What Is Competitive Positioning in Branding?

What Is Competitive Positioning Examples & Types

Chess piece on a positioning map

Competitive Positioning: Unpacking the Concept and Strategies to Win

Ever felt lost in the complex business jargon around “competitive positioning”? You’re not alone. Many entrepreneurs struggle to grasp this core concept in brand strategy, overlooking its importance. But competitive positioning doesn’t need to be intimidating. It’s simply the defining reason customers choose one brand over another in their market. Understanding competitive positioning can help any brand build an edge over the competition.

The Definition of Competitive Positioning

Competitive positioning is a term that’s often used interchangeably with other complex business jargon like “positioning strategy” or “differentiation strategy.” But at its core, it’s a simple concept: the defining reason a customer chooses one brand over competitors.

It’s not the same as competitor positioning, which looks at why customers choose rival brands. Competitive positioning focuses on your own brand’s edge. Let’s break it down using a car example.

Say Brand A builds a reputation for the most fuel efficient vehicles in its class. Brand B can try to compete on efficiency. Or it can find its own positioning, like being the most reliable.

Before defining your competitive position, it’s crucial to map out the market landscape. Identify who your competitors are and what unique value they offer. This allows you to spot potential gaps or weaknesses you can leverage.

The father of modern marketing, Philip Kotler, defined competitive positioning as designing an offering and brand image that occupy a distinctive, valued place in the consumer’s mind. That’s why competitive positioning isn’t just about providing a solution. It’s about finding a position that gives you an edge and compelling reason to be chosen.

Plotting Your Competitive Position

A positioning map visualizes a market’s competitive landscape. Also called a perceptual map, it charts brands based on key factors that drive purchase decisions.

The purpose is identifying gaps, opportunities, and your ideal positioning strategy.

Let’s look at the economy family car category. A map might plot brands on a grid showing reliability and fuel efficiency – two major car buyer priorities.

Based on reputation, Toyota could rank high for reliability but lower on efficiency. A competitor like Honda could edge out Toyota on MPG but trail on dependability.

You’d plot each brand on the map accordingly. Looking at the grid, gaps emerge. No one dominates both factors. So a new entrant could carve out a space as the fuel efficient AND reliable option.

The positioning map reveals chances to outflank rivals. It’s like a game of Battleship, showing where competitors are clustered or weak. You can zero in on an open slot and take aim.

Of course it’s not an exact science. Buyer priorities shift. New technologies and trends reshape markets constantly.

But a map is an indispensable tool for strategists to visualize spaces and steer their competitive position. It illuminates spaces to play toward your strengths and others’ weaknesses.

The map sets the stage. Your strategy and execution combine to actually win the battle.

Strategic Brand Positioning Approaches

Defining your competitive edge starts with knowing what your audience values when choosing a brand. Map out their key purchase drivers. Then position yourself around strengths in those areas.

Against Brand Positioning contrasts you with competitors—even entire categories. By calling out flaws in their offerings, you highlight your differences.

Dollar Shave Club used Gillette as a foil. They noted frustrations with pricey, over-designed razors. Then presented their simpler, cheaper solution.

JetBlue similarly called attention to the miserable economy flight experience. Pitching themselves as a happy medium between cost and comfort.

Experience Positioning spotlights your entire customer journey, not just features. Travel brands do this well. They focus on hassle-free booking, airport lounges, attentive staff, premium cabins, etc.

JetBlue even brought back humanity and personality to budget airlines. With a fun brand, leather seats, seatback TVs and reliable service.

Having a functional product isn’t enough today. You need a sharp competitive edge grounded in audience insights to stand out.

Think of positioning as a secret sauce. It gives your brand that special something people crave. So don’t just solve problems. Solve them in a way no one else has approached.

Position Your Brand to Win

Defining a sharp competitive position is crucial for business success today. With endless choice, functional parity and cheap digital tools, an edge matters more than ever.

So don’t just solve problems. Solve them in a way uniquely aligned to customer needs. Spot gaps competitors miss by stepping into their shoes.

Positioning isn’t a silver bullet. But it’s the closest thing. When done right, it makes you impossible to ignore.

Remember—you’re not just starting a business. You’re entering a competitive game. Will you make bold moves or play it safe? Craft a distinctive position or blend into the crowd?

Use positioning to carve out strategic space. Communicate powerfully on points of parity and difference. Outthink and outmaneuver. Be impossible to ignore.

Play to win by branding like a master.

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