Understanding and Implementing Brand Positioning Models

You might be familiar with our insights and SEO guides, where we share our ideas, top-tips and perspectives on need-to-know topics. These how-tos are great for anyone looking to learn more or put their research into practice, and in this piece we’re going to delve into the world of brand positioning models. By the time you’ve finished reading you should have a firm understanding of - and be confidendent implementing - positioning models to drive brand equity, and consolidate market positioning.

What is brand positioning?

At its core, brand positioning defines and communicates what a brand stands for and is all about. More than just a marketing strategy or tagline, it’s an essential part of a brand’s identity and perception.

Put simply, positioning is an act of designing a company’s offering to occupy a distinct place in the minds of the target market. In today’s hyper-commercialised market, customers are bombarded with information about millions of products and services daily. Positioning is a strategy that allows brands and businesses to stand out – and stay relevant.

Through positioning, businesses can create a clear understanding of who they are, what sets them apart, and why customers should use their products and services over those of competitors. This differentiation helps a business increase brand awareness, communicate value, and justify pricing — all of which consolidate their place in the market.

It’s all about the customer and the way in which they identify and connect with a brand through associated emotions, needs, feelings and sentiments. The goal is to encourage the target audience to view a brand in a unique way.

Positioning helps define the reasons for customers to buy specific products and services, and a businesses position should comprise of its key qualities and values that are synonymous with its business. A positioning strategy is crucial when it comes to reflecting your brand personality, shaping brand perception, and retaining brand loyalty.

You can read more about what positioning is here – because in this piece, we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of how to identify and implement brand positioning models.


Is brand positioning important?

Absolutely – it’s the foundation on which brands are built. The success of a brand, product or business begins with product positioning.

Positioning is a key element in the successful marketing of any organisation. A brand that hasn’t secured a clear position in the customer’s mind is easily discarded and replaced by one that has. Premium pricing and competitive advantage are largely dependent on the customer’s perception that the product or service in question, is unique.

Positioning is widely considered to be one of the most important decisions made when it comes to brand building. The positioning model adopted depends on many things, like the product, USP (unique selling proposition), competitors, market positioning, market segmentation, and so on.

No matter which professional market you occupy, change and shifts are inevitable as consumer expectations continually evolve. Developing a brand positioning model not only prepares your business for current market conditions, but helps you to reassess your approach as markets and consumers adapt.

As markets change, competitors come and go, and new services are developed – successful brands don’t just maintain the same positioning. In order to stay relevant, they evolve and adapt with market, societal and economic shifts. Successful positioning, then:

  • Relies on consistently examining what your competitors are up to.
  • Provides relevant value to your target customers and clients.
  • Helps your organisation make growth-based strategic decisions.
  • Sets your brand apart as new market changes occur.


Where to start: positioning models

Positioning can be conveyed through a variety of assets, such as tone and voice, visual equity and physical and virtual representations. Clarity is key, and strong brands use positioning templates to ensure coherence and cohesion across the board.

As with anything, establishing a framework is integral to streamlining success. Following a positioning template ensures that brands are communicating their brand messaging in a structured and effective manner.

Strategic positioning paired with a strong brand identity has the power to establish lasting connections that foster brand relationships with purpose. A successful positioning strategy relies on a deep understanding of the marketplace a brand wants to compete in, and reinforces the perception brands want to portray to their target audiences. Some companies may want to stand out as market leaders, while others may wish to position through price, demographics, value, customer experience or other factors.

Crucial to deciding how to position your brand is a strong understanding of your target audience. Although, there’s a common misunderstanding that a brand is only externally facing. In reality, a brand’s internal audience and stakeholders are every bit as important as its external customers and users. Employees must also understand their brand’s position and their role in it – so, be sure to look both outside and inside to determine and differentiate your brand.

We know how tricky positioning can be, so, if you’re looking to kickstart your positioning or just want to learn a little more on the subject, we’re going to make matters easier for you by breaking down the most effective brand positioning models.


Model A: Brand Benefit Ladder

Brand positioning ladder pyramid chart.

What is it?

The prime focus of the brand benefits ladder is to identify the key benefits – both tangible and emotional – of a brand’s services. The ladder helps brand experts and marketers to translate product features into functional benefits, functional benefits into emotional benefits, and emotional benefits into aspirational benefits.

