A 5 Step process for nailing your brand positioning

by Jeremy Robinson
brand positioning

We live in the age of brand. To a large extent we define our identities in terms of the brands we purchase, and the mere mention of a brand name instantly triggers a set of emotions, images and ideas. As a business owner, every critical business decision you make should be informed by how your brand is positioned in the marketplace. Neglecting the process of uncovering a solid brand positioning will have serious consequences for your business, causing you to run in circles as you seek a clear direction – something we have experienced first-hand at SoYoung.  Getting it right, however, gives you a huge competitive advantage. 

A solid brand positioning allows you to:

  1. Make decisions more quickly
  2. Build deeper relationships with customers in less time
  3. Charge higher prices
  4. Focus on longer term goals
  5. Plan rather than react
  6. Dominate your competition

Having a strong vision as a founder is only the first step. You must clearly communicate what your brand stands for to employees, partners, the media and customers. You should use whatever means at your disposal to express the vision, from pictures to words to videos and stories.

Here is the brand positioning process we used at SoYoung to define what we stand for in our market. In general, it is best to approach this process with at least one or two other people who are familiar with your business and with whom you can brainstorm ideas. 

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Stage One: Define your Audience

It is critical, especially for smaller brands, to define the audience that you will be targeting with your products. This will allow you to hone your message and focus your marketing efforts on a “niche” or definable subset of the general population.

List the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of your target audience.
These could include details such as age, gender, occupation, income, education, location or preferences. For example, SoYoung defines its primary customer target as mothers between the ages of 30 and 40 with a university education and a household income of at least $80,000. They tend to live in major urban centers. They care about design and aspire to an eco-conscious lifestyle

Create a Persona
This is an opportunity to create a fictional character that represents your ideal customer. Be creative in describing the details of their lifestyle including habits, passions, preferences and daily activities. Use images to deepen the experience and add nuances to your persona. Ultimately you want to create as much detail as required to hold an image of this person in your head, which will help you make clearer product and marketing decisions.

Stage Two: Market Research

In this stage you will look at the current landscape to understand what the major themes and audience concerns are. This will allow you to uncover which attributes to emphasize in your branding, and whether there are opportunities that are being overlooked by other brands. It’s best to do this with at least one or two other people so as to encourage brainstorming and discussion.

Review 5 -10 magazines that serve your target audience
The purpose here is  to understand the primary concerns of the target audience. Look at the ads and editorial. Get a feel for the current marketplace including practical and emotional concerns. In SoYoung’s case, our target audience is 30-40 year old mothers, so we looked at publications like Parents Magazine, Fit Pregnancy and Oprah Magazine.

Based on your research, make a list of what things worry your target consumers
Look for themes or messages that carry across advertisements and editorial.

Examples from SoYoung’s process: 

  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Aging / personal appearance
  • Time for themselves (convenience)
  • Money/finances
  • Physical/emotional safety of kids
  • Learning and development for their child, Nutrition

List the 3-4 necessities for your audience
Here you want to pare down the themes to those that apply most directly to your products. These are the baseline requirements that people are seeking in your product.

Examples from SoYoung’s process

  • Products must make them look good (aesthetically and as “good” parents)
  • Products must deliver excellent value for $
  • Products must be natural and eco friendly
  • Product must deliver functional innovation

List the major trends you see in the marketplace
This is an opportunity to look a little wider and take note of what brands beyond your immediate competitors are doing. Take a moment to discuss competitive, fast moving industries like consumer packaged goods, electronics and entertainment. Note any new trends or changes you see in how products are being developed, manufactured or marketed.

Examples from SoYoung’s process

  • Clean, modern design with natural, nostalgic elements
  • Socially conscious brand DNA (ieTOM’s)
  • Mail order Subscription models
  • Organic, natural ingredients and responsible sourcing
  • DIY / handcrafted items

Choose one dominant trend
This is the trend you see as being most relevant to your products and audience.

Example from SoYoung’s process
Trend: Socially Conscious Brands with responsible/eco sourced materials

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Stage 3: Competitive Brandscape

In this phase you create models of a brandscape. A brandscape is simply a visual map of how the competition in your sector might be compared in terms of brand perception, allowing you to understand where you might fit in and spot opportunities.

Define Axes
You need to choose two main themes or attributes that define your place in the competitive landscape. These become the two axes. Look back at the previous step to get ideas and try different one’s out. You may need to take several attempts at it before you find a combination that fits.

Position competitors on the map
Place the other brands in your industry in an appropriate position within the four resulting quadrants. There is no “right” way to do it so don’t get too caught up in getting it perfect. The main idea is to spot trends and opportunities.


In SoYoung’s case we decided the axes we would use are high vs low eco consciousness and fashion vs function emphasis. (see example below). This allowed us to see gaps and opportunities in the top right sector that would allow us to position our brand in a unique space.

Stage 4: Brand Attributes

In this stage you will be identifying the specific words or terms that you use to define your brand through the process of ideation and filtration. It’s best to do this with at least one or two other people so as to encourage brainstorming and discussion.

Create two Lists of Attributes
Gather as a group divide a shared document or whiteboard into 2 columns. In the left column,  make a list of the attributes that you associate with the dominant trend you identified in Stage 2, step 5. In the right column make a list of attributes that best describe your brand.

Filter Trend Attributes
Eliminate any attributes from the left column that are not associated with the trends you identified or that do not meet the needs of your consumers

Filter Brand Attributes
Eliminate any attributes from the right column that do not align with your values or represent your brand

Categorize Remaining Attributes
Bring the lists side by side and view them together. Divide Words into 3 tiers: Necessary, Valued and Unique. Insure you have 2-4 examples that meet the “Unique” criteria.


Stage 5: Brand Positioning

Now you will pull all your work together to create a set of brand positioning statements.

Pick your key attribute
Identify the one word that best meets the needs of our audience according to the necessities/needs identified in step 3 (SoYoung example: “Beauty”)

Create a cluster around the key word
Generate a cluster of words from the original generation of attributes that define the overall theme of the concept, perhaps making it more specific than the more general meaning of the word


Create the Brand Positioning using the following structure**

Here is the exercise completed using SoYoung’s  example

  • Our Audience
    Educated, design-conscious mothers aged 30-40 who aspire to an authentic, eco-conscious lifestyle.
  • What we Produce
    A line of eco-friendly lifestyle bags and accessories for young families.
  • What we offer
    Beautiful Products with a natural look and feel that make buyers feel good about their purchase.
  • Why people purchase our products
    Soyoung elevates the style and design of everyday items by combining sophisticated features with sustainable fabrics and evocative prints.
  • The benefit to our audience
    The buyer can feel good about her purchase because she is buying a product that uses natural materials rather than the cartoony, disposable looking alternatives, while demonstrating that she has sophisticated taste.

**This process was adapted from 20 Steps for Creating a Brand, Developed by Bloom Consulting

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This 5 step brand positioning process will give you a much clearer idea of how to express your brand’s value to stakeholders, including customers, partners, the media and potential investors. While this process does not explicitly define the creative expression of your brand, it does provide a strong foundation for any brief you might prepare for a designer or creative agency. Most importantly, it provides you and your employees with a framework in which to make critical strategic decisions, and maintain a consistent vision for your brand.


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