Brand positioning: What makes your company one of a kind? —

by Bastian Schneider
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We have had the same experience in many projects: if a company finds that special feature to define it in the future, this can trigger a wave of entrepreneurial energy and creativity throughout the business. Then suddenly the blockage dissolves and the demoralizing feelings of stagnation amongst the employees disappear, soon making way for fresh motivation and positive feelings of progress. This momentum affects everyone in the company and adds identification, initiative and a sense of responsibility to the daily tasks. At the same time, the more focused profile promotes a clear, unique image in people’s heads and hearts and increases the company’s attractiveness to customers and partners. That moment when the engine - latent somewhere in every business - ignites, is thrilling. Then we realize that we, as consultants, can really help to get things moving.

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Starting point into the future —

We are convinced that, in today’s world, every company needs a driving, future-oriented positioning which enables positive and self-assured «stepping into the future». In every sector where we support companies, market conditions have constantly become tougher over the past few years. New competitors, both domestic and from abroad, are bringing innovative products, lower prices, or inventive sales channels on to the market. Suppliers and purchasers are expanding their range and threatening the market position of established players. New technologies offer almost unlimited opportunities and customer requirements are changing radically in a very short time. As if this were not enough, regulatory and political constraints complicate business activities even further. Such complexity and market dynamics must not allow companies to be pushed into taking a passive role. Instead an element of movement is necessary within the company as a countercheck, so that the business can achieve the greatest stability possible during unsettled times. Clear, autonomous positioning can provide a successful kick-start.

Virgin America as an example

Think back to the last time you took a flight. Whatever airline you used, your experiences during the first half hour will have been the same: after you sat down on your dark, plastic-covered seat, you tried to kill time until take-off, perhaps by reading the airline magazine or answering your e-mails on your laptop. The cool, artificial light and the functional interior generated a rather sterile, enervating atmosphere. You paid little or no attention to the safety video that was played. You have already seen it a dozen times and it always looks the same anyway. It does not matter which airline it was, it could have been any of them.

This is not the case with Virgin America. In all its business activities, Richard Branson’s global Virgin Group makes the same demands: to question the status quo of a business sector and do things differently. With this in mind, the Virgin America airline is «on a mission to make flying good again» and is implementing this exceptional idea profitably at all customer touch points, gaining plenty of attention in the process. This becomes evident as soon as you board the plane. The bluish-violet lighting, the white bucket-seats with black leather, the personal touch screens with an extensive entertainment system, Wi-Fi, and many other options and services will leave a lasting impression on the traveller.  And thanks to an unusual safety video, delivered in the style of a rousing music clip, for the first time in ages you will devote your full attention to the safety instructions. Virgin America practises its own positioning and occupies a strong place in a hotly contested market.


Requirements for eye-catching positioning —

But how does a company finds ITS position in tomorrow’s world? And how can it be sure that it has found the right positioning? As we understand it, there are three factors which are of the utmost importance. Three conditions which help to filter out the correct positioning from a multitude of options:

Be characteristic and remain true to yourself

Are you aware of the distinctive features within your company? Do you know what characteristics are typical of your company and what strengths there are? And, if so, are these exceptional or can others say the same about their company? Discovering the really distinctive features of your company is not a trivial exercise. They can be hidden at any level and in any department: from innovative  production methods, specific quality processes or a distinctive corporate attitude, through to a very specific corporate culture that has evolved over time. Moreover, they are only valid if they are really substantial, are very difficult to imitate, and can be used long term within the organization. We are convinced that every company has such distinctive features – though is often unaware of their full extent, or qualifies them as a «matter of course».

Be relevant for your customers and clients (and remain so)

Which of your customers’ key requirements do you fulfil with your current products and services? What added value do you provide to your customers? And what are you doing today to inspire existing and new customers with innovative offers now and in the future? The high competitive intensity in today’s market environment has led to customers being accustomed to a wide variety of products, low prices and rapid innovation cycles. To remain relevant for your customers over time, with ever new ideas and methods, is an immense challenge. Many companies which were once successful and dominated the market have – in just a few years – sunk into virtual oblivion. Nokia, Blackberry, Kodak or the American video rental business Blockbuster are just a few examples. We have realized that a company must always have a self-image that is close to the market but still future-oriented in order to develop fast enough for the markets and requirements of tomorrow’s world.  

