One of the strongest positioning any brand can achieve goes beyond product features or the great after-sale service. Building a differentiation strategy on emotional benefits removes the pressure for continuous product innovation which for most companies is hard to achieve and, more importantly, constantly deliver.
Mercedes-Benz is perceived as a symbol of success. Longines does not offer watches, but elegant time pieces (positioning communicated through their excellent slogan “Elegance is an attitude”). Apple does not sell electronic devices but tools for creative people.
Positioning a Brand on Emotions: The Advantages
As I mentioned earlier this positioning is very powerful for at least three reasons:
- allows companies to charge a premium for their products as price plays a diminishing role in the purchase decision.
- offers manufacturer’s brands a strong tool to compete against private labels, that in most cases use the “lower price” differentiation strategy.
- creates a strong connection with the customer which leads to a deeper level of brand engagement.
What Brands Should Use Image Positioning?
People buy emotionally and justify their decisions rationally. Emotions are part of who we are as human beings: we want to feel confident, comfortable, safe, appreciated by others, regarded as smart or good looking,or successful. All these are perfect ingredients for a strong positioning strategy based on emotional benefits.
This type of differentiation strategy is most suitable for:
- brands that compete in categories that require a high level of involvement in the purchase decision. A company that sells toothpicks will find it hard generate emotional connections with the brand. A car manufacturer, such as Mercedes-Benz, can make use of this positioning very successfully.
- brands in categories that are hard to differentiate on product features. Most will say that water is a commodity that offers very little or no differentiation opportunities. However Evian has managed to position its brand in the premium segment by capitalizing on every parent’s concern for the health of their new born babies. Using the source of their water, the Alps, to suggest purity, Evian is perceived as the only water for newborn babies.
- brands with a long tradition and heritage. Almost every brand is launched as a result of a product innovation. However, as the time passes and the brand becomes more known and experienced, consumers attach emotional attributes to it. Coca Cola has started by delivering a unique product, which was an innovation at that time. Today the brand moved to the much broader positioning on image reflected by the slogan “Open Happiness”, and communication that focuses on people rather than the product characteristics.
- brands that offer highly personalized products. Rolls Royce owners prefer the brand not for the technical features of the automobile but for the fact that it is hand crafted for each individual needs, and reflection the owner’s personality.
- brands that offer unique or limited edition products. What makes a painting valuable is not the quality of paint or canvas, but its uniqueness, and the impossibility of ever being replicated. Luxury clothing and accessory brands fit this category perfectly.
You might have noticed that many of the examples above refer to luxury brands. That’s because most of them have achieved this status through the use of image positioning.
The Difference Between Premium and Luxury
In his excellent book “The New Strategic Brand Management”, Jean-Noel Kapferer explains the difference between premium and luxury.
Premium brands differentiate from competition by product characteristics that are easy to identify, compare and quantify. Cervelo, the Canadian bike manufacturer, competes in the premium bike segment because of the superior geometry and aerodynamics. This competitive advantage is easy to demonstrate through wind tunnel tests and race results.
The $2000 USD price tag on a Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute whisky bottle has no rational justification. People who are willing to pay that price do so for the exclusive status that the brand offers.
Moving the focus from the brand’s functional features to the intangible ones should be the goal of every Brand Manager. Besides the competitive advantages listed above, this type of brand positioning offers the opportunity for a more flexible and creative Marketing communication strategy.
Check out the brand positioning tutorials page for more articles on how to build strong and differentiated brands.