The brand benefit ladder framework classifies consumer benefits into five broad types, symbolised by the rungs of a ladder:

  • Rung one: Target market – Decide who your customers are, and what their attributes and habits are.
  • Rung two: Product features – Factual statements about your product such as what it can do, what colour it is, what it’s made of, and so on.
  • Rung three: Functional benefits – What is the competitive advantage in the industry and what can it accomplish?
  • Rung four: Emotional and social benefits – How does the brand make the customer feel, and how does it impact them socially?
  • Rung five: Psychological benefits – The customer feels self-growth and improvement because of the brand’s services.


How to ladder your brand

  • Determine your ideal customer. You can do this by examining your competitors, conducting consumer research, creating positioning maps (more on that later), and taking stakeholder interviews.
  • Define your features, and focus on the ones that are unique and give you a competitive edge. Remember to compile a list of benefits from the perspective of your customers, rather than your own.
  • Research. Conduct focus groups and analyse competitive case studies to understand your customer, what they crave and what they will connect with. This will allow you to identify how to communicate with your customer, what language to use, what features they desire, and how you can meet their needs. The goal is to narrow down what consumers want and what you can do best.

As with any positioning model, it takes time and research to identify your target market and product’s unique features. Your product features should be factual descriptions about your product, and it’s wise to focus on the features that give you a competitive advantage or edge.

When determining your functional benefits, be sure to move beyond the product attributes – you’re here to show your customers that you can solve their problems. Ask yourself: what do my customers gain from this? Once you know your functional benefits, you must then ask yourself how those benefits make your customers feel.

Attributes can easily be copied, which makes it easy for consumers to switch to alternative brands based on convenience or price. By focussing on – and communicating – your benefits, you can begin to build brand loyalty and long-lasting relationships with your target market.

Once you’ve identified your attributes and features, you can use our ladder to guide your branding and marketing and to provide insights to your stakeholders and partners. Understanding the motivations of your target audience will allow you to create branding that resonates, and resolves.


Who uses it?

FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brands tend to use this model as it can be difficult to apply in more complex categories such as media, and professional services – where single-mindedness is not always possible.

Mr Muscle is a shining example of a brand utilising the benefit ladder. From the get-go, the cleaning product pioneers made one thing clear: that they could tackle the toughest domestic dirt.

They don’t dwell on their features and their messaging is all about results. Their ‘clean less, live more’ tagline is one of several benefit-led but practical messages that brings home the value of investing in their products: you save time, and effort and unenjoyable chores are minimised and improved.


What are its benefits?

This customer driven approach forces us to stop talking to ourselves, and to focus on the needs of the customer. Over time, the benefit ladder brings customers closer a brand, and builds positive emotions through progressively deeper and more meaningful associations.

The process of laddering elevates a brand from a collection of benefits, into an emotional connections, to drive brand loyalty and consolidate market positioning.


Model B: Simon Sinek’s ‘Why, How and What’

Why, what, how brand positioning model.


What is it?

Simon Sinek’s framework places a question at the centre of this brand positioning model: why. The framework looks like this:

  • Why: Why does your brand exist? And why should people care?
  • How: How does your offering differ from others? How are you unique?
  • What: What does your company or product do?

According to Sinek, most brands communicate ‘the how’; their unique differences, their brand values, their brand proposition, and ‘the what’; describing their products, industry and competitors – but forget to articulate their ‘why’.

Today – with an increasing amount of brands shifting to accommodate lifestyle offerings – few brands can survive by simply inundating customers with messages about their features and benefits. People need a deeper reason to use a brand, and businesses need a special offering to cut through all of the noise.

This is where Sinek’s model comes in – encouraging brands to start with the why, and the how driving their brand before they got bogged down by the what.

The why behind a brand should define the overarching purpose of the company, giving customers and employees a meaningful reason to support your business.


Who uses it?

This mostly applies to corporate brands who use purpose-driven branding to position themselves.

A key example? Tech behemoth, Apple. Their wordmark ‘Think Different’ instantly gets to the heart of their brand and sets them apart from their competitors. Imagine if they’d settled on ‘we make computers’ – they would be unrecognisable as the brand we know today.

From Apple’s brand perspective, their customers shop with them not just because they need an iPhone, but because of the emotional response that comes with buying said iPhone. Customer considerations are driven by the desire for shared values and beliefs, and by communicating the values at the heart of a brand via marketing communications, brand’s will forge a deeper emotional connection with their customers – and will be more likely to retain them.


What are its benefits?

