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Brand positioning – Part II (Some emerging trends)

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This is part 2 of a two part series. To read the first part, click here.

Positioning: A quick recap

In our last edition of free flowing, we talked about the concept of brand positioning and introduced the 3-R model for identifying a good positioning.

You can read the full article here.

We also touched upon the challenges and opportunities offered by the new-age consumer context and its impact upon positioning a brand. A key takeaway was that given the rise of more aware and digital-savvy consumer, owning a positioning is no longer merely about something brands say or communicate, but it is something that they do and demonstrate.

Brands, both big and small, are expected to walk the talk.

Many brands have leveraged these opportunities to craft a positioning that has helped them garner the highly prized but elusive consumer loyalty. Based on this, we have identified some interesting trends that would be relevant to both new and established brands.

Some emerging trends in Positioning:

Owning Quantifiable Attributes:

In categories ranging from online delivery to personal care, brands have demonstrated how owning a measurable, quantitative metric can become a very credible positioning hook. A precise quantifiable attribute also gives a sense of certainty and hence carries a ring of authenticity.

To be fair, this positioning paradigm is not new. Dominos used its 30-min delivery guarantee to effectively open-up the doors of home consumption for Pizza category.

However, owning quantifiable attribute has become more relevant today than ever before.

With consumers leading a quantified life and seeking quantifiable metrics for decision making in every aspect of life (counting ‘steps’ for health, checking ‘ratings’ for purchase of both product & services, tracking ‘ETA’ for travel…), what can be a better way to walk the talk for your product promise than putting a measurable promise out there and living up to it?

Hence, cut to 2022, time wars have given rise to a whole new category of Quick-Commerce. Zepto pioneered the concept with its “10-min delivery”. Underpinned by operational innovation, this promise shook up the category and forced incumbents to follow suit.

Even in an intimate category like personal-care, Sebamed took up a category-trending metric of pH (the 5.5 pH promise) and made both consumers and incumbents sit up and take notice.

However, owning a quantifiable attribute comes with its share of challenges. First, the brand is putting itself out there for scrutiny and it should be ready to live up to the escalated consumer expectations. Also, living up to the quantifiable brand promise doesn’t mean that consumers would dilute their expectations on other metrics. Hence for example, a brand promising 10-min delivery of vegetables cannot compromise on freshness, food delivered by a ’10-min brand’ cannot afford to slip on taste, and a pH 5.5 soap cannot compromise on the sensorial aspects of personal care.

Net, owning and delivering on quantifiable promises requires a brand to be constantly on its toes to deliver on its promise without compromising on category hygiene.

Owning a category relevant attribute:

This is especially relevant in utilitarian categories where the need for practical functionality triumphs over everything else. Brand choice in these categories is done based on a rational comparison of performance and cost rather than emotional considerations. Traditional utility providers like mobile and broadband services or even new-age utilities like on-demand cab services and mobile payments are good examples.

While players in these categories do take emotional route to communicate their proposition, what eventually differentiates them is their ability to own the most relevant category attribute. Over time this attribute becomes a recommendation hook and helps them stand out from the pack.

It is important to note that brands positioned on this paradigm do not come to own the category relevant attribute through communication alone. Instead, they achieve this by consciously identifying a consumer-relevant attribute and consistently delivering on it, better than competitors.

For example, Jio completely disrupted the entire category of mobile internet by owning the highly relevant attribute of ‘cheapest data plans’ from its very launch.

Similarly, soon after demonetization PayTM quickly ramped up to own the equity for ‘ubiquitous acceptance’ in mobile payments.

Marrying transactional efficiency with category simplification:

In some categories the cost of going wrong is high and decision-making is complicated due to information overload, abundance of choices and complexity of processes (e.g. financial investments and insurance). Here some new-age brands have taken it upon themselves to simplify the category and make consumers feel in control.

Brands taking this positioning would need to focus on education and ease of transaction. They need to walk-the-talk through a combination of product features and content.

Groww is an example of brand that has executed this strategy well. Complementing its intuitive yet feature rich app with educative content, Groww not only allows consumers to seamlessly explore and compare a range of financial products but also helps them makes sense of the broader financial world. It has therefore attracted the attention of both newbies and veterans in the space.

Pitching Personal Stories:

An interesting paradigm that we see emerging in startup world is that of founders leading from the front. When founders passionately weave a story on how the brand is an outcome of a personal quest to seek solution to their pain points, it lends genuineness and credibility to the brand’s claims.

Heralding the trend of ‘Patron turned Producers’, there is a wave of D2C brands where Founders have boldly taken to the limelight to turn into de-facto brand ambassadors. They not only talk about their inspiration but also highlight their personal involvement in almost every aspect of brand mix ranging from product formulation to packaging.

Pitching personal stories offers some distinct benefits, especially to new and challenger brands. First, founders’ stories, if narrated in a compelling way, can become a differentiator that competitors cannot replicate for obvious reasons. This positioning can be baked into the brand from its very inception- thereby providing wings to the fledging brand.

