Category Archives: Brand Positioning

Brand Categories: for measuring performance, not attracting customers.

As marketers, we have been taught to classify competitors into product or service categories. It’s a prime basis for the process called positioning. You, then, faithfully compete within your brand’s category.

It’s also been claimed that brands which are the pioneers in their respective categories are usually first in awareness, preference and market share.

So you don’t want to launch a “me too” product in an existing category.

That’s where innovation shines. If you can invent, combine, add, subtract, increase, decrease, and otherwise make your product different from the competition, you may have created a new category in which to participate. More likely it’ll be a subcategory if the product essentially provides the same function as the products in an existing category, but with a bit “extra”.

Name that category

Now category definition is certainly not an exact science. In a strict sense it’s only target market participants who define categories even if they do not consciously do so. Consumers do not think in term of categories, they think in terms of function and affordability. But market researchers and product developers like to develop a structure of categories for purposes of reporting and analyzing performance, and subsequently develop both strategic and tactical product planning.

choosing a category in which to compete

Charting categories and sub-categories containing over 60 varieties plus multiple combinations: helpful in tracking success but customers don’t make choices based upon artificial classifications.

So defining categories is an artificial though helpful exercise.

Classification systems might help

The U.S. government, specifically the Department of Commerce, has a method of classifying business types – North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS). This system is very helpful, particularly when the U.S.Census reports its business census data by classification. But, again, consumers aren’t even aware such a classification system exists. And a majority of businesses don’t use that structure for the basis of their product classification process.

In some industries, a trade association might establish a system of product categories that assure some uniform reporting of statistics by category and subcategory. But where this isn’t the case, each business, if they are even concerned about product classification, will likely establish their own hierarchy of categories.

Positioning in a new category

When you’ve developed a new feature or use or market for you product, you may believe you can establish it as the first product in a new category, a category defined by your innovation. And your industry may, upon launch, agree with you.

But the real test is the market. Do customers believe it’s a new product, not just a “new and improved” claim for the same old product? Do retailers recognize this as a new category and display it appropriately? Will reporters and editors in the popular press proclaim it a breakthrough product? Do product sales increase at rates faster than occurred in the old category against established competition? Until then, you’re still participating the old category. That’s the market’s verdict.

The moral: the market is the ultimate arbiter concerning with whom you compete and how you are perceived.

Martin Jelsema

Brand positioning: find differentiating attributes

A client came to me several years ago wishing to establish and brand a multi-location dry cleaning business in a major metro area.

He was a refreshing change from most clients in that he appreciated the need to differentiate his business from established competitors. He hadn’t heard the term “positioning” before we talked, but he was well on his way of establishing one through the preliminary work he’d done.

A Competitive Analysis

The first step in differentiating your business is to know the positions of your competitors. So the first thing my client had done was to develop a checklist and then visit each and every significant dry cleaner in his market. He not only did business with each, he spoke to customers entering the shops as if he were looking for a recommendation for a dry cleaner.

He first developed the checklist based upon his knowledge of the industry and his market, but he was flexible enough to make a few additions as he heard the responses from his competitor’s customers.

Identifying Differentiating Attributes

There were, of course, the obvious characteristics that may or may not be potential differentiators – store hours, location, drive through service, delivery, work done on premise, breadth of services. These were just listed for each location. For competitors with more than one location, he would at least visit and rate three locations.

Then he developed a pricing matrix to chart posted prices. He also noted the amount and extent of couponing, bulk discounts and other incentive activity.

Next he listed several factors concerning stores and employees – location, identification, appearance, cleanliness, counter clutter, helpfulness, knowledge and attitude – and applied an A to F grading system to them.

In visiting with customers, he asked about their motivation for visiting this particular store, whether they only used this competitor, what they liked about this provider, whether the provider participated in community, and whether they had used a coupon or other incentive while visiting.

Finally, he collected competitive ads – coupons, fliers, newspaper ads, etc. He got some info from media reps about who was advertising and at what volumes. He visited websites and observed signage.

Information Determines Position

He presented all this raw data in individual competitor “reports”. I then plotted those attributes he had graded, see diagram below, and analyzed the remaining information to establish a position which was relatively unoccupied, but where customers said they would like to see a dry cleaner.

Analysis of filled and available positions

That position will be the subject of a future blog. The point of this one was to demonstrate how easy but vital the collection and analysis of competitive data is to the positioning process, even for a local business with few competitors.

Martin Jelsema

Differentiating your Brand: provide leadership

Another strategy for [tag-tec]brand differentiation[/tag-tec] is assuming a leadership role in your market. [tag-tec]Jack Trout[/tag-tec] and [tag-tec]Steve Rivkin[/tag-tec], in their book, [tag-tec]Differentiate or Die[/tag-tec], claim it’s THE most powerful differentiator.

Leading the chargeLeadership establishes credentials for your brand better than any other method. So people tend believe your message and assume quality, reliability, service and innovation are automatically delivered.

But how to establish leadership is the big question, particularly in local retail markets and in business services.

The first principal: proactively take a leadership position. Become a leader in your own mind first. Imbed this idea in employee training and orientation. Make being a leader a high priority.

Second, actively solicit publicity. Participate in industry associations, local chambers, charitable efforts. Whenever there’s an opportunity, make your opinions known about issues and events of interest to your market. Speak with passion publically. Speak often.

Third, participate in competitions. Public recognition by peers can be leveraged in this way.

Fourth, look to the long haul. Wresting leadership from today’s front runner will be difficult. They’ll want to continue wearing that mantel.

Like all other strategies, you’ll have to assess your market and the present positions of you and your competitors. As I’ve said often, paraphrasing [tag-tec]Ries[/tag-tec] and Trout in [tag-tec]Positioning: the Battlefield for Your Mind[/tag-tec], find a position not now occupied by a strong competitor. They have the advantage of “being there” and establishing their reputation over a period of time.

But if no one’s taken the lead and you have the resources to challenge and sustain that role, go for it.

Martin Jelsema

Differetiating your brand – Own a desirable attribute

I’ve written several blogs about how important differentiating your brand is, and how a differentiation strategy should be included in your strategic brand platform. I offered several approaches, and here’s yet another one.

You can differentiate your brand by owning an attribute.

Here you concentrate on a particular characteristic of your offering, whether that be a product or a service. That’s just what Volvo has done, and the attribute they own is safety. Continue reading Differetiating your brand – Own a desirable attribute

Differentiate your brand by being first.

One of the most important “ingredients” in your brand platform is a definition of how you will differentiate your brand from competitive brands.

It was first in its timeAnd, according to Trout and Rivkin in the book, Differentiate or Die, one of the most powerful differentiators is being first in your product category or industry.

Now obviously only one brand can legitimately claim to be first. But if you can reposition your product or service into a new category, you can be first.

Here’s an example: Continue reading Differentiate your brand by being first.

Find a branding position you can own

A positioning plotFirst of all, that means a position no one else in your product category (or adjacent categories) has already occupied.

Once it’s some one else’s, a position can’t be yours no matter how many resources you throw into the fray. It’s just not worth trying to unseat a competitor from their established position. And even if you do manage to dilute your competitor’s claim to that position, you still don’t own it. You’ve just established your own diluted claim along with that of your competitor.

So how do you find your own position? Continue reading Find a branding position you can own