Brand positioning: A matter of perception

To see the magic of brand positioning in-action, dine at a bustling restaurant. Listen to your fellow diners turn down the sparkling wine selection in favour of champagne. Listen to them enquire about the brand of bottled water on offer. Listen to them order oysters.

The appetite for these items hasn’t stemmed from their great taste alone – it’s about perception.

Champagne is a type of sparkling wine. The only difference between the two is that champagne is made using grapes grown in France’s Champagne region. The thing that makes so many wine drinkers reach for the French fizz over its generic-sounding counterpart is the perception that it’s superior.

The perception of superiority is the same reason some consumers prefer one bottled water brand over another, despite the fact that all bottled water is basically the same.

As for oysters, they’re considered luxury cuisine now, but were once seen as a poor man’s food. Before industrialisation, oysters were so readily available that they became a popular choice for the working class. It wasn’t until their numbers dwindled that they became sought-after for their exclusivity.

What’s important to note here is that oysters didn’t go from being disgusting one day to delicious the next. Rather, it was consumers’ perceptions that shifted. They used to look at oysters and see a lowly meal for the working class. Now, they see a delicacy reserved for the elite. Same oysters, different perceptions.

So if your brand isn’t gaining the momentum it deserves – it might have nothing to do with the products and services you’re offering, and everything to do with how you’re positioning them to be perceived.

This is a good thing. It means that with robust research, strategic thinking, and a good dose of creativity – you can change your trajectory.

Positioning can turn your difference into a superpower

Successful brands are ones that stand out from their competitors in a good way. What brand strategists know is that ‘good’ is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a matter of perception. It’s a matter of positioning.

Take Heinz’s tale of product positioning.

Now a household staple, there was a moment when Heinz ketchup’s future wasn’t so certain. Decades back, new Heinz competitors were appearing thick and fast – dazzling consumers with thinner, free-flowing ketchup formulas, a stark contrast to Heinz’s thick, globby sauce.

Rather than changing its recipe, Heinz positioned its product in a way that made thickness synonymous with quality.

Heinz emphasised the fact that it used real, fresh tomatoes, and no other additives. Sure, that meant you had to tap the bottom of the bottle to get the ketchup onto the plate – but that’s a small price to pay for premium quality ketchup, isn’t it?

Heinz’s linking of thickness with quality has become a cornerstone brand element, as seen in its recent “thicker is tastier” campaign.

Positioning can change consumer behaviour

For some brands, repositioning is a tool to change how and when consumers use your product or service.

Canadian Club’s ‘Over Beer?’ campaign is a great example of this.

In a clever response to Australia’s beer-drinking culture, Canadian Club’s campaign is built around the human truth of ‘sometimes we drink beer because it’s the default choice, not because we actually feel like it’. This campaign positions its dark spirit, a drink rarely known for its thirst-quenching ability, as a refreshing alternative to beer.

Since the launch of this campaign, Canadian Club has experienced a 90% growth in sales – indicating that repositioning Canadian Club has led to more people turning down their usual pint in favour of an icy CC and dry.

Effective positioning strategy must evolve

Repositioning strategy is all about changing your brand’s position in your customers’ minds.

As brands expand their offering, observe market shifts, and engage new target audiences – their positioning should evolve accordingly.

What’s important to keep in mind is that the core driver of killer positioning, just like every other key brand and business decision, isn’t ‘what do we do?’ – it’s ‘what does our customer want?’