The ultimate brand positioning framework

What is a brand positioning framework? 

A brand positioning framework is a construct that enables you to find the right place for your brand in the marketplace, as well as in the consumer’s mind. In simple terms, it enables a consumer to instantly connect your name with something they may be looking for right now or in the future.

Why a brand positioning framework? 

A brand positioning framework makes it easy for a consumer to identify the right brand to satisfy a given need or want. Without this, a brand simply becomes another product or commodity on the supermarket shelf.

The awesome power of brand positioning

  • When I say Porsche, you say…fast?
  • I say Volkswagen Bug, you say…quirky?
  • Corvette? Muscle.
  • Toyota? Reliable.
  • And of course, Volvo = safe.

That, in a word, is the power of a brand positioning framework. Anyone with even a passing interest in your category can spontaneously tell you where in their brain your brand, and competitor brands, have staked a claim.

Not everyone will want your brand. (Not everyone wants to go fast. They may want a safe ride.) But the people who have a propensity for your position will immediately think of you when they’re thinking of their next car. 

Fun fact: Volvo has carved out such a formidable space in our minds with the word ‘safe’, we no longer even check if they’re the safest car on the road (they aren’t.)

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Here’s how you do it.

Brand positioning strategies

Creating an effective brand position isn’t simply a matter of running with what ‘feels’ right. But it needn’t be an ordeal either. You can start by simply answering these four questions:

  1. Who is it for? Who is the perfect buyer for your product or service? 
  2. What are you selling? You can start by literally defining your product or service (not as easy as it sounds, if you’re selling a complex piece of software). But don’t forget to describe the job consumers hire your product or service to do.
  3. How does your product or service help? What are the benefits of using your product or service to solve the consumer’s very specific problem, vs using other products or services?
  4. How do you stand out? Are there other ways your product or service is unique?

Once you’ve done this, you can craft a brand positioning statement that melds your answers. That is: 

For (who it is for), (what you’re selling) will (how the product helps) because only we offer (how you stand out). 

There are also subcategories of brand positioning, enabling you to position yourself around your strongest attributes, and / or carve out a niche that zigs when everyone else in your category is zagging. These subcategories include:

Quality Based Brand Positioning Strategy

You can implement this strategy if you want to emphasize the premium nature of your product – often at a premium cost. You may want to consider positioning around quality if your brand features things like:

  • Exceptional craftsmanship,
  • Small-batch or artisanal production,
  • High-quality materials,
  • Sustainable practices.

You can demonstrate this positioning effectively with evidence of exceptional results – optimally delivered via glowing testimonials and independent studies.  

Price Based Positioning

Implement this strategy if you want to position yourself as the most affordable brand. 

This is a powerful position (nobody likes to pay more than they need to) but beware: if you find success as the low-priced option, others will begin undercutting your price. And so begins the race to the bloody, bankrupt bottom. 

Customer Service Positioning

We’ve seen brilliant examples of this in categories where customer service seemed impossible – Zappo’s makes online shoe shopping brilliantly rewarding because it innovated ways around the shoe store clerk who helped you try on 10 pairs.

If you’re going to pursue a customer service position, know that your service has to be tangibly better than the competition. A great example is 1-800-GotJunk. From their awesome booking system to the clean cut kids they send to dejunk your home, GotJunk has tangibly improved every facet of what used to be an ick category.  

Convenience Based Positioning

One of the best strategies in a world where everything has ostensibly already been invented. What remains is to make the inventions easier

A powerful positioning strategy in markets where consumers feel overwhelmed by updates, new launches, or overly complex operating systems, convenience based positioning also works brilliantly in traditional categories – create a mop you don’t need to rinse and clean, and you win (sound like Swiffer, anyone?)

Differentiation Brand Positioning

If your product or service is truly innovative, you can position yourself as the first, most original, breakthrough option. Of course, if what you’re selling isn’t innovative, this positioning will only lead to a bloody nose, as consumers sniff out that there’s nothing but puffery where your innovation should be. 

A word of caution here: new also means untested to many. If you want mainstream consumers (vs the early adopting minority) to give it a try, you need to find a way past their fear of buying something buggy or not-yet-ready-for-primetime. 

Perceptual map

If you’ve ever used at 2×2 perceptual map, you know that it can quickly clarify where you stand. 

Personally, I love them because they also point out that most brands in a space are in the ‘messy middle’ of the map, pointing to a need for better positioning and / or innovation. 

The beauty of a 2×2 is that you can endlessly customize the quadrants. Price vs quality, coolness vs practicality, for example. The place you want to start, however, is with brand attributes that consumers consider important in your category. Back to the car example I cited above, you may choose excitement and safety as quadrants.

Here’s a sample of a perceptual map, courtesy of AMA Boston.

Brand Positioning Perceptual MapBrand essence chart

The brand essence chart is another tool that may help sort the word salad that you may be generating in your brand positioning work. Here’s a sample I found in a quick Google scan. This one is from Visual Paradigm Online – there are plenty of templates you can purchase or crib.  

brand essence wheel

The visual may appear a tad confusing – in fact, it’s derived from a very commonsense list of features that define a brand:

What the product does for me

How does this product make your life better? What pain does it alleviate? 

