Why Positioning is crucial for a competitive brand.

Positioning is the process by which an organization presents itself in a certain way to differentiate from the competition and create a positive image. This can lead to increased sales, growth, and a more motivated team. Let us help you (re)position your brand!

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Definition of Positioning

Positioning involves intentionally connecting a brand with such a collection of characteristics, associations, and attributes that the brand acquires a unique place in the consumer’s mind compared to the competition.

We delve into the definition of positioning extensively in “The Meaning and Definition of Positioning.”

We discuss all aspects of positioning but naturally don’t dive deeply into each one; that’s what separate articles are for. For each topic, you’ll find links to articles where we explore those sections in greater detail. Haven’t we answered your question yet? Feel free to ask via email, and we’d be happy to add it!

Many brands behave like penguins. They mimic each other; use the same buzzwords (think: customer-oriented, innovative), utilize the same colors, and tell the same story. This results in little differentiation. Just like penguins on an ice floe, it’s hard to tell them apart. Customers find this challenging, how should they choose?

In practice, companies in this situation often compete on price, although there are other ways to stand out. A brand with a unique story can distance itself from its competitors and carve out its own market position. This process, the systematic and structured effort to achieve a strategically desirable market position for a brand, is called positioning.

Why Positioning? The Value and Absolute Necessity

The economy is booming, but the lean years are still vivid in many companies’ memories. During those times, there was a pause and satisfaction with ‘how things always were,’ with little attention to positioning, thereby missing opportunities. Now, space has opened up, but the attitude remains. A pity. We identify seven reasons why it is crucial for a brand to work on its positioning.

  1. Little distinguishing capacity due to diluted positioning
  2. The customer journey is changing
  3. A remarkable story is more important than ever
  4. Competitors practically share the same positioning
  5. Colleagues do not connect with the positioning
  6. Customers are looking around
  7. Benefit from a booming economy

The background of these reasons is discussed in “7 Reasons Why Your Positioning Is More Important Than Ever.

At Merkelijkheid, positioning has always been central. We see positioning as the foundation for all marketing and communication. We have long been not the only ones, but it wasn’t always so. To clarify the need for positioning, we developed the positioning matrix.

Merkelijkheid positioning matrix

The Merkelijkheid matrix represents the essence of positioning: how you want to be seen compared to how the market sees you. It’s clear that a brand perceived as ‘an Apple’ by itself but seen as ‘a Dell’ by the market has a problem. The matrix provides a clear view of both the current situation and the perspective for change.

Merkelijkheid matrix

Merkelijkheid matrix

Our ideal customer often finds themselves in the ‘Hidden’ quadrant. The brand knows its strengths but struggles to communicate this to the market. We discuss the use of the model and its quadrants in detail in “The Merkelijkheid Matrix for Brands and Organizations“.

Using the Merkelijkheid matrix, it quickly becomes clear to many: we need to work on our positioning. But what does that look like in practice, and when are we successful?

What Makes for a Strong Positioning?

We identify four crucial aspects of positioning. These guide the process, allow for the evaluation of ideas, and serve as your initial guidance for implementation. The most important aspects of a robust positioning are:

  1. Purpose – A clear, understandable goal guides your colleagues and helps customers make their choice.
  2. Emotion – Even the most rational engineer subconsciously lets their feelings influence a purchasing decision. Your positioning needs to evoke the right feeling.
  3. Consistency – Innovation tomorrow, lowest price today. Eventually, no one knows what your brand stands for. Be consistent!
  4. Flexibility – A positioning must be ‘broad’ enough to grow and develop with a brand.

In “4 Aspects of a Strong Positioning“, we explore the most critical aspects of a strong positioning through examples.

The end goal is in sight, and the necessity is clear to us all, but now comes the hardest question: where do we begin? To determine this, we need an overview of the components of a positioning.

The Components of a Positioning

Since positioning is often revisited and deployed diversely, there are several elements that together form the positioning. These are:

  • Positioning concept
  • Positioning pitch
  • Positioning story
  • Value proposition
  • Core values

Concept, pitch, and story should be seen like a newspaper article. The title (the concept) only tells the most critical and shares a feeling, the first paragraph (the pitch) conveys the core of the story while the rest of the piece (the story) provides the background leading to understanding. The value proposition then translates this into the ‘proposal’ you make to customers.

Core values are goals in themselves at many companies; customer-oriented as a core value should ensure colleagues are more customer-focused. We believe that core values should primarily support the positioning and thereby indirectly contribute to the final goal: a unique place in the market.

In “The 5 Components of a Strong Positioning,” we elaborate on how to bring these components together and where to start.

