning statement that fully encapsulates your company’s offering.

Now what?

Now that you’ve crafted your brand positioning statement, it’s time to make it real. If you’ve done your positioning correctly, this should be easy. After all, your statement accurately reflects what you’re capable of delivering, right? So get out there and deliver it, and make sure every aspect of your business supports and reinforces it, too. Below are just a few areas of opportunity for reinforcing your positioning:

  • Packaging design
  • Product innovation
  • Email campaigns
  • Website copy
  • Business cards
  • Storefront design
  • Advertising
  • Customer service

If you build a solid positioning, and reinforce it authentically at every opportunity, you can be certain that your brand will find its correct position inside your target audience’s brain. And if you find yourself feeling unsure at any point the process, we’re just a phone call away!

By Katie Rottner, Senior Copywriter