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What’s the best way to describe a brand positioning?

A: In 1-3 well-chosen words

B: In a well-written sentence of up to 10 words

C: In a well-linked paragraph of up to 50 words

D: In a well-told story of however many words it takes

So who chose A?

There are all those classic examples:

Coke = happiness

BMW = driving pleasure

Apple = self-expression

Orange = optimism

Volvo = safety

Nike = personal performance

In reality, these are essences more than positionings. But if that’s the main feeling or association that comes to mind when thinking of the brand, what’s the difference?

Focusing on a couple of words, though, is tough. Helen Edwards’s view in Eat Your Greens is that only great brands embody a single virtue. The rest have to be content with a “tangle of linked perceptual assets”.

The key is the link. So when Guinness used to say it stood for Power, Communion and Goodness, they were trying to express a single idea. But are those three words better than saying ‘Guinness brings out your inner strength”, which was the brand promise?

Who went for B?

Mark Ritson’s recent Effie case study videos include some great examples of positioning statements:

Snickers makes you, you again

Lidl surprises you with the truth

Febreze makes even the filthiest places smell nice

If it’s clean, it’s got to be Tide

All four are full of insight and skilfully written. That’s why it’s hard to do. Look at some of Mark’s other examples:

Gillette Fusion - look your best, play your best

Tourism Australia - where a beautiful place meets a refreshingly irreverent people

Dove - Dove’s mission is to make women feel beautiful every day by broadening the narrow definition of beauty and inspiring them to take great care of themselves

Not as good, are they?

Dove, of course, was a brilliant positioning idea that became short-handed as The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.

But the ever-present danger is ending up with something generic, like so many purpose-led positionings.

Any takers for C?

Blowing the dust off your marketing textbook of choice, you’ll always find a template along these lines:

To people like this…

Who need or want this…but…

Your brand is the…

That promises to…


Writing this as a single sentence can produce something so complex it requires a huge intake of breath before reading out. Often it’s best to split it into two or three sentences. But the skill is getting it done and dusted in less than 50 words. That’s as many as this paragraph.

They can also lack personality, which is such an important part of describing a brand positioning.

But the strength of the format is that it’s all there - target, insight, category, benefit, support. You have to go through every step.

And how about D?

I assume the storytellers among you aren’t thinking in terms of brand models, all those onions, keyholes, wheels and pyramids. The last vestige of 8 point type.

I assume you’re thinking about telling the story of your brand in the most engaging way possible. An authentic origin story. A heart-felt manifesto. A heroic tale of a mythical archetype.

Word counts don’t matter here. It’s all about bringing a positioning to life. It also gives us strategists and planners a chance to write, which is what we all really want to do, isn’t it?

But is it a positioning or a story looking for a title?

I think it’s often part of the process of working out what your positioning is. There’s a great quote by a writer who said that when you finally work out what your story is all about, you write it backwards. You also then leave out everything apart from what you need to tell that story.

Actually, that’s what I’ve done here. This is me thinking through the best way to write a positioning.

In reality, I start with D. I build up the story of the positioning. Sometimes it helps to write this down in one piece of prose. Other times it’s a whole load of random notes.

Then I do C. I like using the template. It forces me to think the positioning through logically and to make sure it all joins up. You can’t beat it, even if your strategy is to be purpose-led.

Then I do B. It’s often the last line of the positioning statement, a summary of what’s gone before, but with something extra. A touch of poetry.

Then I ask myself A. What’s at the heart of the positioning? It may not be unique, ownable or even that different. But it’s the key to everything.

So that’s my answer. D then C then B then A.

Now how the hell am I going to edit this down to 1300 characters for LinkedIn?

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