If you are a business owner, especially a relatively new one, you might be spending sleepless nights wondering how to establish differentiation for your brand in this highly competitive market.
There is no way you can make your mark in the consumers’ minds by doing what others are doing. Competing with giants is challenging, and beating them is even tougher.
So, what makes you different? Why should the prospects choose YOUR BRAND over so many popular brands?
This takes us to understand competitive positioning marketing, find your unique selling points, and develop an effective strategy highlighting them. That’s your key to having a competitive advantage over the competitors.
In this post, I will discuss what competitive positioning is and why having a competitive differentiation strategy is crucial. We will also discuss 28 brand positioning examples to inspire you to start with your unique strategy.
What is competitive positioning?
Your competitive positioning is the unique, differentiated perception of your brand and business in the minds of your target audience. The right positioning strategy gives you a competitive advantage over your competitors, who are already renowned names in the market.
Your competitive positioning strategy is the whole message of who you are, why you do what you do, and what you offer. Not only that, but it is also about how it resonates with the target audience and helps them.
Competitive positioning is also related to your brand personality and the emotions you invoke in your target audience.
What is a competitive positioning strategy?A competitive positioning strategy is a plan or model you build to differentiate your brand. It is the uniqueness of your business plan and/ or your brand story. Click To Tweet
A competitive positioning strategy is not one thing but a brand’s whole story.
When a consumer needs a product, they search for different companies to choose the one based on many factors. It could be affordable prices or good customer reviews. However, the main thing is the benefits a brand offers them that no one else does.
Thus, from the business point of view, they have to provide valuable offerings strategically. This is called a competitive positioning strategy.
There are many types of competitive positioning, each with different purposes and goals. So, you should learn about all these strategies and find the ones that best suit your business goals.
What is the importance of a positioning strategy?
Did you know 1.42 million new business applications were submitted in the third quarter of 2023? According to the US Business Formation Statistics (BFS), that’s true. This shows an 11.7% increase from the third quarter of 2022.
As more businesses enter the market, the more important it becomes for every business to differentiate itself while being attractive to its direct target audience at the same time.
That’s why you need a well-thought-out competitive differentiation approach and a clear brand messaging architecture.
28 different positioning strategies and examples
Let’s look at some brand positioning and differentiation strategies examples to see how companies have defined their brand attributes and established their differentiation through them.
1. A targeted audience
As small business owners, I know we tend to want to make our products and services available for everyone without making anyone feel left out. While that’s good, it’s not always the right approach, especially since you have entered the market.
As you’ve probably heard a zillion times, it is always better to focus on a specific niche and customer group. These should be the ones who can relate to your brand and have a great potential to use your products. That’s how you can build a loyal customer following and then expand to a broader customer base.
Here’s an example.
Brand focus: Axe
Since its launch, Axe’s positioning strategy example has been based on two common sentiments among young teenage boys (their target audience). First, the need to attract girls, and second, the urge to enhance their masculinity and charm.
So, the brand positioned itself as a magnet that would immediately help the young men lacking the confidence to have a masculine charm that would make young women run after them.
Needless to say, this specific focus on young men, with a particular benefit unlike any other, created an immediate and differentiated strong brand positioning that has remained strong over the years. Even though they extended the product line to body and hair products, they still retained the same target audience.
However, recently, the brand has revamped its “sexist” approach. Its recent ads have been strengthening this audience focus with a more profound brand message by calling out to these men who feel a bit lost to be themselves, irrespective of what the world thinks.
In 2023, Axe collaborated with Lil Baby, an award-winning rap artist, for the second ad campaign called “The Fine Fragrance G.O.A.T.” The company released its new Axe Fine Fragrance Collection to redefine the idea of “premium” and “luxury symbols” among the entire Gen-Z, including both young guys and girls.
The Axe and Lil Baby is still going strong in 2024, with the company releasing many videos with the “Flipping the Haters” tagline.
