5 Brand Positioning Models

Kevin KeohaneSeptember 6, 201633494 min

“In communication, as in brand architecture, less is more. You have to sharpen your message to cut into the mind. You have to jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long-lasting impression.” – Al Ries and Jack Trout

The P-A-S-P model (Purpose, Ambition, Strategy, Proposition) will be new to some as the expression ‘proposition’ rather than ‘positioning’ is used. This is because an organization has choices to make in considering its positioning in the context of the P-A-S-P model. The proposition (for talent and customers) can be identical to the positioning, but it needs to be modulated for each audience.

It is useful to consider a spectrum of options when considering an organization’s positioning. Since brand consideration and preference is generally seen to be as much a product of emotional decision making as rational decision making, brand positioning is typically approached using a considered blend of both rational and emotional elements and attributes.

According to recent research reported in Psychology Today, built on decades of study:

  • MRI neuro-imagery shows that when evaluating brands, people primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features and facts).
  • Advertising research reveals that emotional response has far greater influence on reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content – by a factor of 3 to 1 for television commercials and 2 to 1 for print ads.
  • The Advertising Research Foundation concluded that the emotion of ‘likeability’ is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.
  • Studies show that positive emotions towards a brand have far greater influence on loyalty than trust and other judgements which are based on a brand’s attributes.

One way of viewing this is to use a continuum and to agree the most favorable positioning opportunity for the organization. This positioning decision must account for the authenticity of the positioning to the organization – it needs to be true; the relevance to the marketplace (talent, customers and stakeholders); and its differentiator from alternative providers of products, service and employment. There are many models, including the five below, but one of the most effective is also one of the simplest. It’s a simple continuum with rational positioning and emotional positioning at either extreme, with variations in between.

Brand Positioning Spectrum

1. Infrastructure-led Positioning

Location and time can drive powerful positions: mobile emergency car services, credit cards accepted at more locations, global reach are some examples. Such positions are generally built and protected through innovation or sheer mass and scale.

2. Product Or Service-led Positioning

The organization can choose to position itself specifically around its customer value proposition. This is the most direct and relevant positioning from a commercial business perspective: the most authentic, relevant and differentiating elements of the product or service in relationship to its end user, customer or consumer. This relatively traditional positioning approach was developed in the late 1960s based on the concept of a ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP). Provided the product or service is difficult to duplicate, this positioning offers many benefits. The product can be homogeneous or premium, so long as the positioning allows a price premium. Having consistently innovative and market-leading phones and tablets is one example; having the most low-cost alternative could be another. Both have their place.

3. Process-led Positioning

Having a unique, bespoke process that allows for differentiation – the product or service might be similar to the competition, but the unique way the organization goes about delivering it allows for a competitive advantage which allows the organization to generate enhanced margin. Trademarked solutions or a difficult-to-duplicate approach works here – for example, in the international overnight delivery category.

4. Values-led Positioning

A positioning based on the values of an organization and its people can provide a good platform for positioning, particularly in the services or professional services sector. Locations, services and processes might be similar, 
but the kind of person the organization attracts and how it approaches service delivery are key.

5. Purpose-led Positioning

The sense of ‘why’ the organization does what it does, as opposed to what, how, who, when and where it does what it does, can drive significant benefits. Using this as the driver of positioning can have long-term benefits. It can also raise challenges, on the other hand, insofar as it can be challenging to activate such a positioning in the day-to- day delivery of the product and service.

In brand positioning, there is no place on the spectrum that is inherently more favorable or less favorable than others. It is more important that the organization identifies the positioning that it can occupy with the greatest confidence as it balances authenticity, relevance and differentiation. In the P-A-S-P model, positioning might express itself with the greatest relevance in day-to-day operations at the Proposition level – while it can also be driven by the overarching sense of Purpose. Some organizations consciously decide to balance both, using a higher sense of Purpose at the corporate level, and more tangible propositions at the market-facing customer and talent levels – without creating confusion or conflict. The key, of course, is to have it all align.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Kevin Keohane and excerpted from his book: Brand and Talent, in partnership with Kogan Page publishing.

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