What Your Target Market Thinks—and Feels—About You

How to use a simple tool to figure out how potential and existing clients perceive your company’s brand

Written by Jim McElgunn

To market your brand successfully, it helps to know how your prospects and customers already perceive your brand, and those of the competition. Understanding this will help you figure out whether your brand, and how you plan to market it, are going in the right strategic direction.

In their landmark book on marketing strategy, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote that your brand holds “mental real estate” in the minds of your current and potential customers. In other words, each brand stands for one thing and one thing only. Ries and Trout contended that the best way to compete is not to try to displace a competitor in the minds of your prospects—a tough or even impossible task—but to occupy a unique space that your brand can own.

With this approach in mind, how would you define your brand’s current mental real estate? Is it:

  • Defined by the scope, scale, and infrastructure of your company, such as having more stores than anyone else?
  • Based on the features of the product or service you sell, such as all-natural ingredients?
  • Expressed through how you provide your product or service to the market, such as online vs. branch banking?
  • Founded on the personality of your brand, such as feminist, athlete or globetrotter?
  • Centred on your firm’s ethics, morals and values, such as being socially responsible or holding Christian values?
  • Based on the experience the customer has when engaging with your product or service, such as relaxing or thrilling?

Overall, would the reasons why people buy your brand be more rational (“I get good value”) or emotional (“I feel special”)?

To answer these questions for my firm’s clients, we use a tool called the Brand Positioning Spectrum created by Next Level Strategic Marketing Group, a Pleasantville, N.Y.-based marketing agency. This tool is based on the idea that any brand, at its most fundamental, can be categorized into one of six spots on a spectrum ranging from more rational (infrastructure) to more emotional (experiential). The example below shows the spectrum and examples, based on my company’s analysis, of where various well-known brands fall on it.

Knowing where your brand currently sits on the spectrum, as well as those of key competitors, is critical because it can identify areas where you can create competitive advantage. You can get a feel for this simply by:

  • Reviewing the vision and mission of your company to understand where you originally intended to position the brand in its market.
  • Reviewing your print, online and other marketing and sales material to identify the promise to the market that your company makes. Which key benefits is your firm, consciously or unconsciously, promising to deliver?
  • Asking employees and 10 to 20 of your best customers which of the six options above best defines the key benefits that your product or service offers.

Doing this assessment should make your position on the spectrum clear. If not, that also tells you something: there may be a misalignment between where your brand and business was originally intended to be positioned and where it actually is; or your communications are unfocused and you don’t own any solid real estate in your target market’s mind.

This assessment is critical because it answers three key questions that enable you to clarify your brand strategy and drive your competitive advantage:

Are we where we want to be on the spectrum?

You and your senior managers can now assess whether your brand’s current positioning on the spectrum is the best one to use to leverage your company’s strengths and defining capabilities and/or mitigate its weaknesses. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify opportunities to drive competitive advantage; avoid language and organizational behaviour that may confuse the market; and uncover and eliminate barriers and costs to delivering on your promise to the market.

Does our marketing match our spot on the spectrum?

You can now judge whether your existing brand communications across all touch points are focused on the benefits of your dominant position and are therefore working as effectively as possible. If not, you have an opportunity to tighten your key messaging and align all the touch points so they are focused on the one key area in which your organization can best compete. This should improve your engagement with the market and drive revenue growth.

Is there a spot where we’d rather be?

Using the spectrum, management can also better understand where the competition is positioned and identify white-space opportunities within your market to enhance sales. If, for example, you and your rivals are all focusing on a single product position, you may be able to differentiate your brand by choosing another position on the spectrum. This is, of course, assuming that you’re willing to change your company’s structure and operations so it can deliver on the new position.

In my next column, I’ll explain how to decide whether you’re better off sticking with your current position on the spectrum or moving your brand to a different position—and, if the latter, how to do so.

David Kincaid has been a leader of branded businesses for more than 30 years and is now managing partner and CEO of LEVEL5 Strategy Group, a Toronto-based firm dedicated to driving profitable growth for its clients through the power of their brand. LEVEL5 was on the 2010 and 2011 PROFIT 200 rankings of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.

More columns by David Kincaid

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com