By John Otterbein
By John Otterbein
Brand positioning reminds me of a jungle.
More specifically, it reminds me of the intense race to the top of the jungle’s canopy between the variety of plant species covering the lush floor. They all have one existential imperative in common once they sprout: they must reach towards the top of the canopy. Why? Without sunlight, they’ll wither away and vanish.
Brands share this imperative.
In the same way, brands gradually bloom from lofty ideas in the soil of our imaginations and compete with one another for our precious attention. In today’s over-crowded, attention-seeking climate, brands must race to reach a hole in the canopy of our collective mind-share so they can make contact with the sustaining light of customer attention, engagement, and loyalty.
In our first installment of Examples of Great Positioning Strategy, we examined the positioning strategies behind some of the savviest brands out there.
In this post, we’re going to do more of the same, but with a new crop of brands that have successfully reached the warm sunbeams at the tippy top of the brand positioning canopy.
Whether brands are showing you the underbelly of unfamiliar territory (Airbnb), making electric vehicles sexy (Tesla), or searching far and wide for the softest material on the planet (MeUndies), they all share one thing in common: a simple, yet potent, differentiator that helps them ascend to the top.
“By combining logic and magic, a company can ignite a chain reaction that leads from differentiation, to collaboration, to innovation, to validation, to cultivation. With each turn, the company and its brand spiral higher, taking it further from commoditization and closer to the Holy Grail of marketing: a sustainable competitive advantage.”
Sustainable competitive advantages… That’s what’s waiting up in the holes of the brand canopy. Let’s take a look at five positioning strategies that brands have used to rise above the rest.
The Cash App and Venmo are both electronic-money-transferring apps that take all the extra leg-work out of paying people back. While the service they provide is similar, their brand positioning is vastly different. Venmo takes the social approach, giving you the option to attach a public note (typically emojis) to your payments that appear in your friend feed. On the other hand, the Cash App takes the all-business approach, avoiding the clever notes and publicized payments altogether.
Their target buying tribes differ in that one, fundamental way. Venmo’s users enjoy the personal payback approach that Cash App users see as odd and intrusive over-sharing. They both dominate their positions respectively, filling in the holes left behind by the other. However, in light of their differences, there is one thing they both have in common… they both make it infinitely easier to square away those large, inconvenient restaurant checks split between 13 people.
I’ve always loved Airbnb’s tagline — Belong Anywhere — for two reasons. For starters, it says so much with only two words. It beckons exploration and total immersion into unfamiliar territory. I get excited about traveling every time I read it. The other reason I’m so fond of it is because of how well it matches up with their brand positioning strategy. It takes the traditional, homogenized experience of staying in a hotel and flips it on its head.
Why stay in a hotel when you can stay somewhere, with someone, that makes you feel like you truly belong to the area? Unlike hotels, Airbnb gives you a true taste of place, creating an experience all the more exciting and enriching. Airbnb completely changed the game by legitimizing couchsurfing, providing an authentic alternative to traditional lodging options.
When I first heard the MeUndies differentiator, I had to rewind the podcast to make sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me. MeUndies uses a material called micro modal in their underwear, which is ostensibly three times as soft as cotton. That’s right… Three times as a soft as the gold-standard of softness. What an egregious statement and effective brand positioning strategy.
The MeUndies soft strategy essentially makes cotton sound rough and uncomfortable, which may explain the confidence behind their “there’s no way you won’t fall in love with our product” money-back guarantee. Ever since first discovering them, I can’t go three days without hearing their advertisements on podcasts all across the subject-matter spectrum (I burn through quite a few podcasts on my commute), and the same, simple claim is advertised every single time:
Three Times Softer Than Cotton.
It just goes to show that your positioning strategy doesn’t have to be excessively complex. You don’t have to promise an all expenses paid trip to the Moon to catch attention (I’d be scared to travel through space anyway). Rather, be concrete and upfront about a singular, unique aspect of your offering and stick to that script until your brand becomes synonymous with it.
Before we dive into the positioning strategy of Grubhub, I must warn you, once you start using Grubhub, your relationship to ordering out will never be the same. That sums up the potency of their brand positioning perfectly. They changed the experience of ordering takeout so drastically that going back to the ways of old ( interacting with restaurants directly over the phone) already feels like an outdated approach.
In an age that emphasizes instant-gratification and sprawling choice, Grubhub puts menus from your favorite local restaurants directly in front of you. No more calling in and reading off your order item by item. No more miscommunications. With Grubhub, you can satisfy any obscure food craving that possesses you. Want to try that new Thai restaurant that just opened? Need six pizzas for your six-year-old’s birthday party? Ready to chug a chocolate shake after returning from a night out on the town? Pop open the hub of grub and dig in.
While I haven’t tried StitchFix personally (they just recently launched an offering for men), many of the women in my life swear by the service, giving me an inside look into their positioning strategy. They’re a subscription service at their core, but they’ve sewn in a unique differentiator unusual to the subscription model – they assign you a personal stylist who curates your look based on your preferences and feedback over time. This personal touch adds immense value to their service, providing people who may dread shopping with a little wardrobe angel on their shoulder.
You start by filling out a series of onboarding forms that give your newfound stylist a better idea of your taste. You then receive your first box which contains five items of clothing (shoes, shirts, dresses, etc). Take them or leave them, either way, you can provide feedback to your stylist so they can knock it out of the park the next time around.
Remember, great positioning strategy isn’t about highlighting what makes you admirable (customer-centric, innovative, philanthropic), it’s about what makes you unique (3 times softer than cotton). Start there and your brand will be on its way to the top of the canopy.
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