How I would describe the product 

How someone without the ‘inside’ knowledge of the product or category would describe the product. No insider terms or acronyms allowed.

How the brand makes me feel

The irrational, emotional benefit the brand bestows on me. It makes me feel strong, confident, sexy, etc.

How the brand makes me look

How I imagine I appear when someone else looks at me with the brand in my possession.  

Facts and symbols

Actual evidence that the brand does what consumers want it to do. You can put on your brand manager hat now, and rattle off all the attributes you built into your brand to support your positioning.  

Brand personality

Again, with your brand manager hat on, summarize the personality of the brand as gathered from the consumers you’ve spoken to, and your own intentions in designing the brand. 

Brand essence

As mentioned above, that’s:

For (who it is for), (what you’re selling) will (how the product helps) because only we offer (how you stand out). 

How to measure strong brand positioning

There’s one simple, obvious way to test if your brand position is powerful. Do the right people remember it, and does it answer a need they feel?

Let’s break this down into less fuzzy components:

  • Is your position clear?
  • Is it single-minded?
  • Does it empower those on your team to live up to the position, and strive for the right kind of improvement (ensuring the new Volvo lives up to the safe position, for example)?
  • Is it focused on giving the highest value to your ideal customer? 
  • Can you sustain it? 
  • Can it grow and scale? 

Brand positioning important tips

Tip 1. Know thyself (and thy neighbor and thy market)

A friend of mine conducted a positioning exercise with a group of ad agency executives. He asked each executive to jot down one word that described their agency’s superpower. Then, he had the execs pass their note to the person next to them.

Finally, each exec was asked to read their neighbor’s note out loud. Most of them read ‘creativity’.

If you want to stand out, you need to know your superpower. Equally important, though, you need to be absolutely certain it isn’t the same superpower your competitors are claiming.

What happens when you don’t differentiate? Commoditization, confusion, and, invariably, price-cutting. Not to mention being treated by clients like a vendor, not a partner.

(Is your brand properly positioned? A brand audit will enable you to get clear on your superpower, and how consistent you are expressing it. You can apply for a free, 1-on-1 brand audit here. )

Tip 2. Ask

A few years ago, as I was launching my consultancy, I thought companies would engage me because I was brilliantly creative. If you read the section above, you’ll understand why that positioning pegged me as a commodity. 

That’s when I asked my former boss why clients we’d worked with spent a fortune to have me create their advertising. Without missing a beat, he blurted out “Because you’re simple!” Like Forrest Gump? Simple – really?

What he meant was that I had a talent for taking snarled, complex business propositions and magically simplifying them. Thanks to my simplification skills, consumers were able to easily absorb my clients’ messages. And presto, sales went up.

I was skeptical, but as you can see from the home page of my site, I took his words to heart. To this day, when I tell prospects that my superpower is making their message simple, they light up.

Tip 3. Make positioning an adjective

If you were a computer, what would you be?

What about a car?

If you hear a brand ‘expert’ trot out these old tropes, ask for your money back. Invariably, every manufacturer – whether they make snacks or slacks – wants to be the Apple, or Tesla of their category. 

If you want to be more productive, make your differentiator an adjective. It keeps things simple, and doesn’t muddy up categories. You’re the (blank) diet snack.

Tip 4. Look at your name modifier

Boeing 747. If you weren’t familiar with the plane when it launched in 1989, those words would mean absolutely nothing.

Jumbo Jet. Aaaaah, now we’re getting somewhere. The Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet is a really big plane!

If you have a powerful one word differentiator, the first place you should apply it is as a modifier, or enhancer, of your company name.

Let’s face it, most company names don’t exactly scream differentiation or provide easy answers for people searching Google, forcing confused consumers to read About Us paragraphs, and, well, rapidly lose interest. 

On the other hand, if a consumer is looking for a gargantuan plane (as we all do on occasion) and Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet pops up, the battle is won.

Tip 5. Stay curious

The competitive landscape is constantly shifting. Your differentiator today could be vanilla tomorrow. You need to keep asking clients and friends what sets you apart. You need to keep tabs on competitor claims. You need to be willing to tweak tweak tweak.

Certainly, it’s a bit of work. But it’s work that pays dividends.

Brand positioning examples

We led off this post with a few examples of blink positioning.

  • Porsche = fast.
  • VW Bug = quirky.
  • Corvette = muscle.
  • Toyota =  reliable.
  • Volvo = safe.


Now let’s try a couple of these, using the positioning statement we crafted: 

For (who it is for), (what you’re selling) will (how the product helps) because only we offer (how you stand out). 


For performance fanatics who appreciate the race-bred craftsmanship and precision of German engineering, the Porsche 911 gives both adrenalin and confidence, because only Porsche has the racing pedigree combined with exceptional German quality that has stood the test of time for nearly 100 years. 


For lovers of pure American muscle and exhilaration, Corvette delivers the icon of Detroit pride in steel and rubber, because only Corvette has captured the imagination of speed demons and dreamers for 5 generations. 

Are they right? You may feel they need tweaks, but I guarantee they create an image of the brand that is consistent with the product, and for the right person, answers a very real need.    

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