The Brand Positioning Workbook
Ulli Appelbaum

A straightforward enough guide to positioning consumer brands (not totally suited for B2B). Stops short of defining deliverables for this process, which seems like an important step to miss. Still, it's useful all the same.

'A brand is the sum of all the associations consumers have about your offering.' (Page 8)

You'll get put in a box of meaning or a category of one kind or another in the minds of a buyer or consumer depending on their:

  • Personal experience
  • Knowledge
  • Beliefs/belief system
  • Values
  • What they hear from friends, colleagues, media etc

Managing a brand is understanding how it currently is, having a clear idea of what you want it to be, and having an action plan for moving towards the latter. If you cant know the current and the future states, you can't plan.

'Without a clear idea of what you want your consumers to associate with your offering you will not be able to successfully manage your brand.' (Page 11)

What is brand positioning?

'The purpose of a brand positioning is then to define and capture the set of associations you want your consumers to assign to your brand' (Page 12)

Brand positioning is about building associations in the mind of the buyer. There are many different types of association or story that we can use.

Brand positioning statement template:

"To [our target customer/buyer], our brand is the [category statement] that is the [benefit where we win the most]. That's because... [support points]."

This brand statement needs four things to go alongside it:

  1. Ideal target audience definition
  2. Context of the competitive space
  3. Precise brand benefit
  4. Reasons to believe in (3)

Creative problem-solving exercises

'logic and data alone will not lead to a unique and motivating positioning platform. Rather, the team's creative interpretation of the data is what will lead to truly innovative solutions.' (Page 16)

This process can't just be a linear and straight-laced thing. It does have six clear steps though:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Define success (for the positioning exercise)
  3. Explore/ideate/create: look from different angles, generate fresh ideas (divergent thinking)
  4. Evaluation: organise and evaluate to settle on something (convergent thinking)
  5. Validation: from stakeholders
  6. Implementation: brand expression, marketing, communications & PR

Frame of reference and context which you want your brand to be perceived and positioned.

1. Consumer rituals

Day to day rituals where a transformation of emotions may take place during the course of the day or life. What are those rituals and where could the brand figure into them?

2. Disrupt conventions

What are the conventions in your category that currently exist? Targeting, channels (media and distribution), pricing model and strategy, types of communication. How can you do things differently in this space?

3. Category star

Somebody is top dog in the category. In the mind of consumers/buyers, who are they, or what is it? Are there positive associations you can piggy back or subvert?

4. Take advantage of usage/consumption context

Understand all the moments or contexts in which your product or service is likely used, then dive into the meaning behind those moments and contexts. Is there a way your brand or product can tap into that meaning?

5. Know thy enemy

Could your brand or product be positioned against a real or perceived 'enemy'? This doesn't necessarily have to be another product. It could be a mood, a feeling, a trend, an effect. Is it relatable? Can it be dramatic?

6. Overcome consumption barriers

What are the barriers (perceived or real) in your category? How could your brand overcome them?

7. Fix a category paradox

If X then not Y—there are often paradoxes in categories, perhaps like "air travel can't be cheap while also being pleasant." Or "electric cars are good for the environment but can't go very far." Finding and resolving one of these paradoxes is powerful.

8. Redefine the business you're in

Are you in the gym business? Or are you actually in the physical training business? Or are you really in the body positivity business? Approaching need states from a lateral direction can allow you to expand into categories that you don't obviously fit into from first impressions.

9. Be part of a culture

Skating, climbing, mountain biking... Red bull makes a caffeinated drink, but they're part of the extreme sports culture, and it works very well. Nike sells shoes, but they're strongly associated with a culture of athletes and athleticism—at all possible levels.

Human connection

...that we might be able to make with customers/buyers through our brand.

10. Compelling benefit narrative

New benefits for the category, a new level of benefit for that category, a new combination of benefits for that category.

11. Dramatic reward... or threat

Human desire to avoid negatives and gain positives. "Can you hear me now?" Verizon ad creates the threat of losing signal, and positions Verizon as the salve to that ailment. Functional, emotional, social, psychological drivers. How can you make consumers see themselves using your brand?

12. Celebrate sensory properties

How can your product be perceived through the senses? What is the feeling that could be perceived when its used? E.g. "You know when you've been tangoed," or "how it feels to chew 5 Gum." Can sensations be linked back to the benefit of the brand?

13. Align with customer aspirations

Your brand may have certain values that align with the aspirational values of customers. Bring those forward: they'll aspire to associate with your brand if you do it well.

14. Create a brand ritual

What do you do when you move into a new home? For many, this involves a trip to Ikea. A celebration calls for champagne. What rituals could you associate with or create in the minds of customers when it comes to your brand?

15. Find your brand's purpose

Why does your brand exist in the first place? What does it want to change? What does it care about? This goes beyond profits or shareholder value. It's about change in the world. Must be rooted in what the brand actually does and can actually change, not just an add-on platitude.

16. Identify archetype

There 12 "archetypes" (e.g. sage, jester, creator, etc.) that can help identify some brand positioning ideas. [I've done this before... haven't been convinced.]

The brand's story which we focus on the offering of the brand itself. To find a "relevant and differentiating product truth that is engaging to consumers."

17. Hone in on your defining attributes

What do you think it is about your brand or product that people associate you with? The shape of the product? It's ability to divide opinion? It's rarity? It's provenance? Find one that resonates with your customers, and hone in on that.

18. Flip a (perceived) weakness

Similar to Ries and Trout's "admit a negative to get a positive result," this method flips something we might think of as negative into something that can be effective for positioning.

19. Product genesis narrative

How did the product itself come to be in the first place? How is it made? Why was it made that way to begin with? Who had the idea? What was so special about it? Why? Just delve into the history and see if there's a way it can help add value to the brand.

20. "Romance the way the product works"

If you can tell a "romantic" story about the way the product works and connect that to the benefit it provides, that's powerful. Appelbaum gives an example of Dyson, who are at pains to talk about how their engineers have created their cyclone technology and how it helps hoovers suck up dirt more effectively.

21. Celebrate ingredients

Similar to the above, just with ingredients: all the many raw materials that go into producing the product itself. Do they come from somewhere far away and difficult to reach? Are they incredibly high tech? Are they rare? Are they incredibly simple and everyday?

22. Extreme conditions

Could your product be used under extreme conditions? Are there any outrageous tests that it could be put under that would show its abilities? Flex Tape adverts are a very good example of this.

23. Tell origin story

Different to the product genesis, instead look for ways in which the origin of the brand/company came to be and how that might add to the perceived value of the brand/product.

24. Scarcity, exclusivity

More value placed on things that are hard to come by. Is this something that could work for your brand? Is there a way to make this sense even keener?

25. Get experts to chime in

Are there industry experts? Important influential individuals? People whose ability to tell your story would make a material difference to the credibility of your brand?

26. Brand archeology

Look at the brand's history - feels very similar to origin story.

Common brand positioning mistakes

1. Poorly defined business problem to start from

2. Focusing too much on benefits of the brand, when this is only one angle of the 26 that Appelbaum identifies

3. Letting loud voices dominate

4. Focusing on category consumers instead of the people

5. No insight or big "idea" in your positioning statement

6. Expecting that differentiation will happen in execution (i.e. the creative teams will handle it for you)

7. A lack of diverse perspectives

8. Ignoring alignment: it won't work if not everyone agrees

9. Writing the positioning statement in a workshop, not in a smaller group (design by committee is never good)

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