Brand Positioning: Differentiate Your Brand

Brand Positioning: Differentiate Your Brand

Woman having conference call

Positioning is a key factor in defining and differentiating your brand. Even if, like us, you don’t specialize in a specific industry or product, there is still some fundamental idea that you can position your brand to own in the hearts and minds of your audience. There is something unique about every company, whether it’s their culture, approach or product/service offering. So how do you decide where to place your stake in the ground, and how do you best communicate that to your audience?

Establishing Your Brand Positioning

The first step is to begin to narrow down what is unique about your brand and company. You can start with an internal analysis, but we would recommend starting instead with your customers. There’s a reason they chose you over your competitors, and finding the common ground in their motivations will give you a good starting point.

If you’re just launching a new product or brand, it’s best to start with your brand promise. What are you promising to offer your customers? What is unique about what you will be offering or how you’re offering it? What is your “Why”? If you don’t have an existing answer, be sure to find one as your brand promise is another fundamental you’ll need to get started.

Communicating Your Brand Positioning

Sometimes you’ll have an opportunity to place your position front and center. Your logo/tagline, your website, storefront, brochure, About Us video, etc. should build on your positioning as a cornerstone. But even in your product-focused ads, your weekly social posts and your conversations with customers, that brand positioning should always be layered in.

This means that your first audience is actually: you! Ensuring everyone on the team fully understands and lives your brand positioning and promise will ensure all of your communications support it. Make sure to onboard new team members and regularly reinforce your position. If someone is doing a great job, celebrate that with the whole team. If anyone is falling behind or going off-script, take the time to re-educate them.

For your marketing materials, it’s also important to keep your brand positioning present. If, for example, you offer a range of IT services across a broad variety of industries, it can be tough to differentiate yourself. You’re everything to everyone in theory – but what makes you different is your technicians. They are the friendliest, most patient, most supportive – and they can communicate clearly with non-IT people! So, an ad or email communication about what you offer should always be written at that level. It should carry that tone and be understandable by anyone. Then when potential customers see your tagline/positioning statement, it will ring true.

Branding goes beyond marketing. Your brand is built and diminished with everything you do – from your emails, packaging and website to your invoicing process and interactions with partners and vendors. Establishing and keeping your brand positioning consistent can do a tremendous amount of work to lift the effectiveness of your marketing and close the loop with sales.

For more tips on branding, check out our blogs on Brand Equity or Brand Architecture.

Intro to Brand Architecture

Intro to Brand Architecture

The process of developing or honing your brand architecture can be a rabbit hole, so we’re going to start with the basics and help you decide if you can benefit.


What is brand architecture?


Also referred to as brand structure, brand hierarchy or brand portfolio strategy, brand architecture is exactly what it sounds like: a system that organizes your brands, products and services. It can help you decide which brands to focus on, how to re-energize a brand and how much to focus on building your corporate brand.


Why do I need brand architecture?


Brand architecture offers several advantages which may be critical depending on the size of your organization. If your architecture is set up properly, you can create cost efficiencies in marketing and brand building. Some other benefits include: 

  • Ease the process of merging new acquisitions or offerings into your brand
  • Simplify the communication of the similarities and differences between your brands
  • Organize your offerings to help inform decisions like budget allocation, sales and marketing strategies, when to rebrand or even when to add/change/cut a product or service
  • Generate positive synergy between your brands, enhancing their perception and avoiding potential negative conflicts
  • Go after new opportunities or take risks without risking overall brand equity


What are the types of brand architecture?


Every company has its own structure (or lack thereof). Most fit somewhere within one of these four types: 


Diagram showing Google Branded House architecture

Branded House or Master Brand


Products and sub-brands share their brand with the parent/corporate/master brand, as in the case of Google or FedEx. The benefit of this model is that all companies, brands, products, locations, etc. are unified by the same brand promise, allowing greater clarity and consistency. Greater focus and emphasis are placed on building and protecting the master/corporate brand since positive and negative perceptions are felt across the entire portfolio.



Diagram showing Marriott Endorsed Brand architecture

Endorsed Brands


This model allows the endorsing brand to impart the qualities and advantages of their reputation to the sub-brands while still allowing the sub-brands the freedom to have their own personalities and appeal to different audiences. So, Marriott can have multiple hotel brands with different identities and targets, but they are all united and supported by the Marriott brand promise.




Diagram showing P&G House of Brand Structure

House of Brands

While a House of Brands sacrifices the economies of scale offered by the Branded House model, there is greater opportunity to capitalize on niche markets, focus on specific product benefits and include a range of brands that are unrelated or opposing. It is easier to take risks as there is less threat to the other brands in the portfolio. The endorsement from the master/corporate brand is much more subtle in this model. P&G or Unilever are some of the most well-known examples.


