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01 August 2019 Jonathan Faurie

The South African financial services industry has grown so much that it has become one of the most diversified industries of its kind in the world. 

In an industry where there is a lot of noise, and the competition is tough, brand positioning is key. 

An important process

The article points out that brand positioning is the process of creating a distinctive offering for a brand, which differentiates the brand in the hearts and minds of the consumer, enhances its appeal and positively impacts current and future purchase potential. In essence, consistent, sustained and differentiated brand positioning results in positive brand equity, which is outcome result of all the efforts. Positioning can be for a general mass market audience or a niche demographic sub-group, it can be focused on a particular market, be regional or global in scope, and can evolve over time as the brand develops and matures. 

The starting point for any successful brand positioning exercise is to have a clear and specific answer for the question: “What does my brand stand for”? The answer to this question should go beyond the reasons for manufacturing and launching the brand, and should encompass the existential aspect of the brand, which is around the reasons for the brand to exist. More often than not, brands come to life and exist because they have an emotional standing over and above the functional benefits they offer. In many instances, a brand can exist simply because of a unique functional benefit it offers. But it quickly becomes evident that the functional benefit has to be laddered with an emotional connect to counter the threat of copycats and “me-too’s”. Brands with emotional capital are harder to copy, have a longer life cycle and are more effective in handling competitive forces. 

The article adds that this combination of functional and emotional benefits is the primary anchor of a brand’s positioning. The emotional benefits provide differentiating capabilities for the brand along the lines of aspiration, status, prestige, power, class, luxury, premium etc. The functional benefits provide differentiation around aspects like problem solving, quality, efficiency, ease of use, time etc. A balanced combination of these aspects (or their numerous variations) can drive a brand’s positioning. In majority of the cases, the emotional positioning is more critical for a brand’s survival and growth. Most of the biggest battles in the brands space are being fought on emotional positioning. Think Apple vs. Samsung, think Facebook vs. Google, think Microsoft vs. Apple, think Xbox vs. Playstation, think Unilever vs. P&G etc. Competing on emotional positioning requires a brand to go beyond the functional advantages or superiority it offers. It requires the focus to shift to aspects of making a difference in a consumer’s life, improving the quality of life, to become a trustworthy and steadfast companion, a problem solver or a solution provider. 

Ensuring relevance

The article points out that functional differentiation is important to ensure relevance for a brand but emotional differentiation is critical for the brand’s survival in the market. Positioning is a combination of art and science that understands the balance between these two aspects in terms of communicating it to consumers. The holistic brand experience for the consumer should be consistent and highlight the balance between functional and emotional aspects. It should not be forgotten that functional superiority is still a critical aspect for brand success. Emotional positioning builds on functional positioning and is not its substitute. Communication is only one of the many platforms that can be used to develop effective positioning. Every brand touchpoint has a critical role to play, which includes promotions, price, packaging, customer service, retail experience and post purchase experience. 

Over the years markets have become more complex to navigate and are more fragmented. This has made the task of creating and implementing effective brand positioning strategies more challenging. If the S.M.A.R.T criteria are applied to measure brand positioning success, then the following challenges are identified: 

Specific: It is important to have a highly differentiated positioning in the market, but it is challenging to occupy specific positioning platforms in today’s markets. This is due to high levels of competition and adjoining positioning territories that brand’s occupy. To take an example, majority of bigger automobile manufacturers have multiple brands straddling different price and utility levels. 

Measurable: Positioning can be formalised through formal positioning statements, brand visions, brand guidelines and frameworks, but it is challenging to measure a brand’s performance against its positioning. There are numerous consumer feedback driven tools that can measure performance against key positioning attributes, but they have a critical underlying assumption that consumers understand a brand’s positioning and can articulate it. 

Assignable: A positioning framework or territory can be assigned to a brand, but it is challenging to occupy the framework or territory alone (and in many categories and segments impossible). This is again due to competitor brands having high degree of overlap on different positioning attributes or due to a brand’s positioning being too generic by definition. 

Realistic: Positioning has to be realistic for the brand to deliver against it. In many instances it is not as brands promise more than they can deliver. This is precisely where they come up short and destroy their equity in the consumer’s hearts and minds. 

Time-related: This is probably the most challenging aspect to deliver against. There is arguably no such thing as a point in time when an organisation can say that its brands have an exact match on the positioning framework they had articulated for the brand in the market. Because of the inherent nature of positioning being emotional (rather than functional), it is difficult to put numbers and time frames to achieve numbers on brand positioning. 

Understanding the touchpoints

The article points out that having outlined the challenges of creating and delivering on brand positioning on specific attributes and numbers, it is important to understand the role each brand touchpoint plays. 

The article adds that for a differentiated offering to be visible to consumers, it needs to be communicated. Not only does it need to be communicated, but needs to be done consistently, continuously and across all brand touch points. Advertising, sponsorships, promotions, any form of advocacy and experiential events and even the choice of corporate social responsibility initiatives can be used to communicate and strengthen a differentiated positioning. 

In the second part of this blog, we will be exploring more about how brand position can benefit your business.

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