Brand positioning: Why ignoring customers can help your business

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Despite its critical role, marketing is regularly thought of as the ‘fluff’ around a business. A necessary evil that gets in the way of the things that really matter, like making money. As an experienced marketing professional, I can happily say that it is often with very good reason. All too often businesses get sucked into bad marketing habits. They know that they need to communicate what they do to potential customers, but they forget why.

So, what do many businesses end up doing?… They opt for the easy approach. They develop, bland, unremarkable marketing material that appeals to the broadest possible audience. They then sit back and expect that – because they are appealing to everyone –everyone will respond. After all, it’s better to go after as many customers as possible, isn’t it?

Brand positioning – the secret to maximising your value

Don’t fall into the void of genericism

The problem with targeting everyone is that everyone is different. As Seth Godin eloquently puts it ‘Everyone is not your customer’. In other words, trying to target everyone is the same as targeting no-one. Your message ends up lost in the void of marketing monotony. They become surrounded by a cacophony of similarly generic businesses which is the primary factor that leads to the commoditisation trap.

Certainly, few people are going to hate the messages you send them. But few people will really love them either. And that’s the truly critical factor in building connections with the people that matter the most.

brand positioning - dave holloway, leeds

Take a bold leap with aggressive brand positioning

The solution to marketing monotony is adopting an effective approach. This means crafting a tailored message that resonates with the people who are most likely to respond. Unfortunately, many businesses do NOT utilise an effective marketing approach. According to my own research, only 50% of businesses know who their ideal customers are and how best to communicate with them.

Even more surprisingly, just 27% know where they sit in the market and understand how they can make their business or products stand out. The concept of effective marketing is not difficult to grasp. So, why then do so many businesses persist in creating marketing messages that are targeted at no-one? The answer is that targeting a specific audience requires a business to take the bold (and somewhat counter-intuitive) step of ignoring large portions of the market.

Focus, focus, focus

Consider the last significant purchase you made, such as a smartphone. For most people, a smartphone is an essential tool There are a plethora of smartphone manufacturers each offering extensive product ranges for you to choose from. Despite the choice available, the core feature used by most smartphone users is very similar.

A survey from the Express in March 2017 shows the top uses of mobile phones in the UK. It shows the top 10 daily uses of smartphones according to polled responses:

  1. Text – 88%
  2. Email – 70%
  3. Facebook – 62%
  4. Camera – 61%
  5. Reading news – 58%
  6. Online shopping – 56%
  7. Checking the weather – 54%
  8. WhatsApp – 51%
  9. Banking – 45%
  10. Watching videos on YouTube – 42%

What’s surprising about these stats is that these features are available on nearly any device, no matter which brand or model. If any phone on the market can perform the functions you need, then why do people choose one manufacturer/model over another?

The answer comes down to brand positioning. Manufacturers successfully focus their products – and importantly the stories that sell those products – at specific customer segments. People in the various segments respond to those stories and buy the product that closest fits their personal needs.

Understand the needs

Apple’s iPhone is a beautiful, sophisticated and easy-to-use product range. It is targeted at fashion conscious people willing to pay a premium for high-quality, innovative design. In contrast, global industrial brand, Cat, produce a range of much cheaper, ultra-tough mobile phones designed to withstand the rigours of the construction industry.

Both phones carry out the core functions most people require perfectly well. However, if you are looking for a phone to impress your boardroom colleagues, the Cat is unlikely to have the desired effect. If you spend all day on building sites surrounded by brick dust and mortar, then an iPhone, no matter how desirable it looks, is unlikely to be top of your list. At least not without the addition of an especially rugged case, which opens a whole new buying conversation!

The reason we decide which phone to pick comes down to the way we react to the marketing stories that each business tells us. In other words, their brand positioning.

Use brand positioning to get emotional

Ultimately, the purchasing decision is an emotional one. According to this 2015 study into the science of customer emotions by Harvard Business Review, “Hundreds of ‘emotional motivators’ drive consumer behaviour”. From feeling a sense of thrill, to a desire to stand out from the crowd, purchase decisions are primarily based on how well you feel the product or service you are buying suits your own individual needs.

Like Cat and Apple, the most successful companies focus on creating great products and services that fulfil a specific market need. They then tailor their marketing to connect the benefits of those products and services to the people most likely to experience a positive emotional response. Successful businesses are comfortable with the fact that large groups of the market might be turned off by their offering.

Why? Because they understand that customers outside of their target groups are looking for something different, an experience that their business does not offer. Yes, they might attract the odd few outside of their core sphere, but that is more by chance than design and you can’t build a successful marketing strategy on chance.

B2B marketing runs on emotions too

The need to make an emotional connection with the customer applies to all businesses types, including B2B. ‘But businesses don’t run on emotion’, I hear you say. Well, they do. In fact, there is often more emotion attached to a business purchasing decision than a consumer one. That’s because people’s jobs, reputations and livelihoods are often at stake.

If you’re still sceptical, then you might want to read this great article on The main takeaways from Liz O’Neill’s insightful post are that emotions matter even more than logic and reasoning in B2B buying:

  • Only 14% of B2B buyers perceive a real difference in B2B supplier offerings.
  • Only 31% of prospective customers think B2B brands provide a personal value.
  • Only 8.5% of buyers who see NO personal value will pay a higher price for a product.
  • 68% of buyers who see a personal value will pay a higher price for a service.

This means forgetting about the idea that business-to-business marketing needs to be corporate and dry. You are far more likely to have success when you embrace brand positioning and allow your business to stand out.

Final thought on harnessing the power of brand positioning

Concentrate on effective brand positioning

Focusing on specific groups of customers lies at the heart of effective marketing, which ultimately translates to maximum results from the minimum expenditure of resources. If you want your marketing to be effective, you need to understand what you do, why you do it, which individuals are going to experience the highest benefit and – most crucially – be able to explain to them why it matters!

With the right brand positioning in place, all that’s required is the drive to focus your energy on the relatively few people who’ll see the most value in your business and the confidence to ignore the ones that don’t. That is marketing effectiveness in a nutshell and it takes the right combination of strategic thinking, hard work and guts. It’s not easy, but get it right and you may find that ignoring customers has far more benefits than you think.

About the author

Dave Holloway is a highly experienced freelance brand strategist based in Leeds. For 16 years, he ran a multi-award-winning creative agency working on a diverse range of projects for world-class clients. He now works in collaboration with creative agencies and directly with clients. Whether setting the direction through intelligent brand strategy, or tactical execution through digital and offline channels, he helps businesses of all sizes to communicate more effectively. If you have a branding project you’d like to discuss, please get in touch.