5 Methods to Kickstart Brand Positioning

Brand positioning isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. In an era of countless choices for overwhelmed consumers, what your brand stands for, and the unique value you offer is key to forging authentic connections with the people who will love you, support you, and advocate for you.

These time-tested, proven techniques aren’t designed to do all the work for you—but they are great tools that, when paired with some dedicated workshopping or team brainstorming, can act as shortcuts to valuable insights into your brand or industry.

The Evil Twin Theory

The simplest of the five techniques in this article, this one can also be a fun exercise for teams. Here it is: when you (AKA your brand or business) and your clone (AKA your competitors) have a gun pointed at yourselves, what is the one thing you can say to make the consumer believe you—and choose you?

The 5 Why’s Technique

Originally developed by Toyota’s Sakichi Toyoda to diagnose and solve problems as part of the Toyota Production System, this technique is also a quick way to get at the heart of your brand’s messaging roadblocks and target audiences’ pain points.

The technique is simple: Identify a problem, and ask “why did this happen?” (There may be several causes.) For each cause, ask “why did this happen?” again. Repeat steps 2 and 3 several times (the 5 Whys technique may take 3–8 "whys" depending on the situation). By now, you should have identified the root cause of the problem. Now, find countermeasures and build processes to fix or prevent the problem.

How do you apply this logic to your brand’s value in the consumer’s life? For example, start with questions like, “Why don’t people know ____ about my brand?” “Why is [the audience’s] routine stressful?” “Why is my current advertising not resonating with ____?” And so on.

Uncover or Rediscover Your Purpose

In today’s age of brand transparency, where consumer convictions drive decisions, this simple but fundamental idea can take your brand far—but only if you talk about it. Most organizations were founded by someone’s passion to create something; to bring something into the world. Let your principles guide your messaging. Marketing something that isn’t true on the inside gets you nowhere.

Celebrate—and show off—the connectivity between what happens on the inside of your brand, and what product or service you're providing on the outside. The right audience will respond with enthusiasm, and your customers will quickly become brand advocates. Example? REI’s "Opt Outside" campaign.

Challenge Your Convictions

Let’s face it: no one is as close to—or completely immersed in—our brands and businesses as us, the founders. And being “in it every day” prevents us from being able to step back and look objectively at opportunities. The practice of challenging our convictions begins with asking two key questions in the face of any difficult decision: “What am I not seeing here?” and “What else might be true?” Most of us tend to default to what we already know, and the hard part is stepping into that wall and reaping the benefit of tapping multiple perspectives.

Assume you know nothing about your brand, product, or audience. Ask questions as if you’re new to the industry. Poke holes in what you’ve always taken as a given. Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer, understand their pain points, frustrations, hopes, and aspirations, and look at the solutions your brand offers through that light.

Find the Hole and Fill It

In Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, the classic text by Al Ries and Jack Trout, they cite a French phrase, cherchez le creneau meaning search for the hole. What this means is that, in a crowded marketplace, you can either strive to compare your brand or business to the biggest competitors out there—potentially falling short or getting lost in the noise—or you could take the smaller, more precise, and unexpected route: find your niche.

Ask yourself, what is my niche? Why should or would a customer choose my business or product over my loudest competitor? What is the truest thing you can say about your brand or category? What are you doing / selling / creating that no one else is? What need have you identified that no other brand or business can, or will, answer? The creneau—the “hole”—represents a key opportunity for brand perception. Example? Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign.

Developing Your Position

Once you’ve identified some of these key insights, the next step is to work with a great writer—or even better yet, an experienced creative agency—to construct a narrative framework that will act as the foundation of unique, targeted, and effective marketing and advertising. And trust me, the hard work upfront is worth it—this strategic foundation and the ideas it leads to can be treated as renewable energy, tapped into over and over for years to come.


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