This is the second in a small series of punches surrounding April Dunford's Obviously Awesome! and how good positioning relates to good branding. Please read the first article before jumping into this one.
Having gone through the process of seeking out the alternatives to your product, you should have a robust understanding of what is already out there within your market category. This is like being at a poker table and seeing each players' cards. You know what you're up against, now it's time to find a way to play.
The second piece in positioning a company is understanding what makes you special. From a product standpoint, this comes in the form of technical features, but it could expand into areas like delivery method (think Dollar Shave Club vs. Gillette), the business model (subscription vs. single purchase), or unique expertise (a developer with marketing skills or focus within a particular vertical).
After choosing the attributes and unique elements about your business, you could also examine the emotional qualities unique to your company. For example, Duluth Trading Co. and Patagonia make almost identical winter gear, but they are completely different emotionally. Duluth downplays any kind of sophistication despite the fact they charge $25 for a pair of Buck Naked Underwear. While Patagonia shifts its emotional value to serving the planet and altruism. Same products, different stories.
What do you care about? What story do you have? What personality can you bring to the table? It might be something you take for granted, but to everyone else, it is special. It's your secret sauce that shouldn't be kept a secret.
After assessing the values that are shared between your software and your ideal user, you can outline a personality for the brand to adorn. I've seen a bunch of variants for making this happen, but the one that has seemed to work the best was stolen from Jacob Cass at Just Creative. A bit of a twist at the end.
Plot your brand on each spectrum:
Next, and this step is important, define any attributes that are 3s. Clearly these are core attributes you want associated with your brand, but they mean something different to everyone. What does it mean to you?
One of my favorite stories about Apple (one that is actually applicable to building out a brand) is how Steve Jobs came up with the idea for Apple store layouts.
Think about a traditional computer store, or any store for that matter, what do you see? Boxes, boxes, and boxes. Boxes on shelves, boxes on the floor, boxes everywhere. In short, the place is packed with product and no matter how neatly arranged and organized, it treats products like cattle for slaughter.
True to his rebellious nature, this concept didn't sit well with Jobs so he sought out inspiration. But he didn't look at other stores, he looked at museums. Museums that house priceless works of art and marvels of nature like dinosaur fossils. These items are treated with so much respect and given ample space to let viewers bask in their presence. You feel awestruck staring at them.
Now think about an Apple store. There is one variant of every product they have placed on single metal stand for a shopper to interact with. There is minimal product storage happening in the consumer facing end of the store. Apple treats their products like the works of art seen in museums and it makes them special.
When applying this to brand identity, it opens up the door for magic. Where can you find a name that starts a story? Where can you find a symbol to represent your company? In whom can you find a personality to best characterize your brand? Where can you find patterns and imagery to reflect who you are? Lastly, how can you mix it all together to become something novel?
This applies to everything. From experience design, brand naming, visual identity, collateral, packaging, whatever. Seeking and stealing creates magic.