Start with Positioning, not Branding

Start with Positioning, not Branding
Positioning is yin. Branding is yang ~ Andy Cunningham

Everyone wants to build a brand. Few actually do.


Because here's a truth: you can't actually brand something. You can, however, earn a brand. Building a brand is a strategy, not an objective. In other words, brand is a noun, not a verb. Think of it like a prize, an award that the market bestows upon you. Look at it as the outcome after a long road. Brand is a destination.

So if brand is the ultimate noun, what then is the verb?


What's the difference?

Positioning refers to the unique space a brand occupies in the minds of the market. It encompasses everything from the target audience and the brand's values to its competitive advantage and marketing strategies. Without a well-defined positioning, a brand risks becoming lost in the noise of the marketplace.

Positioning is a critical component of any successful marketing strategy. It defines your unique role and relevance to your target audience, ultimately creating an image that resonates with them. In essence, it is the rational articulation of who you are, why you matter, and why you are better than your competitors. Identifying and consistently communicating your position is the first step towards building a strong brand.

Branding, on the other hand, is a more emotional endeavor. It is the overall gut feeling that someone has about your organization when you're not in the room. It's a response to your positioning, not a stimulus. Your brand captures the essence of your organization, the intangible qualities that people associate with your name, and the emotions that your brand evokes.

Marketing is the art of positioning.

Yin and Yang

Think of positioning and branding as the yin and yang of marketing. You need both to create a successful marketing strategy. Positioning captures the left brain, the rational, analytical side of our thinking, while branding captures the right brain, the emotional, intuitive side. While your position may change based on relevance, your brand is a consistent through-line that compounds throughout the years.

These concepts are rooted in human psychology. As human beings, we are emotional creatures, first and foremost. We absorb information through our senses, emotionally consider it, and then try to make rational sense of what we have consumed. When left and right brain get mixed signals and communication is inconsistent, a brand narrative falls flat.


Consider some examples of what positioning looks like.

From Web 2:

  • Salesforce: World's #1 CRM
  • Uber: The platform with the largest network of active riders
  • Qualtrix: The Leading Experience Management Software

From Web3:

  • Solana: Fastest blockchain in the world and the fastest growing ecosystem in crypto, with thousands of projects spanning DeFi, NFTs, Web3 and more
  • Ethereum: The community-run technology powering the cryptocurrency ether (ETH) and thousands of decentralized applications
  • Celestia: First modular blockchain network to power scalable, secure Web3 apps

Establish the epicenter

The real challenge we face is not building your brand, but rather defining, clarifying, targeting, capturing and holding your position.

In today's crowded and highly competitive marketplace, it's more important than ever to differentiate yourself from the competition. This means that you need to be able to clearly articulate what sets you apart and why you matter in as few words as possible. Without a well-defined and strategic positioning, your brand will struggle to gain traction, and your marketing efforts will likely fall flat.

Before you invest time, money, and resources into creating a brand, you must first figure out how you want to position yourself in the market. This means identifying your unique selling points, understanding your target audience, and crafting a messaging strategy that resonates with them.

In other words, positioning is the epicenter of good marketing. It is the foundation upon which successful brands are built. By carefully crafting your positioning strategy, you can establish a clear and compelling message that resonates with your target audience, sets you apart from the competition, and creates a strong foundation for your brand to grow.

If you want to build an effective brand, you must start by figuring out how you want to position yourself in the market. This means identifying your unique value proposition, understanding your target audience, and crafting a messaging strategy that resonates with them. Once you have your positioning strategy in place, you can then work on building a compelling brand that captures the essence of your organization and evokes the emotions that you want to convey.

Be efficient

Starting with positioning allows you to be more efficient with your branding efforts. Instead of wasting time, money, and resources on branding that may not resonate with your target audience, you can create a focused and strategic branding campaign that is aligned with your positioning strategy. This means that you can build a stronger and more effective brand in less time, with fewer resources.

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