For many brands, the temptation to adopt what is in their eyes the ‘best’ positioning is almost too big. Think of a starting hardware manufacturer, why wouldn’t they position themselves like Apple. In practice, this is a disadvantage rather than an advantage as the natural strengths of the new company are unlikely to align with Apple’s. Not to mention the fact that it took Apple a while to get to this point.

positionering kiezen, geen masker op doen

Een positionering is geen masker dat je makkelijk wisselt of af doet.

Choosing a Positioning: Is There an Ideal Positioning for Your Brand?

Brands that are seriously tackling their positioning for the first time often search for ‘the best’ one. They think there’s one positioning that will bring them an endless stream of projects and skyrocket their brand recognition. And that they want to achieve that positioning.

In practice, positioning is not so malleable. Important factors for a brand’s positioning, such as organizational culture or history, are not so easily changed.

In ‘Positioning selection: Is There an Ideal Positioning for Your Brand?‘ we discuss the influence of company culture, market, and competition and help you determine which positioning best fits your brand. To be clear, it’s not about becoming Tesla or Apple.

Enough theory and frameworks? Now it’s time to make positioning concrete.

Positioning Action Plan (10 Steps)

In our action plan, we distinguish 10 steps for any positioning trajectory:

  1. Burning Platform
  2. Market Research
  3. Strategic Framework
  4. Ambitions and Brand Values
  5. Distinctive Capability
  6. Positioning Pitches
  7. Positioning Story
  8. Define Proposition and Core Values
  9. Compile Positioning Document
  10. Implementation

Many of these steps have, of course, already been individually discussed earlier in this article and in-depth articles, but in ‘Action Plan for Positioning; Execution in 10 Steps,’ we put them all together. We discuss in broad terms what needs to happen at each step and share various sources for further deepening.

Above all, we provide short, concrete handles at each step. For example, at the fifth step, distinctive capability, it’s essential that you and your team determine which factors you want to use to differentiate the brand from the competition.

Some substantive guidance in creating the actual positioning is, of course, nice, which is why we discuss the different types of positioning.

Types of Positioning: What kinds of Positioning Are There?

Textbook positioning means, for many, the theory of Floor and van Raaij. They distinguish the following four types of positioning:

  1. Informational Positioning
  2. Transformational Positioning
  3. Two-sided Positioning
  4. Executional Positioning

In ‘4 Types of Positioning, from SAP and IBM to AirBnB’ we make these tangible, name the pros and cons, and give you many examples.

symbolische positionering caterpillar

Caterpillar has managed like no other B2B company to position itself.

Since many of our clients sometimes find it hard to translate the typical examples of consumer brands into a large corporate environment, or simply find Floor and van Raaij too abstract, we also share another approach in ‘10 Surprising Alternatives for a Functional Positioning in B2B‘.

In this piece, we discuss typical examples of consumer brands and translate this into an example of the same type of positioning for an industrial company. This further expands your perspective, categorized into three basic concepts:

  1. Functional Positioning
  2. Symbolic Positioning
  3. Experiential Positioning

There are a number of models you can use to determine the best ‘type’ of positioning for your brand. We discuss quite a few that you can directly implement.

Positioning Models: Which One to Use?

Every team has its own preferences, fortunately, there is a wide variety of positioning models to suit everyone. Depending on the situation, we use one or more of the following models:

  • MCD Model
  • McKinsey Brand Driver Model
  • Unilever Brand Key Model
  • Positioning Matrix
  • Golden Circle Model
  • Competition Matrix

Now you’re probably thinking, what different situations are there? We discuss three common situations and the applicability of the different models to them in ‘Positioning Models: Which Positioning Model Do You Use?

There are many more positioning models, but in practice, we find them not always useful. They are mainly process-oriented and tell you what to research but not what to do with the outcomes of that research. Not really handy. The above models are practically useful.

Difference between positioning and proposition

Proposition and positioning are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion. Yet, a powerful proposition and positioning can significantly strengthen each other.

In the detailed article ‘The difference between positioning and proposition‘, we juxtapose the definitions of both and find that the difference becomes clear quickly enough. The proposition aims to realize a sale, while positioning should distinguish the offering from the competition. In other words, the proposition is the offer that a brand makes.

Looking at how famous brands implement this in practice, it’s evident that the proposition results from the positioning. For example, the shoe brand Toms has the proposition ‘One for One’, where the company’s positioning revolves around creating a better world.

positioneren in markt

Finding a unique positioning in their market is a significant challenge for many companies

Distinctive positioning in the market

Now that you have enough theory and tools, how do you apply these in practice? How do you mobilize an organization? By using a clear example, we explain how they relate to each other and provide you with the means to tackle positioning decisively.

Everyone has a different idea about positioning. This is problematic because if we all think differently about it, we can’t work on it as a team. That’s why we discuss in ‘Positioning in your market: how does that work?‘ how to deal with this.

