THE WIN FOR COMPETITIVE COMPARISON
If brand positioning is the science and art of creating and deploying messages that create perceptions in the minds of your target markets, and if we accept that it’s the sum of all the perceptions your market has about your company or brand that creates and cements your brand positioning, then, by definition, the opposite would be the science of de-positioning.
But it’s not.
De-positioning and positioning are NOT opposite sides of a coin; they are simultaneous components in a true brand positioning platform. They work together. Positioning addresses what your market believes about your brand, products or services (and thus positioning controls your targets’ behaviors towards your brand), and de-positioning addresses how your market believes and behaves towards your competitors. Horse and carriage. Love and marriage. They work together, since brand positioning is NOT just about compelling positive perceptions and behaviors towards your brand, but also about how you shift consumer allegiance away from the competition.
Relative Competitive Comparison
In brand positioning well executed, what matters is the “relative competitive comparison” that takes place in the mind of your target market in the instant they are faced with making a decision… buy your brand or the other one? Promoting your brand’s benefits is important of course, but if your target already has a favored brand, or has a stronger positive belief that another brand will better fulfill their needs or solve their pain points, your benefits won’t get them to change their mind.
In brand positioning we teach that presenting your ‘meaningful benefit’ is important, and that it must also be provable or easily evident to the intended consumer. That’s the price of entry. But it’s far from enough to deflect brand loyalty to a competitor. Adding in a measure of ‘differentiation’ helps, but way too often the concept of the ‘USP’ (Unique Selling Proposition) gets more emphasis than it deserves; it too only speaks about ‘you’, your brand, your benefits, your advantages, and it’s an outdated, overused and misinterpreted concept at best. At worst, it becomes the centerpiece of a marketing strategy and that leads to failure almost all the time.
Completing the recipe requires one more component: de-positioning. When your positioning platform is truly well-crafted it comprises not just your ‘provable meaningful benefit’ and your ‘differentiation’, but also your ‘de-positioning factor’. This is where the rubber meets the road.
To be clear, the objective of brand positioning is not just to compel positive impressions, beliefs and behaviors towards your brand, but to simultaneously compel your target to believe that your competitors cannot do or provide the solution they need. Decades of marketing experience show that the path to successful de-positioning is comprised of one or both of two factors: creating doubt or piquing dissatisfaction. Only when your target starts to doubt that your competitors can ‘do the job’, and/or when your target feels a sense of dissatisfaction with their current favored brand, then and only then can you overcome the inertia of brand favoritism and take market share away from your competitors.
De-positioning is a competitive move; a relative move. It involves altering the perception, beliefs and behaviors of your market away from competing products, relative to the beliefs and behaviors they have towards your brand.
One doesn’t necessarily de-position against a single competitor (although that can be a valid option in some circumstances), but rather de-positioning works best when you can unseat the collective beliefs about an entire competitive category. So instead of “our brand is better than the other brand because we do what you need better”, it’s “our brand is the only one that can do what you need, and all those other brands can’t because we have (or do) XYZ and they don’t.”
De-positioning is the real secret sauce in brand positioning, and it’s both subtle and ultra-powerful. Look at brand positioning as the simultaneous deployment of your brand’s messaging that moves your target TOWARDS your brand and at the same time AWAY from your competitors.
If you do your market research well, you may find that buyers of a ‘favored brand’ often have inflated perceptions about that brand which are quite vulnerable to a legitimate de-positioning message. Creating awareness that such perceptions are indeed inflated, or actually false, and providing believable evidence that causes doubt and/or dissatisfaction is the recipe for creation of a new ‘category class’… and this is the ultimate win in brand positioning (and the subject of a future article).