Be different from the others

How does your company stand out from its competitors? And in what areas do you equal your rivals? Knowing what your competitors stand for and how they present themselves in the market is essential to understanding which characteristics of your company are really special features and which are replaceable or already «taken» by others. We observe again and again how entire branches tend to settle on one and the same core message and promise. The Swiss private banks are one example. In practically every description of these banks you find statements such as: «We are a leading Swiss private bank, «with a long-standing tradition», «with customized solutions», «responsible and competent» as well as «your reliable partner». Such generic messages are part of the background noise throughout the sector. None of these statements is associated with a particular brand and none helps any of the participants towards a clear positioning. But we know: the one that is different is the one that always wins in the end.


Success factors in developing a strong positioning —

Bearing these three conditions in mind, you are already well equipped to start your search for your own positioning. Our experience has shown that the following success factors have proved particularly helpful along the way:

1. Comprehensive internal analysis of substance rather than one-sided market orientation.

It is crucial that you start by taking a serious look at the complex facets of your own company; an in-depth analysis of your own strengths and special features. This step is often neglected. The market, competition and the customers are looked at too early in the process. Restricting yourself to your own company in the early stages needs a strong will as well as persistence and stamina. But it is worth it. The insights gained at this stage form the foundation for the development of successful positioning.

2. Systematic process rather than conducting an ad hoc brand workshop

No-one can position a company overnight, nor can a single workshop on the subject, however well prepared, achieve this objective in a reliable way. It requires a clearly structured process, during which information is collected, successively and specifically condensed, and then used in possible scenarios. Such a procedure avoids emotional, impulsive decisions and promotes discussion leading to an efficient and purposeful review of the positioning.

3. Involving decision-makers from all areas rather than a marketing project in isolation

Working on your own positioning means carrying out “open-heart surgery” on your company, something better not tackled by a single department. Positioning affects all areas and departments, because in the end everyone will need to contribute to the implementation of the new target image. It is therefore all the more important that positioning is prepared on a broad base and that all relevant decision-makers are involved from an early stage, giving them the opportunity to make an active contribution to shaping the future of the company.  

4. Intent on radical focus rather than considering all wishes and demands

When it comes to defining your own positioning point, no compromises are allowed. If attempts are made to please everyone – trying to reconcile all views and opinions – the result is inevitably an unspecific mix without any momentum or drive. The basic condition for a strong positioning is, therefore, the ability to say «no» to very many ideas - even though they may be attractive - and to decide on one point without compromise.

5. Courage to decide on a unique solution rather than conforming to monotonous branch customs

The self-image of a branch has a dangerous knock-on effect of which you should be aware. Subconsciously, all competitors basically see themselves as «equal» and only look for differences in superficial areas. One should, therefore, be on one’s guard against any and all of the typical branch images, and find the courage to develop a completely new and unusual way of looking at business correlations. Authentic messages in communication and a clearly differentiated identity will be the result.

6. One clear concept rather than complex brand models with interchangeable adjectives

A simple but strong concept, which sums up the spirit and objectives of a company, has a much stronger impact than an elaborate, highly complex brand model that attempts to describe something, using numerous adjectives, so that finally no-one really grasps the essentials. In our experience, models are of very little help in guiding actions and usually just create a lack of orientation. A simple, precise concept, though, which can be grasped by everyone and implemented directly into everyday working life, makes a real impact.


Conclusion – Shape a powerful future with clear positioning —

Through the insight we have gained into many companies, we experience on a daily basis the intensity and great efforts with which management teams work towards the future success of their organizations. Market research is carried out, strategies and products developed, employees trained, processes and procedures optimized, as well as communication and identity to the outside world improved. All of this with the goal of strengthening the company’s competitive edge and getting it in shape for the future.

In order not to lose orientation en route to this goal and to ensure constant efficient use of resources, a unique concept with the momentum to position the company can be of enormous help. In today’s dynamic world this can make the difference and enable your company to shape a powerful future.