2. Niche focus
A business can also focus on an uber-specific market or create one of its own. This starts with finding the audience’s pain point and setting it as a brand positioning example for your marketing campaigns.
Brand focus: Bonobos
The founders of this brand, Andy Dunn and Brian Spaly, realized a specific problem: most men didn’t like store-bought pants.
So they started their business to create the perfect pair of pants. And they kept at it till they made millions in sales, just with pants. The brand primarily focused on providing the “right fit” for every male body type and preference.
Since their first ad, the word “fit” has been the primary part of Bonobos’ marketing strategy. Their recent ad titled, “A Course In Style with Justin Rose,” with the golf champion, also emphasized the importance of having the right fit pants.
Here it is:
Bonobos falls within the scope of men’s apparel and focuses on perfecting a single product. The company worked in a niche segment of its own with a single brand pillar and won at it before expanding to other menswear categories as well.
Related: Brand pillar examples
3. Offering solutions
A brand grows by doing either of 2 things: solving a problem or creating a desire.
If you’re just starting out, you should try creating a niche by finding and understanding a common problem within a specific audience group. That could be the quickest way for you to be a part of some great brand positioning strategy examples.
Brand focus: Poo~Pourri
This bold small business focuses on a particular problem: the embarrassment of the smell of nature’s call.
The brand primarily targets women who want to present themselves as very ladylike and groomed and yet get stuck in uncomfortable situations if they have to visit the bathroom at work or a boyfriend’s apartment.
Air fresheners make this smell worse. Poo~Pourri launched a solution, becoming one of the most sought-after gifts in the holiday season in 2014.
I’ll let you watch the video below (that went viral, btw) to know more 😉
However, their target audience soon expanded from females to males, including even Santa. While you’re at it, don’t forget to have some good fits of laughter with their 2020 Christmas special “The More You Eat, The More You Poop” ad:
Over time, the air freshener brand also expanded its product line, launching fresheners for babies, pets, homes, pits, pots, cars, and sole odors.
Here is their recent Pet~Pourri ad:
Also, check out their “Flip the Funk” Sole~Pourri ad:
4. Breaking the industry rules
Sometimes, the way to create a robust differentiation is by going against the norm in the industry.
Brand focus: Imperfect Foods
While most supermarkets and grocery stores put the best product in front of their customers, a startup led by Ben Simon decided to change all that by selling all the ‘ugly produce,’ the ones that would typically be trashed, at 30-50% discounted prices.
The company sets one of the perfect competitive differentiation examples by going against strict cosmetic standards and fighting food waste.
Here is how Imperfect Foods has differentiated itself with the “Sustainable for Everyone” slogan.
Building your competitive positioning solely on innovation can be challenging, especially for small businesses or startups. It is hard to accomplish because you must keep innovating for a significant time at all costs.
While that’s tricky, this competitive positioning strategy example can do wonders for your equity and business growth. The key is to implement this strategy correctly, consistently, and continuously.
Brand Focus: Apple
Apple has consistently broken the norm and launched something new that the world never expected.
Whether it was the Macintosh computer when we only knew PCs and Windows or the iPod when we had become comfortable with the Walkman, the company has always come up at the top. Not to forget the MacBook Air. It came out when people had grown used to lugging around heavy laptops.
The company’s way of introducing its first iPhone was also quite unique. It cashed out on the heavy telephones from the olden days perfectly.
However, as mentioned above, such differentiation is hard to maintain. A common opinion seems that without much new powerful innovation, its strong brand positioning has been slipping over the years.
6. Product features
While most products and services claim to be unique, the truth is that very close substitutes exist for most, giving plenty of choices to the customer.
You can create a differentiated product positioning strategy by creating a unique product that hasn’t existed in the market before. For example, you can follow a Blue Ocean strategy and can really tap into the white spaces in the market.
Brand Focus: GoPro
When all the cameras in the market had to be managed delicately, GoPro launched an action camera that’s waterproof, lightweight but strong, and most of all, wearable. All at a modest price. You could shoot the sport while doing the sport.
