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Positioning vs. Branding

Many tech marketers negate the importance of Branding while holding up Positioning as the ultimate strategy for winning minds and markets. This distinction is important to address, as the two disciplines are closely related, if not two sides of the same coin.

Both Positioning and Branding are driven and defined by precise differentiation from competitive alternatives. The difference is in the direction of the communication. A vendor’s positioning is what it says to the market, and its brand is what the market says about the company in reply (and by extension its product or service). The vendor asserts its competitive positioning, executes against this in the market, and then is rewarded or punished with its brand. If the two perspectives contradict, then execution of the positioning has failed and the brand is broken. In the IT world of the complex, considered purchase, listening to what customers really think about you and your offering is of ultimate importance in this symbiotic conversation between Position and Brand.

Positioning is largely an internal consensus exercise. A methodology for getting all company stakeholders marching in the same direction. It is informed by present market conditions and competitive realities, to be sure, but is often unable to predict actual customer application of the technology or changing market conditions. Often target segments and value propositions are dictated by who buys what and why.

Without customers, there can be no brand (no, a logo is not a brand). A startup that has yet to attract its first customers can assert its positioning, but does not yet have a brand. It is talking to itself. It has yet to fulfill promises, built no reputation, and received no grades from the market. At the beginning, Positioning drives everything.

But a few months after a startup celebrates its first live customers, an early brand identity can be researched and formulated. It is at this stage, when company and product brand are one in the same, that brand auditing is easiest and consistent brand building can be instituted within the marketing organization. As the company continues to grow, its internal corporate culture and values emerge to further inform its brand personality. With market success, the distinctions between brand and position come into clearer focus.

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