Diagram showing Microsoft Hybrid Brand architecture

Hybrid Brand

Companies like Microsoft and Coca-Cola are a hybrid of the Branded House and House of Brands. Some of their brands share the corporate identity, but others are subtly endorsed or almost entirely isolated. This structure is a little more complex to manage, but if done correctly can deliver the benefits of all the other models.



How do I develop brand architecture?



Based on your goals and your existing brands, decide what structure makes the most sense. Then begin your Brand Portfolio Audit. Start by assembling your team. You’ll want people who can be critical but fair. To avoid common pitfalls, ensure the team can create strategies without falling back on “how it’s always been” or making “change for the sake of change”.


Next, you’ll create the audit structure, making sure you know from the beginning what you need to learn. The first piece you will be measuring is the equity of each brand in your portfolio based on: 


  • Awareness
  • Reputation
  • Differentiation
  • Energy
  • Relevance
  • Loyalty
  • Extendability


Once you have the results of your audit, you should be able to weigh the data against your goals and the opportunities in the market. Identify key insights that will drive your primary decisions such as conflicts between existing brands or an opportunity in a new market. Then decide which basic model you want to  follow. It’s easy to get lost in the details, but if you focus on the bigger picture and start at the top, the day-to-day decisions and changes you need to make to get there will follow. Put together your system of brand management and ensure everyone in your organization is on the same page, especially leadership.


Now you should have some idea of what you’re in for and if it will be worth the work. Brand architecture can contribute greatly to long-term success, especially for large or growing companies. The work you put in now will pay off big time in the future.



3 Ways to Make Your Trade Show Booth Stand Out

3 Ways to Make Your Trade Show Booth Stand Out

For many companies, it’s time to start preparing for the fall trade show season. Now is a great time to confront that perennial question: do we redo the entire booth this year or just make do?

If you do decide to update your booth, we have a couple quick tips on structure and design that will help your investment last longer and hopefully deliver better results.

1. Make Your Booth Adaptable to Different Sizes

Let’s face it: some shows are worth a greater investment than others. And chances are you’re not going to pay for the same sized booth space everywhere you exhibit. So for a couple of conferences, you may invest in that 40 x 40 foot space while others may just have a table and a 10 foot drape behind you.

A good exhibit house will have structural options for you that can be assembled in multiple ways — what’s known as a “convertible booth.” Maybe you can create a 20 foot wall that allows you to remove a couple of panels when you only have 10 feet of space. Or if you’re in a conference room, you can have a design that integrates those walls independently as a backdrop or border in smaller spaces.

When you’re designing the graphics for a convertible booth, make sure you’re clear on which panels are consistently used and which are the extras.

Another piece to consider when choosing your structure and designing the graphics is how often you’ll want to change them or promote something new. If everything is inter-locked or materials are expensive to reprint, it will be more of a headache to promote a new product or showcase new messaging or imagery, leaving you in limbo with the same design as last year (and the year before).

2. It’s OK to Stick Your Neck Out

If your structure can stand out in the crowd height-wise, your customers and potential customers will have less trouble finding you. Some conferences allow you to hang signage, while others may not (always check their guidelines and regulations before making any design choices).

If you can’t get add much height to your structure, you can at least make sure your graphics are positioned vertically so as not to be hidden by anything else. Always account for table height and line of sight when placing your key messages. Plus you’ll have a better chance of catching eyes across a crowded show floor if your most attractive message is at the top.

Also, remember to take pictures of your booth at its most crowded during a show. That way, you’ll get a better sense of what is covered by people or by other pieces of the structure. Digital booth renders can only show you so much, so documenting the booth in-person will help you make changes later if necessary.

3. Give Visitors a Reason to Linger

This is the $10 million question: how do you increase engagement at your booth? You’ve driven traffic, but how do you get them to stay?

The best answer we can give here is of course the unsatisfying “Well, it depends.” Generally speaking, though, if you sell a physical product, have it with you. If the show is worth investing in, it’s worth shipping the product to the show (or at least a scaled version).

And if your key selling points revolve around a specific product action, have some way to demonstrate that if possible. Physical demonstrations — especially if your customer can do it themselves — are best followed by digital demonstrations, with video or photos bringing up the rear.

When you’re selling a service or your product is simply too large, it’s a little tougher. But that’s where technology comes in. Video is more engaging than static photos, but interactive digital displays are even more engaging than both. Get your customers to sell to themselves through a clever touchscreen program or app — this can also help with understaffed booths if you don’t have enough sales people to go around.

Conferences may be your best opportunity to make or reinforce a good impression. You’re already investing so much in being there — make sure your booth is supporting the effort, not letting you down.

Brand Study: How Less is More at The Masters

Brand Study: How Less is More at The Masters

As marketers, we constantly hear about the importance of adaptation. How it’s “crucial to keep up with the times” or, “if your brand isn’t evolving to meet the needs of your consumer, they’ll find one that is.