The brand recently released a video on its YouTube channel featuring an American professional skateboarder, Elliot Sloan, skating in a Private Mega Park while recording with GoPro HERO12 Black with Max Lens Mod 2.0.
The shots are quite aesthetic, no doubt.
This differentiation through product features completely revolutionized the camera industry and created a differentiated positioning for GoPro.
When your features are similar to your competitors’ products, you can create positioning against competition examples with your performance.
To position your brand as the best in performance, you must consistently deliver on that. Not just once but over some time, for the positioning to really stick in the minds of the audience.
Brand focus: BMW
BMW is the best positioning strategy example in this regard. The company has always positioned itself as “luxury performance,” with the tagline: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
Here is their “The Ultimate” ad (pun intended):
BMW focuses on delivering high quality with best-in-class engineering and a sophisticated and comfortable driving experience.
As a small business, you have to be careful of brand positioning like this, however. If you can’t keep it up, and you have a competitor that starts to deliver better performance than you, That could put your whole brand equity at stake.
8. Functional benefit
We had features, then performance. While these are differences, going one step further would be focusing on a specific benefit that the customer can get.
You should be pretty precise in this approach and pick the right benefit. This requires studying your customers, finding their unfulfilled desires, and offering solutions to fulfill them.
Let’s understand this better with one of the best benefit-focused differentiation and positioning examples.
Brand focus: Death Wish Coffee
While some people like to know the source of their coffee or focus on the taste, the founder of Death Wish Coffee, Mike Brown, understood that some people are just looking for really strong coffee.
And that’s what he based the brand differentiation around. Simple, direct, functional.
Death Wish Coffee also offers a 100% money-back guarantee to convince customers that they are the strongest coffee brand. That definitely must have made many strong caffeine lovers buy it, as well as those who are just curious to try it and find out if this is actually “the strongest” coffee.
Sometimes, functional benefits can be made even stronger by proven scientific claims that give you an edge over the competition. These could be specific, patented technologies or the level of results your brand can deliver.
Brand focus: Trader Joe’s
One of the top retailers of natural and organic products in the US, Trader Joe’s has not only a positioning but also a trademark of America’s quality food brand, according to Statista. It highly emphasizes ethics and doesn’t stock products with harmful ingredients or preservatives.
Making such a big claim is key to retaining customer trust and loyalty. But that also means they have to ensure that no competitor can up their ethical practices and product offers to take this claim away from them.
10. Multiple choices
Though research says that too many brands can confuse customers, sometimes the flexibility of options to choose from is exactly what makes the customer, or a group of them, seek out a brand.
Brand focus: Kit-Kat
Most of you may not know this, but this chocolate brand has more than 300 flavors. A bigger proportion of these flavors are found in Japan, which are, honestly, quite weird, too. Imagine a Roasted Green Tea Kit-Kat. Weird, right?
So, no matter what your taste buds are craving, you can always find a Kit-Kat that fulfills your craving.
11. Emotional benefit
A brand is not just about the direct product benefits. It gains recognition and popularity because of the underlying benefit of using this brand. That’s because one of the most important things to know about the consumer purchase process is that people buy emotions, not products.
Brand focus: Coca-Cola
The brand quickly recognized that the most powerful way to differentiate itself in the customers’ minds, especially from its close rival Pepsi, was to use emotional connections.
So, they positioned the brand as one associated with connections, happiness, a good life, smiles, etc. As one that creates a sense of belonging.
Their campaigns always include emotional yet enticing Call to Action (CTAs), such as “Share a Coke” and “Hug-me.” Its ads have been convincing people to purchase Coca-Cola and share some memorable moments with friends and family.
One amazing example is their recent Christmas ad titled “The World Needs More Santas.” Check it out:
Price is one of the biggest differentiation factors, and a common question to ask while creating your buyer persona is how price-sensitive your audience is.
Brand focus: Walmart
Walmart is another one of the best competitive positioning examples in this regard.
