The What and Why of Brand Positioning Statements

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March 22, 2018
Alex Koby Alex Koby
Updated March 2020
The heart of who you are—and what you can provide to your customers that others can’t—is going to be what gets buyers to choose you over the competition. This is why developing a brand positioning statement is vital. 

For any marketing plan to truly be successful, a company must have a good brand positioning statement. A brand positioning statement defines how your company’s product or services suits a particular audience’s needs—and how you do it better than the competition. Get it right, and you will create a unique and lasting impression in the customer’s mind.

In theory, the brand positioning statement should be something an entire company can get behind. However, in practice, there’s so much confusion around the term that it often results in marketers and executives developing ineffective statements.

But it’s important for your company to have one, because a good brand positioning statement contains all the elements that can help define your marketing strategy. When properly developed, brand positioning statements can be powerful tools for businesses of all sizes. But that means going deeper than buzzwords and marketing fluff to craft a statement that truly captures your brand.

Before sitting down to work on your brand positioning statement, it’s important to clear up any confusion that might linger within your team and any other stakeholders. The what and why of brand positioning statements don’t have to be so unclear. Let’s start by breaking down what brand positioning statements are—and what they aren’t.

Positioning Statements Aren’t Taglines or Slogans

When teams don’t have a clear understanding of brand positioning statements, they often fall into the trap of thinking they’re the same as taglines. While they’re related and feed into one another, they shouldn’t be merged.

Your brand positioning statement should be a couple of sentences that clearly defines why your company exists—who’s your target audience, what do you offer, how do you compare to competitors, what’s your unique selling proposition, etc. 

Compare that to a tagline, which aims to convey your company’s personality and make a lasting impression on customers. Great taglines are short and memorable. A good brand positioning statement will be more comprehensive and more relevant to your internal organization than to your customers.

At its core, an effective brand positioning statement outlines how your company differentiates itself from the competition.

The Time-Tested Formula for Brand Positioning Statements

You can see why it’s important to define your own brand positioning statement and how it can serve both your team and your customers.

If you’re unsure where to begin, you can start with this simple formula to help you develop your brand positioning strategy. Your positioning will include several elements. Breaking it down into components makes your unique offerings easier to pinpoint and ensures you’re not missing anything vital.

So what are the essential components you should include? In an interview with First Round Review, Arielle Jackson shared the brand positioning statement template used by former Google Head of Marketing and Communications Christopher Escher:

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of need or opportunity)
  • (Product name) is a (product category)
  • That (statement of key benefit)
  • Unlike (competing alternative)
  • (Product name) (statement of primary differentiation)

Remember that this formula is flexible. Some positioning statements will be shorter than others; some will drill down deeper into certain aspects than others. Just keep in mind that you want to perfectly lay out why your brand exists and why a certain customer base should care.

Brand Positioning Statements in Action

Now that we know what elements should be part of a good brand positioning strategy, let’s look at some examples.

Harley Davidson is an iconic brand that understands their target market well, and their brand positioning statement encapsulates this:

The only motorcycle manufacturer
That makes big, loud motorcycles
For macho guys (and "macho wannabes") 
Mostly in the United States
Who want to join a gang of cowboys
In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

This statement contains all the elements you need, according to the formula. The exact order isn’t set in stone, as you can see by the example. What’s most important is that you have the essential building blocks that will help guide your team.

In contrast, Harley Davidson’s slogans, which have changed over the years, appeal directly to their customers by stating the experience that they will provide them:

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
It’s time to ride.
Screw it, let’s ride.

When you see the two side by side, it becomes clearer that the two serve different purposes.

Let’s look at Zipcar as another example:

Zipcar Tagline: Own the trip, not the car™

Zipcar Positioning Statement: To urban-dwelling, educated, techno-savvy consumers, when you use Zipcar car-sharing services instead of owning a car, you save money while reducing your carbon footprint.

You can see why using a tagline as a brand positioning statement just isn’t enough. And one of the biggest reasons why is that your tagline is meant to be external and brand positioning statements are internal only.

The Positioning Statement: Your Internal Roadmap

In the foundational marketing guide Positioning, advertising experts Al Ries and Jack Trout discuss how positioning can help companies be seen in a crowded marketplace. And, certainly, defining what makes you unique will definitely help you stand out.

The key is combining it with other elements to pinpoint how you can use it to your advantage. Defining your positioning statement, then, becomes your foundation. Chron calls it “the most important sentence in a marketing plan.” Why? Because it brings focus to the development of a marketing strategy, inspiring the marketing plan and tactics that support that strategy.

Think of the brand positioning statement as the blueprint that will guide the rest of your strategy for internal and external work.

The power of your positioning statement lies in its ability to align internal teams, create a more effective hiring process, inform successful product roadmaps, and convey to employees why their work is valuable.

The brand positioning statement is a vital pillar of branding in a larger sense. But it’s still just a piece. If you want to learn more about how to create a brand that stands the tests of time, check out The Ultimate Guide to Brand Development.