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How incorrect positioning can damage your brand

Just for something a little different, as I write this article, I’m sitting up the front of a houseboat as it powers (ever-so-slowly) along a beautiful coastal area of Australia.

The sky is almost impossibly blue, the water is like glass, the air is crisp and has the slight hint of salt.

The experience, so far, has been excellent. Everything you’d imagine: gentle rocking to sleep, mooring in spellbinding locations, a successful spot of fishing, and more cheese and wine than Christmas!

What maybe doesn’t live up to the promise, is the actual hire houseboat itself. While, in honesty, it’s actually really great, it has enough space, everything we need and it’s quite comfortable, what it’s not, in any way, is ‘luxurious’.

‘Why would you expect that?’ I can hear you thinking. ‘What a first-world problem!’

Let me start by saying, we’re quite active campers, so luxury is usually not in our wheelhouse. We don’t mind things a little rickety or muddy or haphazard.

But the word 'luxury' was used several times in association with this boat and brand and as this was a special occasion, it had been part of the appeal.

When you hear that word, ‘luxury’ — whether it’s a fabric, or a skincare product, a car... or a boat, it creates certain expectations. It sets you up to believe your experience will be a certain way.

When you have that experience and it doesn’t live up to the promise, it immediately changes how you feel about the experience completely, and it can’t live up to expectations, even if it's otherwise excellent.

The reason I tell you this story above, is our boat company isn’t the only company out there to position itself incorrectly, and that can be really damaging for a brand.

In looking at reviews for the company (I didn’t bother ‘til after), it shows some disappointed visitors, low ratings and comments that are less than positive!

Write ups on the company and the odd little media piece are the same — ‘don’t get your hopes up because of the description.’

The question is, would those reviews have been negative and those writeups framed the way they were, if a different expectation had been set from the beginning?

If customers had not expected a hint of luxury, would the experience actually have been deemed quite perfect?

What is brand positioning?

Really simply, brand positioning is the space your brand occupies in consumers' minds. Yours is the 'cheap' brand, the 'techy' brand', or the 'luxury' brand.

As a brand owner, you have the choice to either position your brand on purpose, or to just let it happen organically.

Needless-to-say, if you do just let it happen; if you let consumers position your brand for you, it can be hard to shake that positioning if it isn't what you want or if it isn't positive.

Counter to that, if you position on purpose, but don't live up to it, the disappointment of consumers can be a loud roar and also really impact your brand negatively.

Positioning and brand promises sit at the absolute foundation of your brand and your business, and if you don’t get them right (or intentionally mislead), you can be in for some really rough waters ahead!

How to think about brand positioning

Positioning and messaging are projects we regularly undertake for clients, both those new in the market and getting ready to launch or grow, and those that have been around a while and either never got around to it, or know now is the time for a little strategic repositioning.

Our process is quite indepth, but it's underpinned by thinking about two key factors: your audience, and your team.

We think about your audience because obviously, that is who you are selling to and who you need to win over. We consider who they are, what makes them those people, what motivates them, what they like, hate, how they behave.

Then we think about them in the context of your product or service. What is the problem they have that you are solving, how do you solve it uniquely, why would they choose you, importantly, why would they stick with you? What parts of what you do are most important to them (even if you don't consider them the most important parts of what you offer)?

Finally, we think about them in terms of who else is out there targeting them with similar solutions: what are they telling your audience and promising them, how are you different?

In thinking about your team; we are considering the values that drive your brand and your people, whether they live up to them, what it means about how they behave, how they provide service, communicate and deliver. We are thinking about culture.

When we bring all this thinking together, it helps us zoom in on your most important and genuine point of difference -- that your product/service AND team can truly live up to -- and we use all of that to help frame your positioning.

Thinking about brand positioning, if doing it yourself, means getting really self-analytical, stepping back from what you think and know, clearing those points of bias, and being open to the raw reality.

Taking the next step into brand messaging

Brand messages are those promises that extend from your big promise.

At the top level, that pillar level, there will only be a few of them, and they will speak to the consistent factors that really are the essence of your brand and business.

They might centre on your tech or your service, your innovation or your relationship-driven approach -- they are the four of five things that stand you apart and truly make up 'who' your brand is.

The analysis and thinking you've already done for your positioning will come in handy again if you're developing brand messages, because it should have resulted in ideas that, at the very least, point you in the right direction.

Go back to that research and find the elements that you kept coming back to, that absolutely drive and underpin your brand. Shape short, meaningful messages around each.

Your team should then use these pillar messages for everything -- not verbatim necessarily, but as a guide -- your website, your media training, your socials. You should be living up to these promises all the time.

Under your pillars, you'll also have those standard, yet important and powerful service promises. These might be things like your price-match policy, your ticket response time, your commitment to resolving all issues same day, and so on.

When you have a clear positioning and under that, messages that are strong and consistent all the time, it becomes inevitable that consumers think about you in a certain way -- a way you want them to think about you!

If we go back to our boat example; the company we hired from could have positioned on price, as they were quite affordable, or they could have taken an experience positioning route, focusing on providing access to true freedom and adventure in a way few other holidays and getaways do.

Based on our experience, they could have lived up to both those positioning strategies really effectively.

Their key messages could have been about service, because they were absolutely available whenever we needed them, convenience -- because their boat had everything we needed on it, expertise -- because they provided us great guidance on where to go and how to manage our boating experience, and whichever of those positioning options they didn't already use -- adventure or price.

They could have stuck to those messages and promises all the time, and become known as the best way to have an adventure unlike any experienced before.

Rolling it out for improved brand communication

As you may have guessed, rolling out positioning and brand messaging effectively is all about consistency. If you start using these messages, then decide to go in a different direction next week, then another the week after, consumers (and your own team) will be confused about 'who' your brand is, what you do, how you do it and why they should choose you.

If, in contrast, you take your messages and build every communication from them, check every communication against them as a set of criteria, before long, your team will spill them without thinking and can deliver and live them, and consumers will start to see you according to them.

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Positioning is often overlooked by smaller and medium brands especially (even some big ones). As mentioned though, your brand will be positioned one way or another, whether you like it or not!

It may be the strategists in us, but we prefer to control what that looks like, to shape its direction and ensure it builds rather than breaks downs the brands we work with.

Want to talk about positioning and messaging? Get in touch :)


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