Brand Strategy Building Blocks: Position

Position is often thought of in terms of how one brand positions itself relative to another brand. The only issue is that we often find that approach leads to thinking in terms of differentiators, which can cause a couple of critical problems.


The first problem is that trying to focus on your differentiators can lead you on a fool’s errand, because not all brands HAVE strong differentiators. If you think about it, what’s the difference, really, between McDonald’s and Burger King? You might be able to name some differences, but none of them are particularly significant. And this is true of many brands, particularly in commoditized industries. So you may end up searching for something that doesn’t exist, and focusing attention on a so-called “differentiator” that isn’t actually meaningful.

The second problem is that focusing on what makes you different isn’t necessarily compelling, because—and don’t take this the wrong way, NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU. People only care about themselves and what THEY want to accomplish. Your organization, products, or services are simply a means to that end. People don’t really care about what’s different about you – they only care how engaging with you will benefit them.

So that’s why we choose to think about position in terms of an idea or set of ideas around which you can rally your team. It’s the place you’re going to plant your flag, the thing (or things) for which you’re going to stand. Position is primarily for you, not for “them.”

However, rallying your team around a specific position will affect the way in which your organization behaves and the decisions it makes; which ultimately affects the experience people have when they’re interacting with your organization and the benefit that they receive; which, in turn, affects the way that they view your brand. In other words, position ends up being what you show to people rather than what you say to people, and it’s what ensures that you’re delivering on expectations.

McDonald’s, for example, positions around the idea of “good food, served fast, at a fair price”. You won’t see this on their promotional materials, but you’ll see those ideas reflected in the way that they source and pre-prepare their food (to control costs and also ensure consistency, which is a kind of “good”), the way they lay out their restaurants (again, to ensure both consistency and speed), and the way that they run their point of sale terminals (optimized for transaction speed).

Conversely, Burger King positions around the idea of putting the customer first, leading to marketing messages like “have it your way.” Two similar organizations, two very different positions, resulting in distinct, clearly differentiated brands.

When working out a set of ideas for your position, it’s important to understand whether your primary goal is to inspire people inside your organization or to inform the decisions that you make.

At Cultivate, we felt that our team was already fully engaged with our organization and that inspiration wasn’t the thing we needed the most. So we designed a position statement that would help inform the decisions we make and the way we approach our work. What we know for sure is that what matters to us is making work that has an impact. We also know that what matters to our clients is achieving their full potential. That’s why we chose to position around the idea “mattering, not marketing.”

We really like this idea because it gives us an easy way to evaluate the decisions we’re making. It isn’t sufficient merely to do marketing, we also have to ask ourselves whether or not the work we’re doing is actually helping our clients to matter. And over time, as we continue to keep our focus there, it will show in the work that we do and in the experience that our clients have.

But while this works really well for us internally with our team, it’s the wrong message to use with people outside of our organization. Many clients come to us because they want help with marketing, and “mattering, not marketing” might be a turnoff for them. Which is why the third piece of the strategy—campaign—is so important.


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