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Positioning your emerging brand aligned to the customer’s journey to purchase.

The Customer Journey

You can’t do a good job of brand positioning your early stage brand unless you develop your strategy in alignment with the customer’s buying journey.

Brand positioning strategy is a fundamental component of why your emerging brand matters to customers who love and can’t live without it.

Brand positioning is the process of creating a differentiating “idea of value” in your customer’s mind. Through this process, you’re offering a solution customers highly value and cannot acquire from alternatives in the category. This requires that you know your customer, understand their difficulties, and share their value system.

But do you know and understand their journey to purchase?

You can’t do a good job of brand positioning unless you develop your strategy in relation to the customer’s buying process. This isn’t complicated, but there is a level of difficulty involved to do it right.

The difficulty lies in the fact that the journey to purchase is no longer linear. Before the internet, customer journeys were often linear, with very little channel hopping.

With the number of channels having exploded, and consumers becoming increasingly channel-agnostic, customer journeys can take many forms, with even single interactions taking place across numerous touch points. Thus making brand positioning far more difficult.

In this post, I’ll share some insight into what you need to think about at each stop in the customer’s journey to purchase. They are needs, category, brand idea, shared values, purchase and customer experience.

 Customer Needs

When a customer is “in the market” to purchase anything (software, toothpaste, business equipment or breakfast cereal), they are driven by their Needs. The journey to purchase begins here. Customer needs can be functional or inspirational, or a combination of both. Customer needs can also be unknown or unconscious. For example, no one needed or was in the market for an iphone, but once revealed to people, they couldn’t live without one.

You must have deep insight into what is driving your target customer segment into the marketplace so that your product/service innovations are relevant at a precise point in time. Known or unknown, the degree of need is equal to the relevance of your innovation. (tweet that).

The Category

Once the customer is aware of their need, their search begins for the fulfillment of that need. Next stop on their journey is the Category. Customer’s go to the category first, not the specific brand. The Category is what is first relevant to the customer need. In every category there are typically multiple alternatives. Unless you are a frequent buyer in the category, on the surface most brands will appear to be pretty much the same. Your brand may be relevant to the customer, but that doesn’t guarantee your brand will make the cut as a consideration.

Competitive dynamics of the category and where in the slush pile of alternatives you can distinguish your brand and win is the critical factor in positioning your brand. Your brand may be relevant, but does it resonate?

The Brand Idea

At this level, customers have awareness of what is available to them within the category and they are now evaluating which brand will be their one and only choice.

This is where the game is won or lost. Your brand must represent an “idea of value” that resonates with the customer beyond their functional or rational needs. To be positioned with precision, your brand must authentically share the same value system with your customer. Only then will your brand reach “one and only” status in the customer’s mind.

For example, when I’m in the market for outdoor apparel, I think only of Patagonia.

Why? Because I share the belief that doing the right things for the planet is an important value to have. I share that value with Patagonia. It’s not my need or desire for a jacket. North Face makes a fine jacket too, but they’re not Patagonia.

The Purchase Event

Thus far it’s been a long and tedious journey for the customer sifting through the noise of the marketplace to finally arrive at their decision to buy. Now it’s usually with the instant click of a mouse or a tap with a finger. Whatever the method nowadays, the decision to buy one thing over the other is an emotional one. Buying is an emotional experience.

The key to the unlocking the purchase event is based on how well your brand represents more use value to the customer than they are about to pay in cash value. This is the secret sauce of a premium price strategy.

The Experience

Finally, the customer arrives at their destination–the experience of doing business with you. What happens after you take their money is what determines the lifetime value of the customer. Your brand is a symbol and a representation of the quality of your presence in the marketplace. Does the customer believe without question your brand always delivers as promised?

The customer experience is what defines the value of your brand as something worthy to advocate for. How will you demonstrate the truth of your brand positioning claims? Saying it’s so won’t make it so.

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