Positioning research, mapping the competition in 5 steps

market always seems like a given. Many brands think they know the market and their competition, leading to metaphorical blinders during positioning. This is risky because it likely leaves a lot of room for distinctive capabilities untouched.

But what exactly should you research? This naturally varies for each company and market. Large corporate businesses often have a much smaller target audience, making research less fruitful. However, for a car manufacturer, it’s a different story. We always research the competition, as detailed in ‘Positioning research: mapping the competition in 5 steps‘.

A major pitfall after conducting positioning research is that brands are too influenced by their feelings about competitors. Statements like “They say that, but it’s not true at all” are common. However, a customer does not have this knowledge. How do you ensure that you compare the competition as objectively as possible?

Positioning matrix

A realistic, objective view of the market is crucial for the success of a positioning process. The positioning matrix allows you to place all competitors based on their message and behavior into a matrix, offering a comprehensive overview.

An example of a positioning matrix for car brands:

Concurrentie matrix

We mainly use the axes from progressive to conservative and from ego to social. The first axis relates to the behavior of brands and how they conduct marketing. Consider the large Dutch consumer banks; ING was the first to really bank via the app, followed by ABN AMRO. This would make ING progressive. We often try to capture the content of the message with ego and social, who is central to the message? Is it the company itself, the customer, or perhaps the environment? This determines the position on the axis.

However, the axes are not set in stone. Use the most important factors for your market, determine the average, then position each competitor relative to that average and to each other, and you’ll understand exactly how the market is structured. Of course, this makes it very easy to see where there is still room. The article ‘Creating a positioning matrix for your brand: explanation and examples‘ provides much more information on this.

Staying with the banks, why is Van Lanschot successful? Van Lanschot is much less social and progressive than its competitors. But that’s precisely what makes a positioning successful, allowing customers to truly choose a brand.

Lessons and pitfalls of positioning

The most significant pitfall, not objectively comparing your brand and the desired positioning with the competition, is what the competition matrix tries to solve. However, there are more lessons and pitfalls that we’re eager to share.

Not at all distinctive, 5 classic mistakes in positioning‘ discusses the classic mistakes as identified by the founders of positioning. Especially nowadays, it’s important to emphasize:

positioneren met mensen

Good people are crucial, but they are not the basis for a distinctive positioning

Your people are not a USP

We all unconsciously assume that the best people work for the biggest companies. Do people have a high regard for you? Then they already assume that your people are good.

Of course, you can also do many things right, we share ‘6 lessons that have been central since 1970‘. The most important, overarching lesson? Simplicity. Ensure you’re known for one thing and convey a clear message to communicate that.

We naturally discuss the individual lessons in much detail and through various examples.

What is a positioning strategy?

By now, you understand what positioning is, but what exactly is a positioning strategy? In short, a positioning strategy defines how a brand intends to achieve its desired positioning.

A whole range of choices have already been made in the positioning regarding channels, style, tone, and so forth. The positioning strategy translates these into an intended approach. In ‘Positioning strategy: a short and clear explanation‘, we discuss this in more detail.

Based on the positioning strategy, you move on to implementation.

Implementing your positioning in 9 steps

Implementation, often overlooked in articles, is crucial in positioning. It can make or break the positioning. We’d like to focus on the practical steps towards effective implementation. Each step is briefly covered.

  1. Create customer profiles
    Determine a detailed customer profile or buyer persona: who is your potential customer?
  2. Map the customer journey
    Chart the customer journey, possibly for each customer profile, and identify the key decision moments.
  3. Develop a proposition
    Develop a primary proposition for each customer profile, summarizing why a customer should prefer your offer.
  4. Formulate objectives
    When are you successful? What do you want to achieve? Document this.
  5. Determine KPIs
    How do we best measure if we are achieving our objectives?
  6. Align organizational behavior
    Ensure that your colleagues’ behavior aligns with the positioning.
  7. Choose tools and channels
    Which tools and channels does your target group prefer? Use these.
  8. Track results
    Measurable results make marketing practical and show what it yields.
  9. Annually evaluate and adjust
    Pre-set the evaluation moment and then scrutinize all the previous steps carefully.

For a comprehensive explanation and examples of the different steps, read ‘Implementing your positioning in 9 steps‘.

Nieuwe positionering nodig?

Wil jij krachtig kiezen voor meer onderscheidend vermogen? Met een op jouw merk afgestemde aanpak creëren wij samen een unieke positionering voor jouw merk.

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Positioning and design

Brands that make a lasting impression ensure their visual language and photography seamlessly align with their positioning. Color is one of the most basic factors. Why do so many companies choose blue, for example?

