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The Importance of 'Positioning' Your Brand When You're Just Starting Out

Founder of FE International

Positioning" is a term that gets thrown around a lot but can often be confused with other marketing activities.“Very few startups have a firm grasp of what exactly positioning is, why it’s important and how to do it,” says April Dunford, an expert positioning consultant.

"Positioning" means the place a brand occupies in the minds of its customers. That's important, but one of the main mistakes founders make when considering their position is doing so too late. After all, it's easy to get caught up on the product side of things. You start out building marketing strategies, complete with innovative ideas for how to captivate a wide audience. But in fact, the most crucial decision to make in those early days, is instead exactly what your message is, and how it fits into your marketplace.

Once this has been locked in, you an work on the product to back this up, and on the marketing strategies needed to spread the word.

With this said, here are some key pointers for anyone launching a new business and looking to define his or her positioning.

Avoid head-on collisions.

In Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, their seminal book on the subject, Al Trout and Jack Ries argue that you should never compete head-on with a company that already has a strong, established position. You should always look to position your product or service as a radical departure from the norm, even if you're operating within the same niche.

Chipotle’s opposition to industrialized farming is a good example. The company effectively sidestepped many of its fast food competitors by making integrity a key tenet of its business. However, critics may well have argued in those early days that Chipotle's positioning was a hard one to occupy long-term in the fast food industry.

Take note of competitors’ branding strengths and weaknesses.

To determine what your business’ positioning should be, carefully analyze your competitors' branding strengths and weaknesses. This is something that most marketing departments do when starting out, and it's important that you do it too; be honest about your competitors if you want to avoid a potential “head-on” collision.

By filling in the gaps in the service your competitors provide, you may find that your competitors are less your competition and more your means for drawing more attention to your niche. This is why clothing shops and restaurants often congregate at the same location in cities. As long as their offerings differ, they can benefit from their competitors' overflow, especially at the start. (For more tips on competitor analysis, see this SEMrush blog)

Lyft is a company which effectively sized up its competition, Uber, and used its analysis to carve out a large share of the market. On the surface, these are two companies offering similar rideshare services, but  Lyft quickly sized up Uber’s reputation as an enterprise with some ethically dubious practices. Accordingly, Lyft focused on offering a friendlier service which both encourages interaction with drivers and passengers, and introduced carbon-neutral rides and bike shares.  

Work on your positioning statement.

Back in the 1940s, marketing was comparatively easy. If yours was a less competitive market, you simply had to provide some clear text, explaining the features of your offering. In the 1950s and 1960s, things got a little harder as images began to define which products would draw the most attention and see the most success.

Since those early days of marketing, things have come almost full circle again -- because establishing exactly what your product or service does is once again crucial in a world that’s chock-a-block with advertising. Your own statement must be concise and focus on one or two key attributes. It needs to differentiate your offering from the competition's and target your ideal audience.

Amazon’s positioning statement form 2001, when the company mostly sold books, is an often-cited example of an effective positioning statement: “For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.”

Wow, that's one positioning statement that's changed. But in your own case, don't take your positioning statement lightly, as it will end up forming the core of your marketing activities.

Provide evidence.

While this might not be a priority in establishing your positioning, being able to back up the claims of your positioning statement and related materials will be invaluable.

This can be as simple as linking to customer reviews on your site, or linking to more detailed reports on how your service or product operates. Giving your potential customers the ability to deep-dive into the intricacies of your offering is essential even if their first exposure to your company is merely a brief statement of services.

Neil Patel has said that optimizing your case studies to contain more high-quality facts that back up your claims, while reducing unnecessary word count, is crucial for increasing your conversions. The use of case studies affects conversion rates regardless of what industry is being marketed, Patel has said.

Gathering enough reviews to impress your customers before you’ve launched can be difficult, of course, but some case studies and carefully selected pull quotes should tide you over until you've on-boarded more customers. If you aren’t sure how to write your first case study, AutoGrow has provided this useful guide guide.

Consider segmentation.

While positioning statements for the same kind of product from multiple companies may vary, segmentation further varies how a business positions itself. If you want to know more about segmentation, you can see a useful article at Insane Growth; but in short, you may find that dividing your messaging among two or three key groups of customers (whether that be by customer persona, location or any other useful parameter) can do wonders for your conversion rates.

McDonald’s, for instance, uses segmentation to great effect. Its breakfast ads tend to target men of working age men, rather than children, and its international locations contain both products and advertising geared toward local tastes and traditions. Its McCafé segment is also trying to take customers from Starbucks by targeting younger, more health-conscious students and offering a location often open 24 hours.

This is what's meant by "microscale product positioning," and it is likely to form some of your own marketing department’s work in the future; but it is worth considering now if your offering requires a more segmented audience from the get-go.


As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

Positioning is the first hurdle to startup success, but many entrepreneurs and marketers fail to treat it with the care they offer their general marketing and product development activities.

If you are going to dedicate a large proportion of your working hours to a business venture, make sure you figure out your positioning before you do anything else. If handled diligently, intelligent positioning won’t just ensure that you have a fighting chance at survival, but it will reduce the impact of your competition, and help you avoid the need to make drastic changes to your product or services over time.

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