With this constant focus on growth and enhancement, we have to ask: are the good old days of simply relying on brand recognition truly gone? Or is it still possible to achieve marketing success without conforming to the latest trends?

We didn’t have to look further than Augusta, GA, to find our answer.  

A self-proclaimed “tradition unlike any other,” The Masters is considered the best and most prestigious golf tournament in the world. For marketers, it is admired as one of the world’s greatest brands. Since 1934, this annual event has continued to gain popularity and prestige, all while changing very little about its marketing and branding strategies. Even amidst all these lessons on evolution, the brand has found marketing success in staying true to its roots and the idea that “less is more.”

The 2019 Masters had only six sponsors, many of which have been associated with the tournament for several years. Each pay an estimated $6 million annually for their title. But even then, sponsor brands have a very minimal presence: no signage on the course or in the concessions area, a shared four minutes of ads per broadcast hour and other strict rules about how their association with this tournament can be promoted.

It may not sound glamorous, but pure association and less competition can certainly pay off. In 2018, Nielsen estimated a total of $128 million in media value for tournament sponsors. Considering these brands don’t get so much as a logo on a caddie bib, their return is pretty impressive.

Several other original aspects of the tournament make sure this experience is not just one-of-a-kind, but also traditional — and yes, extremely exclusive. Official Masters gear can only be purchased at Augusta National’s gift shop. Tickets are either inherited from a family member or won via a lottery. Caddies wear the classic uniform of a white jumpsuit and a green hat.

These are some of the most recognizable elements of the tournament, and without these seemingly small details, the experience at the heart of the brand would be lost.

Unlike other popular sporting events, The Masters isn’t making millions of dollars in revenue through multiple sponsorships or by licensing merchandise outside of the club’s gift shop. It doesn’t sell TV rights to the highest bidder or price :30 commercial spots at upwards of $5 million. Heck, they don’t even charge more than a few dollars for a beer.

The purity of The Master’s identity is one of its most attractive features. It isn’t bogged down by “noise” surrounding the event; the focus is solely on the game, the players and the experience of Augusta National.

Marketing trends will come and go and there will always be a new method, measurement or message to test. But at the end of the day, our true priority as marketers should be staying true to our brand and our goals — even if that means less is more.

BKI Brand Study: A Tale of Two (Carhartt) Brands

BKI Brand Study: A Tale of Two (Carhartt) Brands

Founded in 1889, in Dearborn, MI, Carhartt occupies a place in American culture few brands can lay claim to. On the one hand, they are a ubiquitous symbol of the working class, the favorite garment of farmhands, laborers and outdoor lovers.

But they also play a major role in the history of communities like hip-hop, extreme sports and “streetwear.”

So how does one brand manage to appeal to two groups of consumers who likely don’t overlap anywhere else?

Our latest Brand Study explores this tale of two brands.

Rough & Rugged

Carhartt is best known for its no-nonsense approach to workwear. Its iconic duck canvas jacket has been worn for generations, largely in their signature “Carhartt Brown” color.

Whether it is lumberjacks felling trees in the pacific northwest or auto workers in the assembly lines of Detroit, Carhartt’s customers have remained fiercely loyal.

This despite the company’s refusal to ever sell their garments at a premium or in discount stores like Wal-Mart or Kmart.

Carhartt has been used as a political symbol, too. It’s been deployed by politicians across the spectrum to evoke a connection to the so-called “everyman.”

Barack Obama was photographed wearing it during a 2015 trip to Alaska, while the state’s most famous politician, Sarah Palin, has a well-documented love of the brand.

Much like what kind of beer a politician prefers (Domestic? Imported? Craft?) has become a talking point during each election cycle, so, too has wearing Carhartt been seen by some as an attempt to connect with blue-collar workers.

Urban Trendsetters

While Carhartt has spent the last 130 years in the company of the working class, it has also been the favorite of “streetwear” enthusiasts since the mid-1980s.

The brand’s superstar status in this community began somewhat nefariously, having been described by the New York Times in 1990 as the favorite choice of drug dealers who loved Carhartt’s deep pockets.

Fashionable youth took notice, and the famous chore coats soon began popping up in the burgeoning hip-hop communities of New York and Los Angeles.

Carhartt received another boost of street cred from the seminal hip-hop label, Tommy Boy, who gave away dozens of custom-made Carhartt jackets to tastemakers and industry influencers.

The New York Times’ 1990 feature on the Carhartt Chore Coat.

It was during this period that Carhartt caught the eye of two European denim designers, Edwin and Salomée Faeh.

While their original agreement was to import and sell original pieces across Europe, they soon gained enough trust from Carhartt’s founding family to branch out into designing their own fashion-forward interpretations of the brand.

This project, called Work In Progress (WIP), has evolved into what some have deemed “the most important brand in streetwear.”

