When you are growing a brand you need to make deliberate choices about how to position yourself against others in your field. A confused consumer doesn't buy. Defining what makes you different helps you own a spot in the consumer's mind, otherwise you are thrown into a bucket mixed with everyone else in the same category. Here are some approaches to brand positioning for consideration, with example observations from some of my favorite brands:
A High Quality Product
These brands are a step above the common offering. Goldfish Swim School started because of the unsatisfactory experience of swimming lessons at local schools and health clubs. They created a higher-level service offering with warmer water, cleaner facilities, better-trained instructors and lower student-to-teacher ratios. By elevating the quality of their services, they were differentiated from other swim lessons available.
Similarly, Culver's hangs their hat on quality ingredients and food made fresh for you when it is ordered, promising a "better burger" and fresh frozen custard to stand above other major burger chain restaurants.
A Charitable Business Aspect
Many businesses set themselves apart from the competition by adding a charity donation to their for-profit sales. TOMS Shoes made this strategy popular with their one-for-one model: with every pair of shoes bought, another pair is donated to someone in need.
Just Love Coffee built their coffee roasting business around donating a portion of profits to charity and also offering charities to build fundraisers for themselves around selling coffee.
A David Vs. Goliath Approach
When you are small and starting out, there is always going to be that big, recognizable brand in your category — the market leader. One way to position yourself is to choose what you don't like about the big brand's business and promote your company as the opposite.
The founder of Toppers Pizza originally worked for Domino's Pizza, so he positioned Toppers as the opposite of big pizza brands, vowing to "Never Settle" for the way the corporate pizza shops do business. This allows Toppers to appear as a kind of rebel and attract an audience that aligns with this persona. Taco Bell takes this same approach with their "think outside the bun" campaign.
Stellar Service Standards
Everyone says they have great customer service, so you really have to have something unique if you want to differentiate your company using this strategy. What do you do that goes above and beyond common customer service expectations?
Chick-Fil-A is most known for their southern hospitality approach to customer service. Their employees say "please," "thank you" and "my pleasure." Their employees are trained that you never know what another human may be feeling when they walk in the door. It's what has made them the best-selling chicken chain in the country.
Auto mechanics traditionally do not have a reputation of integrity and transparency. So Christian Brothers Automotive positioned their brand on Christian values to be the auto mechanics who can be trusted, even trademarking it with a "Nice Difference Warranty."
A Blue Ocean
Another brand positioning strategy is to find a niche market that you can own - a blue ocean where you can be a big fish, instead of a small fish in a crowded pond. National wireless service providers face cutthroat competition tactics, so U.S. Cellular decided to go after under-served markets in smaller towns and less competitive rural areas that national carriers have ignored. It's the reason they're installing 5G in places like Waterloo, Iowa and Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
It can be tempting to try and use more than one of these strategies to promote your brand, but you are better off focusing on your largest point of differentiation and repeating it in every marketing campaign over the life of your brand. This is what you will become known for and what will separate you from your competition. Which strategy will you choose?