Brand Positioning – 8 Magical Words of Business (Part 1)

The 8 most important words in business are: who are you, and why do you matter?

In the 1980 book ‘Positioning: The Battle for your Mind’, AL Ries and Jack Trout stated that a solid positioning is the most valuable asset any company can possess – and that still holds true today.

But there’s a common problem, as with many things in the marketing world: as these phrases get bandied about, they start to morph into slightly woolly definitions.

This often leads to marketers just ticking the box of positioning without actually doing the hard work. This ultimately creates a sub-optimal performance and, normally, failure in the long run.

Who are you and why do you matter?

Positioning is the space that you or your brand owns and how you differentiate in the market. As such, it’s pretty important – if not fundamental – to firstly get it right and then let it become the central goal of your activity.

Simply put, get it right and life just got a whole lot easier. Decisions will be simpler, and you will be able to tell if what you’re doing is on message, or wasting budget.

Get it wrong – and be prepared for a world of murky, misaligned, unfocused and ultimately unsuccessful activations.

So let’s begin with a simple, clear definition.

Positioning is the clear statement that defines:

“Who are you and why do you matter?”

No more – No less – No arguments.

If you can honestly answer this statement right now, clearly and concisely, without having to think then please stop reading and go about your day.

If you think you can but don’t quite have the right words, well read on my friend – I’m afraid the hard work lies ahead. But fear not; I guarantee you it’s worth it.

Have you ever been in a marketing meeting that lords Starbucks, Apple, Amazon, or Google as an example of a successful brand or organisation? …There is a very good reason why. A clear and differentiated positioning.

Positioning is not…

There are a few things that positioning is commonly confused with and is definitely not.

Think of positioning as the rational, logical element of clarity in your business. That warm, fuzzy, emotional stuff is something else. Though it’s important to cover that too, it becomes meaningless unless it ties back to a strong, clearly defined and truly differentiated positioning.

Positioning is not brand: that’s the other side of the coin.

Positioning is not a value proposition: that comes later.

Positioning is not a catchy strapline.


Positioning is definitely not some magic Mad Men-style essence platform developed by a group of cool Hoxton creatives.

All these things stem from a great, strongly aligned and consolidated definition of your position.

Sadly, I have to admit to coming up with some great, engaging campaign platforms and propositions for brands, that achieved ecstatic responses in the boardroom, but never went to market.

The cold hard truth was that though they were engaging, they weren’t built on a solid, aligned positioning.

The tighter your definition, the tighter and more aligned (and therefore more effective) your brand or company will be.

Alignment is everything

Imagine if everyone working on your brand knew exactly why the brand was there and were all pulling in the same direction. They knew what to say, where and when to say it, and – crucially – why they were saying it.

To use an analogy, if you view your brand or organisation as a large battle ship, when you go below decks you’ll find 10s or 100s, sometimes 1000s of people rowing.

If they are all aligned and rowing together you will make impressive progress.

If everyone is rowing in different directions, clashing oars and making a splash, you get a lot of effort and poor results.

….Great, hopefully, I’ve waffled on for long enough – lets get to the how-to section.

The 6 C’s of positioning

Good positioning considers the 6 c’s:

Core – your DNA and who you are at your best.

Category – the landscape you operate in.

Community – your stakeholders.

Competition – your market rivals.

Context – market factors.

Criteria – what your positioning has to deliver.

So let’s start with: who you are.

Easy, right? …Well, maybe.

Fortunately, someone far cleverer than I has given us a framework here (thanks Andy Cunningham, love your work). I’ll provide a link to two rather wonderful books that give you a ton of brilliant depth and insight if you’re that way inclined, but hopefully what’s to follow will give you the tools you need to get the job done.

Frankly, if this model worked for the world’s best and most successful and profitable companies, then there genuinely is no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Understanding your DNA

First we have to understand what your DNA is.

There are 3 clear DNA types that have been defined as follows:




Every company and brand will fall within one of these defined types.

So far we have yet to find an exception to this rule.

There are no good or bad DNA types – they are simply who you are. It’s what you do with this that defines you.

The Mother: Customer Focus

You’re a company or brand that focuses on the emotional relationship it has with its customer at its heart. Everything begins and starts with this – it values the experience over all else.

You’ll want to solve a valuable customer need in a way that is better than anyone else in the market.

Think: Starbucks, Disney

The Mechanic: Product focus

You focus on delivering value through product or service.

Everything you do is based on delivering: better, smarter, faster; the latest and greatest. You gain competitor advantage through product innovation and specification.

You’ll focus on creating a product that is truly differentiated, with a great value proposition.

Think: IBM, Intel & Amazon (when it was an online bookstore)

The Missionary: Concept focus

You’re out to change the world, throwing out the status quo and making lives better by thinking differently to enhance the lives of customers.

You probably think customers don’t know what they want until you create it for them.

Think: Tesla, Apple & Google (of today).

Working with your DNA to be the best version of you

Just to state this again, there is no wrong or right DNA type, but you will find that if you understand your DNA, and you work with it, success will come easier.

Just like an athlete, working with what you’ve got will make you the best that you can be. If you’re 6ft 10, chances are you’ll make a great basketball player but a lousy jockey.

The fact that you’re a mechanic or a mother does not mean you can’t change the world, innovate and create new categories. It just means you’ll stand the greatest chance of success if you play to your strengths and use the opportunities your DNA offers you.

Chances are, just by reading this you’ll probably have a bit of an idea of who you might be.

But hold back – experience shows time and again, as an intelligent individual you may be clear, but your colleagues may have a different view.

Positioning is a group activity that needs to be done together to gain alignment.

It’s common to find brands and organisations that focus on who they want to be, not who they really are. That’s where you need an objective view and we’d be happy to help.

Keep an eye on this space for the next stage in the process of positioning your brand or company for a competitive advantage.


Suggested reading

Positioning: The Battle for your Mind – Al Reis and Jack Trout.

Get to Aha! – Andy Cunningham.

Available in all good bookshops.