The reality of it is that many businesses fail to articulate and communicate their core values, and focus their efforts on selling products to turnover a profit. No matter the kind of business, Sinek’s model is an invaluable tool providing clear direction. It provides a company with an intrinsic purpose from the get-go, and a clear path forward to navigate today’s highly competitive market.

Businesses that use this model are likely to adopt a unified, distinct, and recognisable tone of voice – consistent across all key messaging, from their mission statement to their marketing communications and social media posts.

Most importantly, this model enables brands to stand out from the crowd from the get-go – people can tell the difference between a brand that cares and one that merely focuses on sales. Companies that follow this model will attract a loyal following of customers who support the same goals – which, over time, will build brand awareness that’s unique.


Model C: The Bullseye Framework

The Bullseye Framework brand positioning model.


What is it?

This framework – as its name suggests – looks like a target with parallel circles that work towards the centre. The bullseye is a framework that collects and analyses how customers feel about a brand, determines what makes it special, shows how the position can be substantiated, and distills it all into just a couple of words, the brand essence or the brand mantra.

Working from the inside of the bullseye out, this framework works as follows:

  • The bullseye: This is a brand’s mantra or brand’s essence. In one sentence, what does the brand stand for? This should be a concise articulation of the heart and soul of the brand.
  • Ring one: These are the brand’s values. What are the band pillars and main communication themes? What are the brands’s points of parity and points of difference?
  • Ring two: These are the substantiators, which should reinforce the brand’s points of parity and difference. If a brand promises to be more environmentally friendly than their competitors, here is where they should prove it. These ‘reasons to believe’ should support the brand’s key concepts.
  • Ring three: This is the brand’s character and visual identity. What is the brand’s personality and tone of voice? What are the traits that make this brand unique?


Who uses it?

Simply put, all brands can use this model. Stout behemoth Guiness are a noteworthy example.

  • Their brand essence: ‘Guinness is good for you’ says it all.
  • Their brand values: Guinness promises power, goodness and communion. These core values have remained the same since the brand began to market itself.
  • Their brand substantiators: Guinness provides a community. Responding to the growth of craft beer over the past decade, the brand opened a small experimental brewery where anyone could walk in and try what had been brewed that week. This made a big company small again and reinforced the brand’s mantra through collaboration, experimentation and openness.
  • Their brand character: They’re strong, fearless, independent, Irish, black and white, poured uniquely, athletic, and so on…


What are its benefits?

Above all else, this model is easy to communicate and makes measuring a brand’s performance straightforward. This simple tool enables teams and departments to clarify priorities before making decisions by getting to the core of their brand’s purpose, how their brand is perceived, and how to best communicate with their customer base.

Using this model, it’s easy to break down any brand’s position, making this model is particularly useful when decoding the brand strategies of competitors to consolidate market positioning.


The importance of positioning maps

We thought these deserved a shout-out, because they’re a vital tool when it comes to positioning – or repositioning a brand – and differentiating it from competitors.

Business can create a perceptual maps of the dominant brands in a marketplace to identify any gaps and opportunities in that market. Positioning maps are a great means of visualising how a brand compares to others in consumers’ minds.

Positioning maps compare brands competing in a marketplace by illustrating consumer perceptions of these brands with two key variables that are known to drive brand selection, and consist of attributes that are important to your target audience. To use mapping to its full potential, it’s best to have multiple versions with a different set of attributes.

By placing your brand and your competitors on your map, you’ll be able to highlight any gaps in the market and see who’s more competitive in particular areas.


What to take away from this

Using models is a surefire way of making sure you’re positioning your brand effectively. Building a brand requires a structured approach, and establishing a framework is integral to streamlining success.

More than anything, positioning models create clarity around your brand’s purpose, by defining why your brand exists,what makes you unique, who you’re here to serve and how you’re going to do that. The model and strategy you choose to adopt sets the tone for everything that’s to follow.

No matter which model you opt for – following a framework is integral to strealimed success. Taking the time to implement a brand positioning strategy is a fail-safe way to maximise market relevancy, consumer relationships, competitive uniqueness and brand value.


We’re here to help

Studio Noel has supported businesses of all shapes and sizes implement strategic brand positioning that resonates with their audience, – external and internal – commands a place in the marketplace, and rises above the rest.

Are you looking to position or reposition your brand? Get in touch to discuss how we can help your business grow with purpose by creating brands that are desirable, distinctive and defensible.

further reading
Skip to content