A good example of a brand that successfully leveraged this to its advantage is Mamaearth. Founders, Ghazal and Varun Alagh, have projected their brand as an outcome of their extensive search for really safe baby-care products for their own kid. This personal story has given high credibility to Mamaearth’s claim of “No Nasties”.

Pitching personal stories comes with some watch-outs too. For one, in today’s information rich world, it’s obvious to expect that consumers would do background research to check the veracity of founders’ stories. Leading from the front means that founders’ positives and negatives would be closely scrutinised and the latter could have direct negative impact on the brand.

Blending Passion with Practicality:

Categories with high involvement purchase, multi-variate comparison and
a cluttered competitive environment require a detailed comparison of available options on objective metrics, within a budget. A classic example includes categories like mobile phones, electronics and sound gadgets.

A new positioning paradigm is emerging in these categories where new-age challenger brands are positioning themselves as disruptors, pulling away from the extremes of either highly aspirational (though not necessarily rational) or purely “affordable and commoditized” brands. Hitting the sweet-spot between passion and practicality, they score high on both functionality and desirability.

boAt is a great example of brand that’s been able to find its own appeal within the highly cluttered category of sound gadgets by following this paradigm. boAt leveraged the insight that sound gadgets are transforming into fast-fashion, where consumers are increasingly seeking convergence of form, function and value. Hence it offered products that packed great features at a markedly lower price compared to that of well-known global brands, along with bold & stylish designs and amazing durability. This made its offerings stand-out, making the brand a viral sensation.

Building a ‘community feel’:

Interestingly, today it’s not just brands that find it tough to stand out. Even consumers seek to stand out in both real and virtual social circles. Social signaling has therefore become important.

Some brands have harvested this sentiment by giving their patrons a feeling of belonging to an ‘exclusive club’. A membership to these brands gives a badging value to the consumer.

Brands like Cult and Cred have acquired a consumer base by positioning themselves as such. While Cult appeals to a tribe of fitness enthusiasts, in case of Cred, the very fact that it is open only for those with certain credit worthiness gives its consumers a sense of exclusivity.

Provenance Premium:

Knowing that consumers want to explore product backend, many brands have started curating interesting stories around their provenance that become their positioning hook. Proudly wearing provenance as a badge of honor not only attracts native consumers due to pride in origin but also aids cross-border play.

Vahdam Tea is a good example of a new-age D2C brand that has created an enticing brand world by weaving a compelling provenance story as a testimony to its authenticity. Ethically curated from Indian tea gardens and freshly packed for its patrons across the world, Vahdam has leveraged its provenance as a core positioning anchor to build a brand whose appeal transcends Indian borders. The narrative of “Native Indian Wellness, reimagined for modern lifestyles”, has helped Vahdam broaden its portfolio beyond teas to include other Indian superfoods.

While nativity remains a strong positioning hook, for consumers who have been exposed to global standards in products and services, it cannot become an excuse for poor quality. Hence, unless the provenance story is accompanied by a product experience that meets global benchmarks, it will fail to impress.

Appealing to new-age values:

Conscious consumers of today often carry high expectations from brands that go beyond mere functional benefits. With rising awareness and concern around issues pertaining to personal liberty, equality, environmental sustainability and ethical procurement, aspects like privacy, inclusivity, sustainability and community impact are becoming mainstream.

Realizing this, some brands have positioned themselves by clearly announcing their allegiance to these values and unambiguously demonstrating how they live up to these.

Among new-age brands, “Two Brothers Organic Farms” (TBOF) has crafted an interesting story about how the brand was born out of a quest for creating a “biodiverse, self-sustaining food system” that focuses on community empowerment and regenerative farming practices.

Similarly, an activewear brand for women, BlissClub, promises to bring inclusivity in the category. Calling out its mission as: “spearheading a revolution to design with intent and for everybody” the brand’s positioning reflects in its truly inclusive product catalogue.

Needless to mention, catering to a sceptical and information savvy consumer means that brands positioned on this paradigm need to be extremely careful about ensuring sincerity in their commitment towards the espoused values. And this applies not just to their product. Today consumers go beyond product and brand claims to assess the brands’ sincerity on multiple touchpoints, ranging from the procurement policies to its internal company culture and even the public conduct of its top-management. Actions that do not resonate with claimed values would lead to consumer dissonance and can negatively impact the brand.

While these are some positioning strategies that we have been able to spot, the list is by no means absolute. Remember that positioning is all about driving a differentiator in the minds of consumer and brands should always seek something different from what’s already prevalent in category.

What are some unique positioning strategies that you have seen brands taking? Do let us know, we would love to hear from you.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to FreeFlowing, our weekly newsletter on all things marketing, do click on the subscribe button so you can keep up to date with our latest editions. We will send such in-depth articles to your inbox every week.

Meanwhile, if you want to listen to our detailed conversations with the founders of exciting up-coming brands, head on over to our Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/show/4fExEf3EYCXzfWMIMI7gyO

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