While much of WIP’s reflects Carhartt’s no frills aesthetic, it also has the elasticity to veer off into much more experimental territory.

A typical WIP launch might include subtle updates to the famous blue Michigan Chore Coat alongside a varsity jacket in technicolor purple or highlighter green. The WIP lines are also typically geared towards a more tailored, skinny cut, whereas the original Carhartt line retains its “working man’s fit.”

Many will also note the significant increase in price across the two brands, but Carhartt and Work In Progress are not selling to the same audiences — they are two distinct yet intertwined brands.

A (Fashion) House Divided Can Stand

So how exactly did Carhartt manage to find itself in the enviable position of appealing to such a wide audience? According to Esquire magazine, “Carhartt couldn’t tell you how it’s marketed to such a diverse group because it hasn’t. The company has followed working class America for 128 years and this is just where it wound up.”

In fact, Carhartt has never employed an outside agency (sad face) for any of their marketing or advertising needs. This is a rarity for a brand of its size, especially considering their proximity to The Big 3 auto companies of Detroit, who for decades were the proverbial “white whale” of the advertising industry.

Work In Progress uses familiar tones in new applications.

It would appear that Carhartt largely cemented its place in the world by simply being themselves. It would’ve surely felt forced had the brand tried to create something like Work In Progress in order to proactively chase the urban youth demographic.

Instead, they recognized that they had been adopted by this group of trendsetting skateboarders, graffiti artists and rappers and allowed their brand to evolve to speak directly to that audience without sacrificing their integrity.

As WGSN’s Senior Menswear Trend Forecaster Brian Trunzo puts it, “Carhartt represents everybody. It represents the right and the left. It represents the fashion folks and the non-fashion folks. It’s a brand folks can rally around. Everything they do is real.”

The word “authenticity” gets thrown around a lot these days, but brands like Carhartt are a great example of what that actually looks like. They stay true to their core mission but allow themselves the flexibility to explore opportunities when they arise. So whether it’s on a ranch in Montana or a skatepark in Los Angeles, you know that gold “C” stands for quality, durability and dependability. And that is some seriously enviable brand equity.

The 7 Fundamentals of Brand Equity

The 7 Fundamentals of Brand Equity

What does brand equity mean? The simple answer is that it’s the value of a brand. But why is brand equity important and how do you build or measure it? Brand Equity is made up of seven key elements: awareness, reputation, differentiation, energy, relevance, loyalty and flexibility. Some of these are easier to build (or damage) than others. Each contributes to the overall value of your brand, and an evaluation of these different elements can tell you where you need to focus your marketing efforts.

1. Awareness
What percentage of your audience or industry is familiar with your brand? Are your logo, name and brand identity as recognizable to your customers and potential customers as the Starbucks mermaid or Target bullseye? And beyond knowing you exist, do they know everything you offer?

2. Reputation
Just because people have awareness of your brand doesn’t mean their perception is positive. What do the people who have heard of you think of your brand? Is your product considered premium? Or are you the value brand? Do you have high quality products but low-quality service or vice versa?

3. Differentiation
Part of the value of your brand is its ability to be distinct from the competition. Even if you have low awareness, you may still have potential equity if your brand has a different personality or the ability to stand out from the pack.

4. Energy
Here’s one more reason that brands want you to think they’re innovative: it gives the brand perceived energy and momentum. If you look like you are always innovating and not just resting on your laurels, you always have something new to say to your customers. And updates convey energy.

5. Relevance
You may have a great product and your brand may check all the other boxes, but if it isn’t useful or important to your customers (anymore or yet) then it won’t do you much good. If it isn’t relevant to the audience you’re targeting, is there another audience or industry that would be interested?

6. Loyalty
What would it take to woo your customers away from your brand? Just a small price cut? An additional service? Or would your customers stay with your brand even if you had to give them bad news? It’s also important to examine why they’re loyal (if they are).

7. Flexibility
If you developed a related product, could you add it in under the same brand? Or would the association with your brand do more harm than good? If your brand is too narrowly defined, you may find it difficult to leverage it for anything else in the future.

Evaluating your brand is a crucial step in making many sales or marketing decisions such as acquisition, expansion, rebranding and even simply annual planning. If you know where your weaknesses are, you can work harder at those areas. If you have multiple brands playing in and around the same market, evaluating the equity of each can also give you the foundation to make changes to your brand architecture.

You were probably mentally evaluating your brand while you were reading through the list, but it’s important to go through these elements thoroughly and objectively if you’re going to make any serious decisions for your brand. It can be difficult to remove emotion from your analysis when you live with a brand every day, but a research firm or marketing agency can help provide an outside perspective.

Want to take a closer look at your brand equity? We’d love to help.

WordPress Lightbox Plugin

Pin It on Pinterest