A color and emotion wheel is a useful tool for selecting the best color for your positioning and brand identity:

Merkelijkheid kleuren en emotie

Research shows that people have a stronger preference for brands where the chosen color and the brand genuinely match. It’s worth consciously choosing a specific color or colors. The article ‘Determining the best color for your positioning and brand identity‘ delves deeper into this topic and provides examples for each color group (a total of 7).

Examples of positioning

Wij schrijven vaak uitgebreide stukken over de positionering van bekende merken. Zie hieronder een aantal voorbeelden:

  1. Positioning Starbucks
    Discussing the positioning of the world’s most famous coffee chain in light of the controversies that continue to surround the brand. We also consider its inception and future.
  2. Positioning Albert Heijn vs. Jumbo
    They constantly outdo each other, and Jumbo is gaining ground, if you believe the newspapers. Yet, Albert Heijn has many more stores. Which positioning is #1?
  3. Positioning KPN
    A brand that’s constantly under construction: KPN. The repeatedly promised results fail to materialize, leading us to question whether KPN’s positioning is accurate.
  4. Positioning Red Bull
    Everyone knows this fantastic brand, whether you like the drink or not. But what five lessons do we take from Red Bull’s positioning?
  5. Positioning DSM
    DSM also tries to position itself differently, but we wonder if it’s too late. Is a split inevitable?
  6. Positioning Unilever
    Under the leadership of its CEO, Unilever turned everything from top to bottom, and success followed. What can you learn from this?
  7. Positioning Rabobank
    Traditional banks have struggled for years with their ‘distinctive ability’, or the lack thereof. What does this say about Rabobank’s positioning?
  8. Positioning Siemens
    Siemens communicates in line with vision and strategy as a storyteller, without always putting itself at the forefront. How can you apply this?
  9. Positioning Mercedes-Benz
    “The best or nothing” is a prime example of positioning, but what is the current state of this famous car brand?
  10. Positioning Nike
    Marketing company Nike has successfully claimed certain values as its positioning. How did they do it?
  11. Positioning Netflix
    We are examining how Netflix has built its brand and successfully positioned itself in a highly competitive and rapidly changing market.
  12. Positioning Hema
    Hema is under significant pressure and tries everything, including health insurances. But does that really fit its positioning?
  13. Positioning Heineken
    Heineken was behind the competition for a long time. How did they turn the tide and build a successful positioning?
  14. Positioning consoles Sony and Microsoft
    Every few years, new gaming consoles are released, and the battle between manufacturers reignites. This time: Sony vs. Microsoft.
  15. Positioning Centraal Beheer
    Everyone knows Centraal Beheer, but how many people also know what you can buy there? How valuable is this positioning?
  16. Positioning The Society Shop
    Does The Society Shop fall between two stools, or can it truly differentiate itself from Suit Supply?
  17. Positioning James Bond
    More famous than many brands, James Bond also has a positioning. And he struggles with it.
  18. Positioning LEGO
    Perhaps the most famous toy is so simple that its position is regularly attacked. Can it withstand these parasites?
  19. Positioning IKEA
    The first budget brand that managed to bind the masses. And how! We share five lessons that you can apply too.
  20. Positioning Café Royal and Nespresso
    Café Royal almost completely takes over the positioning of Nespresso and makes little effort to conceal this. Hence, they are Penguin of the Month.
  21. What every lawyer can learn from the positioning of CoolBlue
    Service with a smile is based on their focus and expertise, and with that, the company scores highly. But can the CoolBlue strategy also be applied in, for example, the legal profession? We explain.
  22. Decline in Apple’s positioning evident in positioning matrix
    Positioning Apple, the company faces a dilemma: change course or continue to cash in at the expense of the original target group?
  23. Positioning Tesla: winning strategy for selling electric cars?
    Why is Tesla’s positioning a success? We outline the positioning and the influence of Elon Musk on this unique car company.
  24. Positioning MediaMarkt: WOW or a copy of CoolBlue?
    Will the new positioning of MediaMarkt make a difference, or is the (former) price fighter simply copying the CoolBlue positioning

Brand positioning

Brand positioning is a crucial strategic process that identifies unique features, values, and attributes of a brand to differentiate it from competitors. Essential for brands and other entities like products and organizations aiming to create a specific, strong brand image through consistent marketing and communication. Effective brand positioning promotes brand loyalty, allegiance, and a strong market position, potentially leading to benefits such as higher margins and market share. For owners, a strong brand can significantly increase value at the time of sale. Although ‘positioning’ and ‘brand positioning’ are used interchangeably, the concept applies across various fields.

We wrote an extensive article that delves into the nuances, shares a step-by-step plan, and offers recommendations on models and books for further consultation.


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