Creating and running your own business needs a great deal of work, and it involves bringing your vision to life. For lots of companies, the path is full of mistakes, hazards, and misunderstandings. But your brand’s personality and identity shouldn’t be one of those mistakes. You need to learn how to develop a competitive brand position.

A strategic competitive positioning may sound like a complex term to describe a complex topic. However, it’s not as complex when you understand exactly what it is and how to define it.

Let’s take a closer look at brand positioning for startups and see how we can simplify it into a strategic process to give your brand the right edge.

One well-defined and well-funded brand positioning strategy acts as a roadmap for your startup business, paving the way to desired growth in your industry.

Understanding Competitive Positioning

The term “competitive position” throws a lot of people off because it sounds entirely like a complex topic. Lots of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and brand builders prefer to avoid it altogether.

However, in reality, competitive branding itself is quite simple, even if the consequences of skipping this particular brand-building step isn’t. Competitive positioning, brand positioning, differentiation strategy, market position, etc., all refer to the same thing.

A competitive positioning strategy is defined as:

“The act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.”

~ Philip Kotler, Father of Modern Marketing 

Your competitive position is why your target audiences are choosing your brand over your competitors. With that said, the term “competitive advantage” isn’t as complex as you first thought.

In a nutshell, positioning is a battle for the minds of your audience.

You need to win a competitive position for your brand in the minds of your audiences, and there — in their minds — is where you need to plant the seed and start shaping brand perception. For this reason, before jumping into defining a competitive position, you need to understand the mind that your brand would be living in.

In addition to considering what your customers think, you need to define a position for your brand in the minds of your competitors. 

So what do you need to do?

You must claim a unique position that isn’t already owned by a competitor in the minds of your target customers.

How to Develop a Competitive Brand Position

Understanding competitive positioning is easier than actually finding the competitive advantage your startup possesses and then staking a claim. There is no such thing as a swift fix that ensures success. 

However, there are a couple of tested and proven processes that can maximize your chances of identifying a unique and competitive advantage that your audience would be drawn towards.

Step #1: Audience segmentation

When you’re defining a competitive position, there is a rule that you cannot overlook: You can’t please everybody.

The more generic or vague you are about who your target audience is, the less likely you are to create an impact with your audience and stand out properly in your market. The first step is to exclude who you aren’t targeting through an audience segmentation with key categories.

For instance, instead of just targeting “Men,” you can target “single, athletic, fitness-conscious men in their mid-20s.”

It’s a marketing strategy based on pinpointing subgroups within the target audience, for the purpose of delivering a more tailored messaging that builds stronger connections. Subgroups range from demographics like gender identity, age, location, ethnicity, and income; to behaviour, like purchases made in the past.

Segmenting your audience steers clear of mediocrity because it turns your marketing into more personalized efforts. What does it let you do?

  • Define a target audience
  • Tailor a marketing message that would resonate with them
  • Meet particular needs that drive conversion rates up
  • Build healthy relationships with customers to earn loyalty
  • Get leads in to accelerate your sales cycle

When customers feel a connection with your brand, and when they feel like a brand message was written particularly for them, they’re more receptive to what you brand has to say. Segmentation makes that possible.

Step #2: Constructing a buyer persona

Buyer personas let you become more specific about who you’re targeting. A buyer persona is a fictional character that personifies a specific segment of your targeted audience.

So if you’re targeting multiple segments within the market, then you’ll end up creating buyer personas for each. 

There is no such thing as a particular type of buyer persona. Each business (no matter how vast their competitors are) is unique, and that’s why their buyer personas must be unique to them too. That’s why it comes off as challenging.

Some practical methods that you can use to gather information for developing personas include:

  • Checking your contact database: Doing this uncovers trends about how some leads or customers find and consume your content.
  • Creating forms for your website: Make use of form fields that capture important persona information.
  • Incorporate sales’ team’s feedback: Consider feedback your sales team gave on the leads they’re interacting with the most. What types of generalizations can they make about the different kinds of customers that you serve best?
  • Interview prospects: Engage and talk to your customers to know what they love about your service or product.

Step #3: Uncovering market demographics & psychographics

As mentioned in the previous step, there are certain demographics and psychographics that you need to consider to refine your buyer persona.

The demographics of your audience embody the situation and circumstance and begin the illumination of your buyer persona with integral and key information. These include information such as

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Marital status
  • Geographic location
  • Income
  • Homeownership status
  • Children

Demographics don’t give too much in terms of who your customers are as people. It, however, doesn’t paint a picture of what their life actually looks like. Instead, it paints a picture of the situation and the circumstances of your target customers’ lives. 

On the other hand, psychographic detail digs a lot deeper into who your customers are as people.

Psychographics outline preferences and behaviours of your target audience and provide the first insight into their mind. This information includes:

  • Hobbies
  • Interests
  • Lifestyle
  • Sports
  • Food
  • Beliefs
  • Music genres
  • Values
  • Religion

After extracting this type of information about your audience, you’ll get a much deeper insight into core desires and characteristics that they’re attracted to.

Step #4: Assess the competition

This step is mainly all about reconnaissance and research. Remember that your audiences are already rubbing elbows with your competitors, or at the very least, aware of the presence and the potential value of what your competitors can bring into their lives. 

So what is researching your competitors all about? It’s about understanding what they’re doing well, and more importantly, you’re out to uncover the gaps they’ve left in the market.

Your target audience may or may not be aware of the shortcomings present in the market.

Either way, if you want to position your brand effectively, then you need to see the gaps and the opportunities that you can exploit to turn the heads of your customers away from your competitors, and towards your brand instead.

Step #5: Transform the gaps into ideas

It’s no easy feat to carve out a unique position within the minds of your audience. Identifying a tiny little gap is only the beginning. 

Perhaps your target audience isn’t receiving the proper customer service that they’re hoping for, or maybe they’re not happy at all with the time it takes to achieve the outcome they want. But gaps are not ideas which are fully formed. Use strategic and creative thinking to turn that gap into an extraordinary idea.

Step #6: Defining the competitive advantage

After evolving that opportunity into a fully formed idea, it’s time to achieve clarity into how you want that idea to sit in your target audience’s minds. 

Remember that competitive brand positioning is a battle for the mind, and the idea of your brand lives in your audience’s minds. 

Let’s face the fact that the reality is that you don’t have control over how your audience will perceive your brand. Your brand has influence though, and that influence comes in the form of the position itself. The messaging around that brand position and the characteristics your brand shows at every touch point is important.

Step #7: Construct your brand positioning statement

Brand positioning statements are usually misunderstood as one piece of external communication that a brand puts on their website. In all truth, a positioning statement is an internal document that outlines key information, and that includes:

Your brand positioning statement (with its competitive edge) acts as the compass for brand communication, so you can effectively shape the messaging of your brand. In turn, the message shapes the perceptions in the minds of your audience.

The Takeaway

Starting a new business and building an all new brand can feel like you can’t add anything new, because it seems like every leaf is taken.

But think about it this way: In 50 years, there will be new brands coming into the market, saturating what you already see today even more. And what’s even more astounding? They’re going to be implementing competitive brand positioning too.

The point here is that there will always be ways to distinguish one brand from another.

Your challenge: Thinking outside the box while looking into the mind of your audience to see a lovely asset that you can claim as your own.

Stephen Houraghan runs Brand Master Academy — a place where brand-builders turn to receive actionable brand strategy advice, processes, and techniques. Having studied finance, design, and marketing, he has a unique take on the substance and appearance of a successful brand. He applies that to small businesses and big ones alike. Brand your business from the inside out.