Remember that if you want to keep low prices, your competitors can always undercut you, and you may get sucked into a price war you cannot control. So don’t just go for low prices as your competitive positioning unless you have a business model like the 99c store.
Many brands claim to be able to customize their products and services to meet their client’s needs to a T. And, in fact, for the service industry, that’s almost a given.
Brand focus: Rolls Royce
A product company that takes it a few steps ahead is Rolls Royce. Because, unlike other luxury cars, it’s not just about being expensive and plush.
You can’t just pick up a RR from the showroom. If the company decides it is okay for you to own an RR, you order a bespoke Rolls Royce from scratch.
Sometimes, you can create a business model in a way where the biggest differentiation could be your brand’s physical location. But you have to ensure that it is not easy to replicate by your competition.
This could be especially applicable in the case of brick-and-mortar institutions like hotels and restaurants.
Brand focus: Level 33
Located in Singapore, at 156m above sea level, on the 33rd floor of a Singapore skyscraper, Level 33 is the highest craft brewery in the urban world and includes a restaurant.
The view from the bar makes the experience even more exceptional: the ultra-chic skyline of Singapore, one of the world’s most well-developed nations.
So sure, other urban breweries can be at an even higher level than this brewery. But it would probably not have the same view and, thus, never have the same competitive advantage.
15. Distribution channels
Sometimes you can even use a distribution channel or availability as a positioning by competitor example.
Brand focus: Thermomix
Thermomix is a kitchen appliance to help you prepare easy meals. But it doesn’t make its products available on its website, Amazon, or other retailers.
Instead, the company follows the Tupperware direct selling model of having their own reps use the appliance at dinner parties to showcase it to a close group of people, who then host their own parties.
It insists on building a close relationship with the buyer by letting them buy it only from their reps.
While this distribution channel is not new per se, Thermomix is the only brand adapting it in the kitchen appliance industry, which helps to create its differentiation.
One way of creating some exceptional competitor based positioning examples recently is the purpose of why a business exists. Studies show that purpose-driven brands grow 2X faster than those without.
However, you should have a purpose with a higher good in mind and not just for positioning. Sometimes, if you stay true to your purpose with every business and communication decision, your brand will automatically generate its own competitive positioning.
Brand focus: Nike
Nike’s purpose for its brand message is to empower individuals and help them acknowledge their greatness, regardless of gender and capabilities. “Just Do It” is simply everywhere in their marketing materials, which is basically a call to action for individuals to overcome their fears and societal barriers and pursue their goals.
Here is one of their recent ad example:
Here are some brand purpose examples.
17. Mission & vision
While the purpose is the fundamental reason a brand exists, the mission and vision of a brand are how, through their products/ services, they aim to do good for a specific set of people in a specific way.
Brand Focus: Always
A feminine personal care brand, Always states its mission is to empower women to live life without limits through trusted feminine care products, confidence, and puberty education.
It demonstrated this with a compelling campaign, turning a phrase used almost insultingly to a celebration of girl power with the #LikeaGirl campaign. By connecting its mission to its products, the company differentiated from all other similar brands in the market.
Recently, the company launched a new product, “Always Flexfoam,” that advertises female hygiene for all body types.
Your business can stand out by what it stands for, even more than what it sells. That’s where it sets unique brand differentiation examples.
Brand focus: Patagonia
This retailer of outdoor sports clothing is one of the best examples of brand values becoming a brand differentiation. Patagonia has always championed the cause of protecting the environment, protesting against measures that could destroy it, and helping people participate in movements to save it.
Even as early as 2011, they increased brand awareness and sales with their ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign, asking people NOT to buy their products unless absolutely required, even if it was Black Friday.
Image source: https://thesustainablemag.com/environment/patagonia-conscious-consumption-tags-vote-the-assholes-out/
It has continued staying true to those values to the extent of asking people to take action against the President’s move to reduce support for national monuments in Utah.
With consistent actions and campaigns like this, the brand has always retained its competitive positioning through its brand values of being an environment protector.
19. Process (Source/ingredients)
One of the best competitive positioning examples is differentiating by the ingredients or composition of your business products.
Brand focus: Biotherm
This beauty brand bases not just its positioning but also its name on the thermal plankton from the Pyrenees sources. All their products have at least some active ingredients from there, and they have retained this story for almost 70 years.
20. Process (Method)
You can also create your competitive advantage and position through the process in which your products are manufactured. That’s the most underrated competitive positioning example.
Brand focus: Lush
While most beauty products are made in a factory, Lush Cosmetics stands out by having handmade products made of organic ingredients, like fruit and vegetables.
Even though it has a close competitor in Body Shop, which also claims to be good for the environment, the positioning of having its products handmade, along with minimal-waste, environmentally friendly packaging, really gives Lush an edge.
Image Source: https://aventuramall.com
Uniqueness is the process by which your customers actually receive your products or services.
Brand focus: Domino’s Pizza
Pizza is one of the most common foods for home delivery. Domino’s created its differentiation by delivering under 30 minutes or a free concept, which is how the brand is remembered today.
If the look and feel of most of the brands in your industry tend to go in a certain direction, you can choose to differentiate with your brand look and feel.
Brand focus: Benefit
While many other cosmetic brands go by the glamorous, fashionable look, Benefit Cosmetics really stands out by its girly, cheeky, playful, fun, yet helpful way.
23. Brand personality (Tone of voice)
A tone of voice is the style of written and audible communication through which the brand expresses itself. This follows the overall brand personality and values and can be a big differentiating factor.
You should keep your brand’s personality in mind when mapping your competitive position.
Brand Focus: MailChimp
MailChimp is an online marketing platform best known as an email marketing tool. While it is free and simple to use, it differentiates from most of its competitors by its unique, creative, fun ways of tone of messaging. Here is their creativity for the “Guess Less, Sell More” campaign for marketers.
The people who run your business or brand can also create your competitive positioning.
Brand Focus: La Locanda dei Girasoli
A pizza restaurant in Rome. It can’t get any more average than that, right?
This restaurant tried to prove that wrong by having their whole team comprised of people with Down Syndrome to help them live a life of dignity and to pick up professional skills to prepare them for a better future.
Brand focus: PepsiCo
A couple of years ago, PepsiCo celebrated National Disability Employment Month in October with a special campaign named “You Belong Here.” The goal was to give a voice to the disabled individuals working within the company.
25. User experience
When customers explore the products to buy, they want to know that they will be easy to use. Once they have bought, they want to have a good experience using the products.
Normally, most companies would try to make this process as simple as possible. One such competitive positioning example is IKEA.
Brand focus: IKEA
IKEA turned this concept upside down by putting the onus of the user experience on the buyer. The customers must choose, carry (heavy furniture or not), take it home, and assemble it by themselves.
So, instead of being completely customer-centric, some aspects can even induce customer pain.
However, it ensures that the instruction manuals are extremely intuitive, thus making the assembly process quite smooth while maintaining a fun challenge.
26. Customer experience
Service levels can bring an added level of differentiation, especially if other brands are not making it easy for the customer.
Brand Focus: Amazon
Amazon has over 3 billion products across 11 marketplaces. So, a customer has millions of options across categories at different price points.
It has real customer reviews so other customers can get a good impression of the quality of the product. And even then, after you buy and open the product, if you change your mind, you can send it back for no extra charge and without any hassle. And you get your money back.
If you have any questions, you can quickly reach customer service, who will solve your problems. Otherwise, It is not just a shopping experience. It has truly brought a new meaning to the term customer experience.
When your brand is endorsed by a person or organization that already has good credibility in the market, it differentiates you in the minds of the buyers and even elevates your positioning.
Brand focus: Lux
For years, the Unilever brand Lux has positioned itself as the soap of choice for superstars. While the soap itself is nothing special, and the look of the brand has evolved over the years to match the changing times, what has remained constant is its aspirational brand image as the soap of celebrity actors across generations.
As you can see, many ways exist to create your differentiated brand positioning. And you might have one or two factors that are mostly differentiated. But remember:It is your whole brand story, and all the elements of your brand, together, that eventually create a differentiated perception of your brand in the minds of the audience. Click To Tweet
28. Being relevant
The only way a brand can make its way to the consumers’ minds is by being relevant.
If your target audience is not resonating with your brand messaging, you can’t be a strong contender in the market. In fact, that would be the first step towards diminishing from the market after a few years.
Brand focus: The Gym Group
The Gym Group, a UK-based company, realizes that the gym intimidates many people, especially beginners, who have limited knowledge of the hard work that they might have to put in.
To resonate with these newcomers, the company launched a “Gym face” campaign that says that everyone makes ridiculous faces when working out. It even includes expert gym-goers.
How to create a winning competitive positioning strategy
Now that you’ve seen inspiring competitive positioning strategies, how do you create yours?
Here’s a step-by-step process on how to create a winning competitive positioning that helps differentiate your products, services, or brand in a crowded marketplace:
1. Identify your goals
The first step in creating a winning competitive positioning strategy is determining what you want in the first place. Define your short and long-term goals and how you want to be placed on the competition ladder.
Setting SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound – goals is what sets you in motion to differentiate your brand from the rest and compete favorably in your industry.
2. Conduct market research
Once your goals are set, conduct thorough market research to understand your industry, competitors, and audience. Effective market research enables you to identify the big players in the industry, study their strategies, and implement them in your strategy. It also lets you study your audience to identify their needs, preferences, and behaviors.
With thorough market research, you’ll be equipped to create a perceptual map for your brand. This helps you determine your current position and that of your competitors in the eyes of your audience and identify the gaps in the market.
3. Define your unique value proposition
After identifying what your target audience needs, identify what sets your offerings apart from your competitors. That is your unique value proposition, which should address your ideal customers’ specific needs and highlight the benefits of choosing your products or services.
This helps you understand what differentiates your brand from your competitors and optimize it for a competitive advantage.
4. Create implementation strategies
Define competitive positioning strategies you must implement to achieve your desired position in the competitive market. This includes your pricing, messaging, customer experience, digital experience, etc.
5. Work with deadlines
Ensure you create deadlines for implementing all your competitive positioning projects. This lets you track your progress and keep every team member involved in achieving the goals.
With deadlines set, you can review every project, drop non-productive ones, and optimize the ones with good potential to give your brand a competitive edge.
Here is a recap of the 28 ways you can create competitive positioning and differentiation.
Here are some additional tips on creating your competitive differentiation:
- Competitive positioning could comprise a specific functional or operational differentiation. Based on that, remember to create a powerful brand story first before you create your key messaging.
- Ensure that your brand and marketing messaging reflect accurately and powerfully your true competitive positioning.
- Uphold your competitive positioning in all key operations and content of your brand.
Competitive Positioning Examples: Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)
What is competitive positioning?
Competitive positioning is establishing the image or identity of a brand in a way that it makes a mark on the consumers’ minds. It helps customers remember your brand whenever they search for products like yours. For instance, if you’re a bag manufacturer, you can position your brand as luxurious or cost-effective.
What is a competitive positioning and differentiation strategy?
Competitive positioning and differentiation strategy is how a company’s product or service is different from its competitors. It is based on the brand’s unique selling points, such as customer value, performance, brand, pricing, or customer service.
What are the key elements of competitive positioning?
The main elements of competitive positioning include differentiation from the competition, offering value to customers, and making a brand promise that tells customers what to expect from your brand. To further stand out from your competitors, you should also focus on establishing a singularity concept that tells customers about your unique selling points.
How to create a winning competitive positioning strategy?
To establish yourself as a competitive positioning example, you must first identify your goals, conduct market research, and define your unique value proposition. Then, create implementation strategies and work with deadlines.